Women in Science Highlight: Gertrude B. Elion (1918-1999)

Even though she graduated from Hunter College, summa cum laude, with a degree in Chemistry at only 19 years old, Gertrude B. Elion was rejected from over 15 graduate programs1 as well as several lab technician jobs. Because she was a woman.

In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.”
 –Gertrude B. Elion


So, she did. Despite how disheartening and infuriating these rejections must have been, she pursued her passion: developing pharmaceuticals to treat cancer (types of leukemia, more specifically). Because of her intense curiosity, intelligence, and work ethic, she was able to defy the norms of her time, earning a partnership with Dr. George Hitchings. Their work also led to the development of AZT (a drug used to treat AIDS), and anti-rejection drugs to increase success after organ transplants.
Along with many other honors, Ms. Elion’s accomplishments include receiving 45 patents! Oh, and the 1988 Nobel Prize in Medicine (with George Hitchings and James Black).

Thank you, Gertrude B. Elion, for helping to pave the way for many other women in science.

**This blog post was inspired by my involvement in CSUN’s Women in Science club. Check out our Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/CSUNWiS

Gertrude Belle Elion. (2014). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 11:23, Dec 06, 2014,      from http://www.biography.com/people/gertrude-b-elion-9285981.

1. She did eventually receive her M.Sc from New York University, as well as begin her PhD part-time while working. She was told she could no longer pursue her doctorate part-time, and chose to continue working with Dr. Hitchings.

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