Faces of FASEB

Turning the Page on “Gender Cards”

Beverley Greenwood-Van Meerveld belongs to any number of scientific organizations with multisyllabic, acronym-rich names, among them the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) and the American Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society Institute (ANMSI). But one group she talks about with some sweet whimsy: the Swans.

She doesn’t recall how the dozen or so women came up with that name when they first met at an American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) conference in San Diego 30 years ago.

“Then we met for the next 30 years, and it's amazing,” she says of their reunion dinners at the AGA’s annual gathering. “We should write a book on this group of ladies.”

They include the AGA’s first female president and a president of the American Physiological Association, she says, while she served as the first female PhD to serve as a president of the ANMSI.  In 2021, she was named editor of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, an ASPET publication. 

A native of the United Kingdom, she attended the University of Sheffield, where she won Special Honors in her bachelor of science degree in Physiology in 1980. 

“I said to my dad, ‘I think that I’m interested in doing a PhD,’” she recalls. To that, she says he responded, ‘So is that something to do with plumbing, heating, and drains?’”

She earned her doctorate in Gastrointestinal Neurophysiology in 1983.

After postdoc work in gastrointestinal research at the University of Calgary, Canada, she finally settled in Oklahoma City. There, she worked at the VA Medical Center before joining the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center faculty.

Today, she owns nine U.S. patents. Her most recent one—spinal cord stimulation as treatment for functional bowel disorders—was granted in July 2007. And she has published nearly 170 research articles, more than two dozen reviews and 20 editorials, book chapters and letters, according to ASPET.

As head of the university’s Center for Neurosciences. she established a program that teamed physicians and PhDs for a community outreach program focusing on a specific topic: say, diet and the brain. The monthly sessions spanned 20 years, with attendance typically topping 100 people.

These days, she is retired, with titles that include George Lynn Cross Research Professor (with tenure); President’s Associates Presidential Professor; and Senior VA Research Career Scientist.

And she continues to do what she has always done in and outside the lab, namely mentoring women and women of color. When she arrived at JPET, for instance, she found a homogenous editorial board. “So,” she says. “So I've been actively seeking more and more folks of color, more women, but it's not easy.”

She recalls an incident in Philadelphia, where a woman, a full professor, approached her and said, “‘I'm having some issues developing collaborations. Could we talk about what I might be doing wrong?’”

Greenwood-Van Meerveld is clearly doing something right. In 2022, she garnered a Research Mentor Award from the AGA Institute’s Neurogastroenterology and Motility Section; the award recognizes “members who serve the gastroenterology and hepatology community as outstanding mentors in research,” according to the AGA.

That’s a long way from Southport, where, she says, a junior high school teacher told her that aspiring to be a doctor or scientist simply wasn’t in the gender cards.

“That negative thought made me more insistent on getting there, that was where my drive started,” she says. 

Now as an editor at a prestigious scientific journal, she’s turning the page on such thinking.

“Where I need to go,” she says, “is to mentor females and minorities to be able to ensure that the next hundred years we have more females and minorities as editors-in-chief of the journals.”

Beverley Greenwood-Van Meerveld is a member of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, a FASEB member society.