GERTRUDE ELION

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Today’s boss ass bitch is Gertrude Elion 

By Kate Walker 

As a young person, Gertrude enjoyed all her school subjects and she excelled as a student. But when her grandfather died of cancer, Elion – born on 23rd Jan 1918 – made it her resolve to try and find a cure for cancer so as to ensure that other people don’t lose their loved ones to this disease.

Gertrude b. Elion studied chemistry at Hunter College in New York and  graduated in 1937.  Society, however, did not believe that women had what it takes to excel as scientists and this made it difficult for her to join different graduate programs around the country. 

She did not give up on her desire to further her studies and in 1939, she was accepted in New York University as the only chemistry student in her class. 

In 1941, she graduated with her master’s degree in chemistry. With the shortage of personnel, employers, including in science institutions and research centers started taking women seriously. 

Elion was, therefore, able to get a job as an analytical chemist in a food factory. She wanted something with more brain stimulation; and she found that when she joined Burroughs Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) as a biochemist. 

She worked alongside Dr. George Hitchings and her appetite for science and innovation was met since together they were able to pioneer a new method of creating medicinal drugs by studying the composition of pathogens. 

Using this unorthodox method, Elion helped engineer the development of medicines that have helped in the treatment of leukemia in children. 

In 1967, Elion was appointed to head the Experimental Therapy Department at Burroughs Wellcome. In this position, she oversaw the development of some vital drugs key among them being the drug that was used to fight malaria; the  drug that is used to treat UTIs and the drug that is used in the treatment of shingles and herpes. 

In 1983 she retired from Burroughs Wellcome but still remained at the facility as a consultant. During her time as a consultant, she oversaw the development of the first drug used to fight AIDS known as (AZT). For their contribution to medicine, Ellion together with Dr. Hitchings and James Black received the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine in 1988. 

Gertrude B. Elion died in 1999 aged 81. Even though she did not find the cure for cancer, she was able to improve and save the lives of many others through her work as a scientist. 


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