Gertrude B. Elion passed away in 1999 after receiving the Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine.
Gertrude was scientist emeritus with Glaxo Wellcome Inc., in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
She played a major role in the development of allopurinol for the treatment of gout and acyclovir and created the first selective antiviral agent against herpes virus infections.
In 1967, she was appointed as the head of the department of experimental therapy at Duke University and continued in that position until 1983 when she retired and became scientist emeritus. During her time at Duke, she was an adjunct professor of pharmacology and experimental medicine.
Gertrude is responsible for the synthesis and co-development of the first two successful drugs for the treatment of leukemia (thioguanine and mercaptopurine). She also co-developed azathioprine, an agent that prevents the rejection of kidney transplants and treats rheumatoid arthritis. With several years of laboratory work and teaching chemistry and physics, she joined Wellcome Research Laboratories in 1944 as a biochemist.
A promotion awaited her as a result of her efforts: senior research chemist and assistant to the research director.
She was president of the American Association for Cancer Research and served as a presidential appointee on the National Cancer Advisory Board. The accumulation of Gertrude’s efforts came from an election to a formal membership position in the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society. Other honors appointed were from the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame.
She received 25 honorary doctorate degrees and was the recipient of numerous awards including the National Medal of Science, the Garvan Medal from the American Chemical Society, the President’s Award from the American Association for Cancer Research, the Ernst W. Bertner Memorial Award from MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Discoverers Award from the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, the Medal of Honor from the American Cancer Society, and the Lemelson/MIT Lifetime Achievement Award.
Gertrude received a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in 1937 and a master’s degree in chemistry from New York University in 1941.