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“Lady of the Cells” A Great Loss at Age 103

February 27, 2014

The Loss of a Great Scientist

Imagine a Jewish woman, surviving the anti-Semitic discrimination of the Nazi regime in WWII, going on to pioneer groundbreaking research into the mysteries of the cell and winning a Nobel Prize. That Jewish woman was Rita Levi-Montalcini, a biologist who conducted underground research defying Nazi persecution. Levi-Montalcini passed away in Italy at the age of 103.

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Her life was defined by struggle and accomplishment. At the age of 20, she defied her father’s wishes and attended Turin University and obtained a medical and surgical degree in 1936. As the curtain of Nazi fascism fell across Europe, she struggle with discrimination when she lost her research job in 1938 because of Italian laws that supported the Nazi cause. Undaunted, she established a small research operation in her bedroom, studying the development of chicken embryos, which would later lead to her major discovery of mechanisms that regulate growth of cells and organs.

In 1947 Levi-Montalcini was invited to the United States, where she remained for more than 20 years, which she called “the happiest and most productive” period of her life. She continued her ground-breaking research into the cell and related scientific discoveries. She then returned to Italy and headed a prestigious research institution, where she found significant success. After her retirement in the late 70′s, she continued to be active in her work, publishing work and conducting research that led to the release of a book. In 2006, she became active in Italian politics, serving as a member of Parliament and was subsequently awarded the position for life.

Levi-Montalcini had no children and never married, fearing such ties would undercut her independence. Her dedication and focus on her work yielded amazing breakthroughs into the science of the cell. We can never forget this brilliant scientist who represented a civic conscience, culture and the spirit of research of our time. Read more about this fascinating lady.

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