Like the iconic “Rosie the Riveter,” women showed the world they could weld steel, build munitions and transport cargo during WWII, women of science also came to the fore showing the world the depth of their intellectual capabilities. In honor of Labor Day, The Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine would like to pay tribute to the medical and scientific breakthroughs pioneered by the following exceptional women—Dr. Virginia Apgar, Dr. Gerty Cori, Dr. Jennifer Doudna, Gertrude Elion, Dr. Marie Irené Ferrer, Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, and Dr. Elizabeth Stern. These women would not allow their brilliance to be thwarted and we are grateful for their perseverance, resilience and incredible intelligence.
On a personal note, I was privileged to have known and to have been mentored by Dr. Marie Irené Ferrer. To pay tribute to her and to encourage a new generation of pioneers, the Foundation offers the M. Irené Ferrer Scholar Award to junior faculty members in the department of medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. We also offer grants to young scientists and researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine. Please read more about our research grants and how you can donate to our efforts.
The contributions of these women and others in the medical and scientific fields are less heralded than their male counterparts but no less significant in our lives today. So let us honor their labors for medicine, science and humanity.–Dr. Marianne Legato
Virginia Apgar, a physician and medical researcher, is best known for developing the Apgar Scoring System, which predicts a newborn’s survival and neurological development. She was also the first woman at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons to be named a full professor of anesthesiology.
Gerty Cori, in conjunction with her husband Carl Cori, won the Nobel Prize for their diabetes-related research work on glycogen. The Cori’s research collaboration spanned several decades and began when they were medical students. Their first joint paper resulted from an immunological study of the complement of human serum.
Jennifer Doudna is one of the lead researchers and co-creators (with Emmanuelle Charpentier) behind CRISPR-CAS9, a novel-gene editing technology which lays the groundwork for manipulating DNA by editing out mutant genes to prevent diseases. Dr. Doudna is also a member of the departments of Molecular and Cell Biology and Chemistry at UC Berkeley, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, along with the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Gertrude B. Elion was a biochemist and pharmacologist who was instrumental in developing drugs to treat leukemia, herpes, malaria and prevent kidney transplant rejection. She won a Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988 for her work with Dr. George Hitchings at Wellcome Research Laboratories.
Marie Irené Ferrer was an eminent cardiologist who demonstrated the potential of the cardiac catheter in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. She was also the first woman to serve as a chief resident at Bellevue Hospital.
Rita Levi-Montalcini was a distinguished neurologist who shared the 1986 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine jointly with her colleague Dr. Stanley Cohen. Together, they discovered the protein NGF, which stimulates nerve cell growth. Their work helped physicians better understand senile dementia and other tumor diseases.
Elizabeth Stern was a pathologist who devoted her research career to the causes and progression of cervical cancer resulting in critical breakthroughs benefiting women’s health. She identified 250 stages of a cervical cells’ progression from normal to cancerous that enabled early cancer detection and treatment. She was also the first to note the link between prolonged use of contraceptives and cervical cancer.
Nota Bene: There are many more wonderful women in the sciences and medical fields throughout the world who have contributed to our knowledge today, so if we have left anyone out—it is purely an oversight. MLJ