Pioneering geneticist now Professor and leader of her field.

Pioneering and award-winning geneticist, Professor Pia Ostergaard, is leading the way in gene discovery at the Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute at St George’s, University of London.

Professor Pia Ostergaard

Having successfully identified gene mutations that cause primary lymphoedema, an inherited abnormality of the lymphatic system that can cause swellings of the limbs and body due to fluid build-up, Pia’s discoveries have been published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at international conferences.

Primary lymphoedema is a lifelong, often disabling condition which can be distressing, debilitating, and often painful.

In 2012, Pia was awarded Red’s magazine Hot Women Power Part-Timer Award, and in 2018, she was presented with a Lymphatic Education & Research Network and Gordon Research Conferences Career Achievement award as recognition for her significant contribution to lymphatic research.

Pia’s early career

Pia had nearly finished a PhD in zoology in 2002, when she had to go on maternity leave with her first child. Her second child was born 14 months later, and Pia submitted her thesis 13 months after that. Pia obtained her PhD from Imperial College in 2004 carrying out the majority of the work at the Natural History Museum, in the Department of Zoology.

After her career break and with the help of a Daphne Jackson Fellowship sponsored by the Medical Research Council, which started in 2005, she switched fields and retrained in Medical Genetics which she felt would lead to greater employment opportunities overall. Also, there were a lot of transferable skills between the techniques Pia used in her museum work that enabled her to switch to a new field.

Pia says: “My Daphne Jackson Fellowship enabled me to return to scientific research and I am extremely grateful to the Trust for my Fellowship and everything that has happened after it! My Fellowship gave me the unique ability to work part-time and flexibly at the time when my children were young, which meant I could retrain in a different field and fulfil my career potential but also be there to care and support my family when they needed me”.

After finishing her Daphne Jackson Fellowship, Pia went onto complete two further part-time fellowships, sponsored by The British Skin Foundation and The British Heart Foundation.

After her Fellowships, Pia continued her research into the genetics of primary lymphoedema, on a part-time basis in collaboration with St George’s, University of London, whilst also working for the Daphne Jackson Trust as a Senior Fellowship Advisor. Following this, Pia was promoted to lecturer in Human Genetics at St George’s in 2013, senior lecturer in 2015 and Reader in 2017. In October 2020, Pia was promoted to Professor in Human Genetics & Head of Genetics Research Centre at St George’s Medical School.

In addition, Pia still manages to find time to act as a Trustee for the Daphne Jackson Trust.

Pia says: “The Trust helped me return to scientific research, thus I want to ‘give back’ some of my time in recognition of what a tremendous help this was to me.”