Gertrude Belle Elion (Biochemist / Pharmacologist / Nobel Prize Winner)

gertrude-belle-elion.jpgGertrude Belle Elion (January 23, 1918 – February 21, 1999) was an American biochemist and pharmacologist, and a 1988 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Working alone as well as with George H. Hitchings, Elion developed a multitude of new drugs, using innovative research methods that would later lead to the development of the AIDS drug AZT.

Born in New York City to immigrant parents, she graduated from Hunter College in 1937 and New York University (M.Sc.) in 1941. Unable to obtain a graduate research position due to her gender, she worked as a lab assistant and a high school teacher.

Later, she left to work as an assistant to George H. Hitchings at the Burroughs-Wellcome pharmaceutical company (now GlaxoSmithKline). She never obtained a formal Ph.D., but was later awarded an honorary Ph.D from Polytechnic University of New York in 1989 and honorary SD degree from Harvard university in 1998.

Rather than relying on trial-and-error, Elion and Hitchings used the differences in biochemistry between normal human cells and pathogens (disease-causing agents) to design drugs that could kill or inhibit the reproduction of particular pathogens without harming the host cells.


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