This is the eighth in a series about Famous Women in STEM History. The goal of these articles is to encourage young women and girls to pursue a career in the STEM fields. I hope you share these stories so that others will hear the accomplishments of these women and be thus inspired to also find success in a STEM field.
Growing up at a time when women were marginalized in science and allowed few educational opportunities, Gerty Cori became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for her role in the discovery of glycogen metabolism. It is with this discovery that we began to better understand how the body processes food and thus the discovery continues to impact much of our lives today.
Born Gerty Theresa Radnitz in Prague on August, 15, 1896, she met her future husband and research collaborator, Carl Cori, while in medical school during anatomy class. They soon became inseparable and married soon after Gerty graduated from school. Their partnership came known as a partnership of equals as Carl insisted that his accompany him as an equal partner in the lab where ever he worked. In the early 1920’s as Europe was rebuilding after WWI and anti-Semitism was growing, the Cori’s left for the United States as a way to protect both Gerty’s life and career. 1922, Carl was hired to run the lab at the State Institute for the Study of Malignant Disease, in Buffalo, New York, and got his wife a job there as an assistant pathologist. In America, the Cori’s found a thriving scientific community. They became citizens in 1928.
After eight years in Buffalo, where they published 50 papers together, they sought a place better suited to their research. But few institutions would hire Gerty, despite her accomplishments, and those that did would not give her equal status or pay. Carl was able to secure a job at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Gerty she became a research associate. Sixteen years later (and two months after receiving the Nobel Prize), Gerty was finally promoted to the rank of professor.
The Cori’s research led them to discover the process by which glucose is metabolized in the human body. In 1929 they described the Cori cycle, the basic cellular process in which the body stores sugar in muscle cells as glycogen, sends it to the liver for processing into a usable form, and then sends it back to muscles as glucose.
Further research into the breakdown of glycogen led to the identification the enzyme that initiates decomposition into glucose. In order to accomplish this, the Cori’s pioneered a method of doing biochemical research in a controlled environment outside of living cells. This is the lasting impact of their research as it lead to greater understanding of the metabolic process and the human body.
Carl and Gerty Cori, as well as, Argentine physiologist Bernardo Houssay, received the Nobel Prize in 1947 for the discovery of the human body’s process glycogen metabolism, known as the Cori cycle.
Source: Wikipedia and NobelPrize.org
Sheri Yarbray is a CEO, the founder of Your Therapy Source LLC a home healthcare staffing company, a STEM entrepreneur, and proud mom. Sheri is passionate about delivering high quality home healthcare to patients, inspiring young women to move into STEM careers, and sharing ideas about managing a balance between a work and a home life. You can follow Sheri on LinkedIn @Sheri Yarbray
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