We created the Neocardiogenesis Project with Dr. Julia Polak MD,PhD, at Imperial College Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Centre. (London)

The author of some 1,000 original papers, 115 review articles and editor or author of 25 books, Julia Polak was one of the most widely cited researchers in her field. She served on several national and international tissue engineering and stem cell advisory panels, and was the European editor of the journal Tissue Engineering.

She was appointed DBE (Dame Commander British Empire) by the Queen on her birthday in 2003. She passed away on August 11, 2014 and she will be missed. We wish to establish a trust to fund a new medical research foundation; the Dr. Julia Polak Women’s Regenerative Medical Centre here in the US. At the time of her death Julia Polak was one of the world’s longest-surviving heart- lung transplant patients.

 Julia Polak

Fiona M. Watt

FMW: What changes for women in science have you observed during the course of your career?

JP: There have been many changes for the better, and women are becoming more confident and have been recognised much more in the fields of science and medicine. This is illustrated by the Royal Society conferring more fellowships on women than it did in earlier years.

FMW: How has your research career impacted on your personal life and vice versa?

JP: The two are highly interlinked. It is impossible to separate my research career and my personal life. For example, I come from an intellectual background and my parents always expected me to do well professionally. They were extremely supportive of my work and, in fact, they helped me financially to come to this country and during the early stages following my arrival.

I married a doctor, Daniel Catvosky, who is now a professor of haematology, and we raised three children, now grown up. Whether or not it has helped that Daniel is in the same line of work as me is a rather difficult question to answer since I have only had one husband! But I would imagine that it has been important.

I do not think of Britain as my adopted country. It feels like my native country because all my children were brought up here and, of course, I developed my career in this country. I was awarded a DBE for services to medicine in her Majesty The Queen's Birthday Honours list in 2003 and I am happy to belong to the British Establishment.

In 1995, I had a heart and lung transplant. This prompted me to turn my attention to a nascent field: regenerative medicine or tissue engineering. This new field aims at producing cells and tissues for implantation – hence, cell-based therapies can be undertaken and the body's own regenerative processes can be stimulated. Diseases that can be treated include heart disease, brittle bone disease, traumatic injury, end-stage lung diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. The Imperial College Tissue Engineering Centre, under my leadership, has achieved a world first in tissue engineering of bone and of lung. A paper recently published in Science outlines the genetic basis for the development of new biomedical materials.

FMW: Do you feel that being a woman is an inherent advantage/disadvantage for a career in science? Why?

JP: Pathology is a medical specialty that lends itself to research. I chose it because of my strong interest and aptitude for research. I cannot say that I have noticed that pathology has a reputation of being a male-dominated profession. I think there are plenty of women pathologists. During my career I have seen many positive changes and women are treated almost equally within the profession.

It is sometimes argued that women who combine research with raising a family suffer in terms of research productivity. That is certainly not true in my case. I was rated number 8 of the world's most prolific scientists for the period 1981-1990, according to Science Watch (Institute for Scientific Information). I am number 28 of the 100 most cited scientists (“Citation Superstars”) for 1981-1988 and one of the 1,000 most cited contemporary authors in pathology.

When I look at my research output I do not see any correlation between my publication rate and my family responsibilities. My children were all very young during the 1980s. The eldest, my daughter, was just a teenager and the two youngest were not even at that stage. I only wish I could have had more `balls to juggle', which is the essence of combining everything.

FMW: What are your remaining career ambitions?

JP: I would like to carry on developing the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Centre and to leave it in such a vibrant and viable state that, when I do depart, there will be someone to continue and enhance the work. In other words, I hope that the seed I have planted will continue to grow and flourish when I am no longer the head gardener.