Gertrude B. Elion

Gertrude B. Elion left a legacy in the field of Pharmacology and biochemistry. She was born in 1918, New York, USA. She is credit with development of drugs that treat Leukemia and help in managing possible kidney transplant rejection. Owing to her impressive commitment to humanity through invaluable contribution in medical field, she won a Nobel Prize in 1988.Although she was among the few women that ventured into the male dominated health science career, she braved the stereotype and proved to be a great personality of all time (MacBain 34).

Gertrude’s early life was spent in Manhattan with her immigrant parents. Her father was a dental practitioner and they moved to Bronx after her brother was born. She pursued education with a rare zeal and excelled. At her teenage, her maternal grandfather succumbed to cancer and this motivated her to pursue chemistry at Hunter College in New York where she graduated at 19. Her attempts to get a job were frustrated by the gender stereotype that made many laboratories deny women job positions as chemists (Labrecque 51). She finally landed a part-time job where she served as lab assistant before going back to New York University to earn a master’s degree in 1941. She was able to get an honorary PhD from both Harvard University and Polytechnic University of New York.

Her career breakthrough came with the eruption of World War II. The war created job opportunity for women on various industries that included manufacturing and supply of food, drugs, and cloths, among others. Getrude landed quality assurance jobs in the consumer-products and food firms. She was later hired in 1944 to work with GlaxoSmithKline, formerly known as Burroughs-Wellcome.It is in the company that she took up a partnership spanning 40 years with Dr. George H. Hitchings who rewarded her thirst for knowledge with more responsibility. The two set out to study chemical composition of various disease cells. They devised different approach to trial and error that focused on using the differences that existed between disease-causing agents (pathogens) and normal human cells to design drugs that help prevent viral infections (Labrecque 63). She was able to work with a team to come up with drugs that helped manage Herpes, AIDS, and leukemia. Her team was also able to come up with treatment that prevented an organ recipient from rejecting the transplant from the donor. Overall, Getrude was awarded 23 honorary degrees and developed 45 patents in the field of medicine.

She retired after a great career in 1983. She served in several capacities in advisory to the WHO and American Association for Cancer Research (Reynolds 32). Besides, several other awards, the most outstanding one were the joint Nobel price she received alongside George Hitchings and Sir James Black in 1988. She was the first woman to gain admission to the prestigious National Inventors Hall of Fame before getting Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. She died on February 21, 1999; in Chapel Hill, North Carolina of old age.

Besides her immense contribution in medicine, Getrude never married but lived to love and care for her brother’s children. Her private life was also well-lived with hobbies such as travelling, photography, Opera, Ballet dance, and theater.

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