UCL Faculty of Life Sciences


Celebrating some of our academics from the School of Pharmacy this International Women's Day

8 March 2022

International Women's Day has been celebrated on the 8th March since 1911, and provides an opportunity for us to celebrate the successes of our female staff and students, and raise awareness about gender equality.

This year we've caught up with some of our female academics from the School of Pharmacy to hear more about their research, their inspirations, and their goals for the future. 

Dr Mine Orlu is an Associate Professor, MSc Pharmaceutics Programme Director and Co-Chair of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee at UCL School of Pharmacy. With a strong background in pharmaceutical sciences, she focuses on building links between personalised medicine and clinical pharmaceutics to optimise therapeutics for special patient populations.  

Dr Mine Orlu
What area of your work most excites you and why? Developing research ideas and brainstorming about them with my excellent team, colleagues and collaborators. My academic role motivates me to learn more every day and continue growing in scientific knowledge – this is wonderful. 


What first attracted you to your area of research and what advice would you give to younger scientists? Advanced technologies and scientific approaches into designing medicine to meet the needs of patients. 

Find your research area considering your skills, passion and enthusiasm, and find it as soon as you can to use your energy effectively. And stay focused and resilient 

Which famous female scientist has inspired you?  Dorothy Hodgkin – her outstanding contributions to science is remarkable. Reading about her tireless efforts ultimately leading to very successful achievements is very inspiring.   

What’s your next big challenge in terms of your research? To take role in higher number of translational research studies and hence contribute to research community`s collective efforts towards improving health of people 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? I truly enjoy teaching and research and I would be delighted to continue doing both. I also believe in accelerating the impact by knowledge exchange and hopefully, I will be taking senior roles in founding education initiatives and global research networks in pharmaceutical sciences with cross-disciplinary vision. 

Francesca Scotti works at UCL as a Research Associate in the Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy group. Among other things, she is working on finding plant extracts that can be used in daylight-activated photodynamic therapy, as well as participating in a project to facilitate respectful practices in scientific/commercial international collaborations, using Access and Benefit Sharing. 

Francesca Scotti
What area of your work most excites you and why? I like handling tools and observing very closely a lot of details until my brain makes sense of them and allows me to zoom out and grasp the bigger picture or realise I made a mistake. I also like working with others, both collaborating – e.g. picking each other’s’ brains to create, modify, resolve something - as well as supervising students, The interaction with others is often stimulating, both as a human experience and from a scientific point of view. I like to see students bring new perspectives and learning to find their way, while growing a genuinely deeper interest in what they are doing. 


What first attracted you to your area of research and what advice would you give to younger scientists? I learnt I wanted to do research as soon as I tried it. I didn’t know it was an option for me until I joined the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (via the Erasmus program) to write my Pharmacy degree dissertation. Suddenly, everything was exciting because I was finally able to investigate, with my own hands, something I have been feeling curious about. I have always wanted to dig deeper, I like questioning everything and I found that research is where that attitude finds its place.  

My attraction to my current area of research comes from a fondness of my grandparents’ agricultural roots. They gave me an appreciation of the fascinating variety of life in nature and a sense of care towards the space where humans and the environment interact. Incredible compounds exist in nature, complicated, imaginative (or random, if you prefer) and most different, all with their power and their purpose. It’s beautiful. 

My advice is to remember your initial enthusiasm, why you wanted to do research, what excited you about it. Write it down somewhere because it will become very helpful to help you through rough patches. It will also help to evaluate whether you are happy where you are headed. Re-assessing needs to be done regularly. 

Find your research area considering your skills, passion and enthusiasm, and find it as soon as you can to use your energy effectively. And stay focused and resilient. 

Which famous female scientist has inspired you?  Margherita Hack and Rita Levi-Montalcini, both Italian women. The first an astrophysicist with an absolute love for her field and a real knack for science communication, and the second one a Nobel-Prize winner neurobiologist who gained worldwide success and contributed greatly to the progression of science; their results and their stories are even more gripping as they were both born in times when being a woman with a professional interest in science was considered unusual and disgraceful.  

What’s your next big challenge in terms of your research? The biggest challenge is funding. Another more interesting one is trying to progress a positive result to the next level for further development, and proceed towards connecting it to the real world, to the practice of healthcare in diverse settings.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? That’s the million-dollar question! My contract ends this summer and I will obviously be submitting grants and looking for new academic positions elsewhere but I might have to consider other options. Subsequently, realistically speaking, I cannot see myself in 5 years. I can tell you where I would like to be: somewhere doing fieldwork, learning to understand people and being involved in more translational work.

Professor Mala Shah obtained a 1st class degree in Pharmacology from the University of Bath, followed by a Ph.D. at UCL. She subsequently won a Wellcome International Prize Travel Research Fellowship to work at Baylor College of Medicine (USA). She returned to UCL as a Senior Research Fellow funded by the Wellcome Trust and ER UK. She became a lecturer at School of Pharmacy in 2007, being promoted to Professor in 2014. 

Mala Shah
What area of your work most excites you and why? Our work at present is focused on understanding how neuron communicate with each other. In particular, we are interested in neuron axons which play a vital role in generating the signals required for neuronal communication. Neuron axons were thought to be analogous to electric cables that generated signals and simply propagated these. Our work as well as that of many others now indicates that the generation and propagation of these signals in axons is far more complex than we envisaged and can be modulated by many different chemicals called neurotransmitters. Understanding this will help us better understand how the brain functions and may also then lead to better treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis in which axon function deteriorates significantly.  


What first attracted you to your area of research and what advice would you give to younger scientists? I started to work on this by accident when I was a senior research fellow. One of the key proteins that we were interested in, the KV7 K+ channel, just happened to be highly expressed in neuronal axons, which was very surprising (Shah et al., 2008, PNAS, 105, 7869-7874). In non-brain neurons, KV7 channels are strongly modulated by a variety of neurotransmitters acting on receptors. However, to our astonishment, KV7 channel modulation in brain neuron axons by neurotransmitters differed significantly, resulting in persistent alteration of their activity and function (Martinello et al., 2015, Neuron, 85, 346-363). We are currently following this up and it is turning out to be very exciting. 

In my view, scientific research can be very exciting and rewarding, especially if it is yielding novel, thought-provoking concepts and rewarding. However, women, even these days, face significant challenges in getting their work recognised, getting funding for their work and publishing their findings. Substantial progress has been made to reduce the gender gap in science. I have found mentors to be invaluable in guiding me through my career whilst I was a research fellow. I would, therefore, strongly recommend early research career scientists have an experienced mentor that provide useful advice, guidance and inspiration. 

Which famous female scientist has inspired you? Marie Curie has been very inspirational. 

What’s your next big challenge in terms of your research? For our research, the ultimate challenge is to understand how altered function of a small group of neurons in one region of the brain by neurotransmitters will impact behaviour and affect disease states. 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? I hope to be doing exciting, ground-breaking research and training and inspiring young scientists.