Gertrude B. Elion

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Gertrude B. 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. Born in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents, she graduated from Hunter College in 1937. Unable to obtain a graduate research position due to her sex, she worked as a lab assistant and a high school teacher, before becoming an assistant to George H. Hitchings at the Burroughs-Wellcome pharmaceutical company (now GlaxoSmithKline). She never obtained a Ph.D..

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

Elion's inventions include:

Gertrude Elion came out of retirement to develop AZT. Most pharmacologists never come close to making one drug in a lifetime, Gertrude Elion made six. In 1988 Elion received the Nobel Prize in Medicine, together with Hitchings and Sir James Black. Other awards include the National Medal of Science (1991) and the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award (1997). In 1991 she became the first woman to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Gertrude Elion died in 1999, aged 81. She was unmarried and had no children.

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