Sunday, August 20, 2017

Women in STEM: Gertrude B. Elion

Article Written By: Teresa Marotta


Gertrude B. Elion (1918-1999) was an American biochemist and pharmacologist who  helped make drugs to treat leukemia and prevent kidney transplant rejection. Elion studied chemistry at Hunter College in New York City and after her graduation she found part-time work as a lab assistant. She later went back to school at New York University. Elion earned her master's degree in 1941. World War II created more opportunities for women in industry and Elion was hired at Burroughs-Wellcome in 1944. She worked for 40 years with Dr. George H. Hitchings. Elion and Hitchings created medicines by studying the chemical composition of diseased cells and they used the differences between normal human cells and disease-causing agents to make drugs that block viral infections. They developed drugs to treat leukemia, herpes, AIDS and they discovered treatments to reduce the body's rejection of foreign tissue in kidney transplants. In her career, Elion developed 45 patents in medicine and was awarded 23 honorary degrees. In 1997, she was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award and in 1998 she won a Nobel Prize for medicine. Elion died on February 21, 1999.

Quote: “Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Don’t let others discourage you or tell you that you can’t do it. In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.”

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