Dame Jean Macnamara: Google honours work of pioneering polio scientist and doctor

Chelsea Ritschel

Google is celebrating the life and career of doctor and pioneering disease scientist Dame Jean Macnamara on what would have been her 121st birthday.

Born in Australia on 1 April 1899, Macnamara realised while growing up during World War I that she wanted “to be of some use in the world”.

In 1925, Macnamara’s opportunity came, when a polio epidemic struck Melbourne the same year she graduated from medical school.

For the next six years, Macnamara worked as a consultant and medical officer to the Poliomyelitis Committee of Victoria, where her focus turned to “treating and researching the potentially fatal virus, a particular risk for children,” according to the Doodle.

Her research on the disease, in collaboration with future Nobel Prize winner Sir Macfarlane Burnet, eventually led to the discovery that there are multiple strains of polio. The findings would be important later on when a polio vaccination was developed in 1955.

Macnamara’s dedication to researching the virus meant she also found many new methods of treatment and rehabilitation for children, which included splints and restraining devices, throughout her lifetime.

Her method included splinting the paralysed part of the body until the damaged nerve had recovered, and then re-educating the muscles, according to the Australian National University’s Dictionary of Biography.

A decade after graduating from medical school, Macnamara was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1935.

Macnamara treated patients until her death at the age of 69 from cardiovascular disease in 1968.

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