30 Years Later: Looking Back on Professor Dominique Meyer’s Ascent to Becoming the First Female ISTH Council Chair

30 Years Later: Looking Back on Professor Dominique Meyer’s Ascent to Becoming the First Female ISTH Council Chair

By Luke Blount

It was more than 30 years ago when Dominique Meyer, M.D., from France, attended her first ISTH Council meeting and found herself trying to keep up with the fast-paced conversation. At the time, she was one of the few non-native English speakers at the meeting, but immediately made an impact by her hard work and charm. Nonetheless, it was unexpected when she was announced as the first female Chairman-Elect of Council (now called President-Elect).

“It was very difficult for me to understand what was going on,” Meyer recalls. “It was my first meeting of the Council. Everyone was speaking very fast, and I had to concentrate really hard to follow what was happening. Then, all of a sudden, I realized that I had been elected Chairman-Elect!”

What was an unexpected turn of events for her was a well-deserved selection in the eyes of her colleagues. As the ISTH marks 30 years since the beginning of Meyer’s 1992-94 term as the leader of the ISTH Council, we look back at her life and career as an important trailblazer in the Society.

A Love Story with the ISTH

In the 1960s, Meyer completed her medical training in France and joined the lab of Professor Marie-José Larrieu, an important figure in the field of thrombosis and hemostasis and a contributor to the young International Committee on Thrombosis and Hemostasis (ICTH), the precursor to the Scientific and Standardization Committee (SSC) and the ISTH, which was officially founded in 1969.

In those early days, the ICTH/ISTH conferences were largely dominated by participants from the United States. Recognizing this lack of diversity, the leaders sought out Europeans who could speak English and present research. Quickly, Meyer began to be invited to contribute to international conferences as while a native French speaker she could also speak English fluently.

“I started being invited to one meeting after the other, and soon I had made my own reputation,” Meyer said. “The fact that I could speak English fluently has always been a great help to me.”

Meyer attended the first ISTH Congress in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1970, and joined the ISTH the same year. Very soon after that, she was invited to get involved in the committee work of the ISTH.  

“The ISTH has been extremely important to me,” Meyer explained. “I became part of the committees and subcommittees as soon as I started doing research.”

As time went on, Meyer formed strong bonds with important leaders all over the world. Her carnet of address was filled with pioneers in the field, spending time with Ted Zimmerman, Harold Roberts, Ken Brinkhous and Ken Mann. She also worked closely with Pier Mannucci, Tom Edgington and Harvey Weiss. Meyer’s ability to network and collaborate has been key to her successful career, as well as an example of the value of ISTH membership.

Meyer’s research focused particularly on factor VIII and von Willebrand factor (VWF). As such, she served as Chair of the Subcommittee on Factor VIII and VWF from 1983-86 and then as Chair of the new Subcommittee on VWF from 1986-87. She was elected to the ISTH Council in 1988 before her nomination as Council Chair. The Society awarded her with the Distinguished Career Award in 1995.

In 2001, Meyer once again took on a leadership role within the Society when served as the first female ISTH Congress President (now called Congress Chair), bringing the Society into the new millennium at the ISTH 2001 Congress in Paris, France. Her organizing ability was recognized and appreciated by the over 8,000 participants at this congress who left with many memories of high quality science as well as of Parisian history and arts.

Then, in recognition of her contributions to the field and service to the Society, the ISTH awarded her with the Grant Medal in 2005, the highest honor of the Society. She was once again the first female to receive the award. 

“It has been a love story between the ISTH and myself,” Meyer said. “The ISTH has counted a lot in my life.”

Breaking Barriers as a Female Scientist

When Meyer led the ISTH from 1992-94, it was rare for women to serve in leadership positions in the Society. In fact, it took more than 20 years before another woman would serve as ISTH Council Chair again, but according to Meyer, she simply never considered the idea that her gender could be limiting to her career.

“I enjoyed it. I just loved what I was doing,” Meyer said. “For me, it was a treat to be able to work and do things that I loved. I never thought about whether it was going to be a problem to be a woman. I never thought about these sorts of things. I just run, run.”

Indeed, her colleagues recognized her diligence and the products of her research. In her career, she helped characterize the structure and domains of von Willebrand factor. Among other things, she helped characterize mutations that caused its absence, and she helped characterize the enzymes that cut the molecule into smaller fragments.

“She is a very clever and brilliant academic,” said Alan Nurden, Ph.D., who served as Vice President of the ISTH 2001 Congress alongside Meyer. “Dominique is a very generous person. She is extremely hard-working. She is a brilliant organizer and recognizes high-quality research … She was chosen as Council Chair because at the time she was the best person to be chosen as Council Chair. That she happened to be a woman was excellent and really good news for the Society.”

Meyer speculates that for some women it may have been intimidating in those days to lead the ISTH Council, but she credits her colleagues with encouraging her to accept the position.

“Maybe it is because I did not ask myself any questions; I just said yes,” Meyer said. “Maybe if I had thought it over, I would have thought that I wouldn’t be capable of doing it, but I just said, ‘OK. We’ll see what happens.’ I was confident in the people who were asking me. If they are asking me, then they know who I am, and they know I can do it. I was confident in them, not in me.”

Though Meyer admits she is known for taking her responsibilities very seriously, she thinks that finding joy in her work is what has propelled her career. Today, Meyer advises young scientists to study what they love and work hard.

“All subjects of research are interesting; all of them,” she said. “Any subject that you choose is interesting if you study it thoroughly.”

Recently she met with a 19-year-old female student and gave her the following advice:

“I just told her study, study, study; work, work, work. It makes absolutely no difference that you are a woman,” Meyer said. “If you work, and you know what you want to do, you will succeed. You must be open to any possibilities. Don’t worry and just work hard.”

Though she no longer works in the lab, Meyer continues to follow her own advice about work ethic. She has the rare distinction as a Grand Officer in the French National Order of the Legion of Honor, and she now serves in the French Academy of Sciences, where she continues to lead committees that seek to improve research and scientific communication.

“I have been busy all my life,” she says with a smile. After more than 50 years, the work is still a joy.

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