Inventors are inspirational. Gertrude B. Elion was an inventor, biochemist, pharmacologist, and educator. She, alone or with George H Hitchings and Sir James Black, developed many new drugs, including the AZT drug used with AIDS patients.
Gertrude Belle Elion was born on January 23, 1918 in New York, New York. Her parents were Lithuanian immigrants and her father was a dentist. The family moved to the Bronx when her younger brother was born. She did well in school and graduated high school young. Her grandfather died of cancer when she was fifteen. His sickness and death motivated her to try and cure the disease. She graduated with honors from Hunter College with a degree in Chemistry in 1937. She worked as a high school teacher during the day and then graduated New York University with a Master of Science in 1941. Jobs shortages for women led to her working at a food lab before becoming an assistant to George H. Hitchings at then Burroughs-Wellcome pharmaceutical company.
She moved to the Research Triangle, in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, in 1970. She worked for the National Cancer Institute, American Association for Cancer Research, the World Heath Organization, and other organizations as well. She was Head of the Department of Experimental Therapy for Burroughs Wellcome from 1967 to 1983. She was an Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology and of Experimental Medicine at Duke University from 1971 until 1983. She went on as a Research Professor from 1983 until 1999. Elion worked to use and develop purines. Her inventions include drugs for leukemia treatment, organ transplants, gout, malaria, meningitis, herpes and cancer treatment. She retired in 1983, but continued to work at the lab. She oversaw the adaptation of AZT.
In 1988, she received the Nobel Prize in Medicine with Hitchings and Sir James Black. Over the next several years, she became a member of prestigious organizations and received other awards. In 1991, she became the first woman inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 1995, she was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. She never married, but enjoyed family time with her brother’s children. She enjoyed traveling, the opera, ballet, theater, and photography. She died in 1999 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Be inspired! Have a bright day!