For every Nobel Prize there is a story. Gertrude B. Elion has made enormous contributions to the medical and pharmaceutical world, but in order to understand her achievements we must first take a look at her past.
Born in New York in 1918 Gertrude spent a lot of her childhood in Manhattan, later moving to the Bronx. Even through her earlier years of education, she was a very bright student that was driven by an”insatiable thirst for knowledge“. However, when Dr. Elion was only 15, she witnessed a familial tragedy; the death of her dear grandfather whose life had been taken by cancer. This event pushed Gertrude even further towards a path in science so that she could eradicate the tragic health issues that affect so many innocent people, including her own family. By the age of 19, Gertrude impressively graduated summa cum laude in chemistry, her motivation no dimmer than it had been before. While continuing her education, she also worked as a part-time lab assistant and substitute teacher. Alongside of a honorary Ph.D. from the Polytechnic University of New York, Dr. Elion also received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Harvard University.
With an excellent educational background Gertrude started working for Burroughs-Welcome in 1944, with Dr. George H. Hitchings. Unlike many scientists at that time, she used a unique approach, studying diseased cells to create medicine. To block viral infections they designed drugs by examening the biochemical difference between cells. This new perspective provided much success, allowing Dr. Elion to create drugs treat issues such as leukemia, AIDS, herpes and transplant rejection. Throughout her carreer she created 45 medical patents and gained so much respect and praise in the scientific community. Dr. Elion’s contributions got her 23 honorary awards, a Nobel Prize in Medicine and she was even recognized as an adviser for the World Health Organization. Gertrude Elion’s perseverance and pharmaceutical journey has provided us access to drugs such as Nelarabine (cancer treatement), Azathioprine (first immuno-suppressive), Trimethoprim (meningitis) and many more. Her hard work payed of by saving and improving so many lives over the past few decades and Dr. Elion will surely be remembered for innovation in biochemistry and pharmacology.