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Defining Moment

Gertrude B. Elion M.S.[Chemisty]

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1988
National Medal of Science - Chemistry 1991

Chemist, Pharmacologist. Discovered principles for drug treatment; developed drugs - anticancer, immunosuppressive, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-gout, anti-malarial. Purines.

"I was a child with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. My beloved grandfather died of cancer when I was 15. I was highly motivated to discover a cure for this terrible disease".

Defining Moment

Gertrude Elion, as a child, was very eager to gain knowledge. She enjoyed all courses in school. At the end of high school, it was difficult for her to decide the field in which to major. When Gertrude was 15 yrs of age, her beloved grandfather had passed away due to cancer. Perhaps this event was a contributory factor for her to decide "to do something that might eventually lead to a cure for this terrible disease" - a defining moment. She enrolled in Hunter College and decided to major in science and specifically in chemistry.

Sometime after obtaining a Master of Science degree in chemistry, Elion was working as assistant to Dr. George Hitchings. Years later she would share the Nobel Prize. She was at liberty to learn as fast as she could do so and he increased her responsibilities based on her abilities and knowledge. Elion extended her work beyond organic chemistry to microbiology and the biological activities of the compounds which she was synthesizing. Thus she ventured into biochemistry, pharmacology, immunology and eventually into virology.

While working with Dr. George Hitchings, Elion was eager to obtain a doctoral degree. For several years she undertook long commutes to attend night classes at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. Then she was informed that to obtain a doctorate she would have to be a full time student quitting her job - not a part time student. For Elion this was a very critical decision in her life and another defining moment. She decided to continue to work and forego the pursuit of the doctorate. Years later, she would be awarded three honorary doctorates from George Washington University, Brown University and the University of Michigan. These degrees made her feel that her past decision had been the right one. Unfortunately, by then both her parents had passed away.

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Elion
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Name: Gertrude Belle Elion
Birth: 23 January 1918, New York, NY, USA
Death: 21 February 1999, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
Institution: Wellcome Research Laboratories, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA
Award: "for their discoveries of important principles for drug treatment"
Subject: Pharmacology
Portion of cash: 1/3
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