Where the girls are: At Feinstein, kicking butt

Hear them roar: The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research's top female scientists were honored this week at the annual Advancing Women in Science and Medicine event.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Reinforcing science’s gender-neutral nature, the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research honored several of its top female scientists Monday during its yearly Advancing Women in Science and Medicine awards.

The sixth-annual AWSM luncheon – yes, it’s pronounced “awesome” – dished out more than $225,000 in awards to both support and celebrate the achievements of women engaged in scientific pursuits.

Nadeen Chahine: Supporting women promotes better science.

Jennifer Ashton, the chief women’s health correspondent for ABC News and the “Good Morning America” program, emceed the awards luncheon at the Rainbow Room in New York City and dubbed AWSM “an incredible name for this organization.”

“Research leads to new diagnostics and cures for patients we’re trying to treat,” noted the OB/GYN, who earned her MD from Columbia University’s Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and later added a Master’s of Science in nutrition, also from Columbia.

“It was awesome to celebrate the impact women in science have on medicine and on the lives of patients,” Ashton said.

Donors contributed more than $225,000 for awards distributed during the event to female scientists representing various levels of training and experience. Though award amounts varied – from $1,500 to $25,000 – each recognized “scientific excellence, innovation, mentorship, education and/or training,” according to the Feinstein Institute, the research and development arm of the New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health system.

Lior Brimberg: On the forefront of autism research.

Among the scientists honored Monday were Lior Brimberg, who earned the Sybil Sternlieb Innovation Award ($10,000) for her work with maternal autoantibodies in Autism Spectrum Disorder, and researcher Sun Jung Kim, who snagged top honors – the $25,000 Barbara Hrbek Zucker Scientific Achievement Award – for her exploration of genetic alterations of immune system cells associated with lupus.

Other honorees included Cristina D’Abramo, who won the Innovation Award In Memory of Anita Ross & Marian Marsh ($10,000) for her work identifying the biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease; Jeannine Villella, who won the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Partners Council Collaborative Women in Science Award ($5,000) for directing clinical trials of new gynecological oncology procedures; and Naomi Maria, who earned the Lisa Martin Osler Society Post-Doctoral Award ($2,000) for her work involving lupus-related kidney inflammation.

The event also doled out coveted summer internships to a pair of Girl Scouts (and future professional researchers) working under Feinstein Institute mentors. Caroline Smolensky, mentored by Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine assistant neurosurgery professor Chunyan Li, won the St. Catherine’s Philoptochos Girl Scout Award and was selected for a biomedical engineering internship, while Lillie Renck, mentored by Hofstra Northwell molecular medicine professor Anne Davidson, captured the Susan Novick Girl Scout Award and will spend part of her summer on an autoimmunity internship.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw: Role model.

Including the two internships, 41 total awards were handed out at the awards luncheon, which was keynoted by Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder of India’s leading biotechnology company, Biocon Ltd.

In her remarks, Mazumdar-Shaw discussed her struggles as a female scientist and business owner in India and recounted her path from a fermentation specialist to the head of one of her nation’s leading biopharmaceutical manufacturers.

The biopharma entrepreneur also touched on the importance of affordable innovation, noting the critical need to develop and manufacture medications that are accessible to all.

“A blockbuster drug is not a drug that makes a billion dollars,” Mazumdar-Shaw said. “[It] is a drug that is affordable for a billion people.”

The matriarch of Indian biopharma was the perfect choice to keynote the event, according to AWSM President Nadeen Chahine, who leads an organization founded by Feinstein Institute professor Betty Diamond specifically to reinforce core initiatives including career development, education and mentoring.

“We have changed how women help each other and work together at the Feinstein Institute and in science,” Chahine said in a statement. “Our mantra, ‘Women Helping Women,’ has eliminated barriers of progress and raised the spirits of women scientists at the institute.

“More importantly, it has elevated the level of science and discovery we are achieving.”