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Gertrude B. Elion

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Title: Gertrude B. Elion  
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Subject: List of Nobel laureates by university affiliation, National Women's Hall of Fame, List of Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine, Mildred Cohn, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Collection: 1918 Births, 1999 Deaths, American Biochemists, American Biologists, American Nobel Laureates, American Pharmacologists, Duke University Faculty, Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Foreign Members of the Royal Society, Hunter College Alumni, Jewish American Scientists, Jewish Chemists, Jewish Inventors, Lemelson-Mit Program, Members of the Institute of Medicine, Members of the United States National Academy of Sciences, National Medal of Science Laureates, New York University Alumni, Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, People from New York City, Polytechnic Institute of New York University Alumni, Recipients of the Garvan–olin Medal, Women Biologists, Women Inventors, Women Nobel Laureates, Women Scientists
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Gertrude B. Elion

Gertrude Elion
Born Gertrude Belle Elion
(1918-01-23)January 23, 1918
New York City, United States
Died February 21, 1999(1999-02-21) (aged 81)
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
Citizenship United States
Alma mater Hunter College
Notable awards

Gertrude Belle Elion (January 23, 1918 – February 21, 1999)[1] was an Sir James Black. Working alone as well as with Hitchings and Black, Elion developed a multitude of new drugs, using innovative research methods that would later lead to the development of the AIDS drug AZT.[2][3][4]


  • Education and early life 1
  • Career and research 2
  • Awards and honors 3
  • Personal life 4
    • Quotes 4.1
  • References 5

Education and early life

Elion was born in

  1. ^ a b c  
  2. ^ Holloway, M. (1991) Profile: Gertrude Belle Elion – The Satisfaction of Delayed Gratification, Scientific American 265(4), 40–44. PubMed
  3. ^ Chast, François (1970–80). "Elion, Gertrude Belle".  
  4. ^ McGrayne, Sharon Bertsch (1998). "Gertrude Elion". Nobel Prize Women in Science. Carol Publishing Group. pp. 280–303. 
  5. ^ Bertha and Gertrude Elion | Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved on May 12, 2014.
  6. ^ a b Elion, Gertrude. "Les Prix Nobel". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  7. ^ Autobiography of Elion at
  8. ^ Biographical Memoirs of Elion by Mary Ellen Avery
  9. ^ Women of Valor exhibit on Gertrude Elion at the Jewish Women's Archive
  10. ^ New York Times obituary of Gertrude Elion
  11. ^ Gertrude B. Elion, Biography of Gertrude B. Elion, Jewish Women Encyclopedia
  12. ^ Marx, Vivien (2005). "6-Mercaptopurine".  
  13. ^ "Gertrude B. Elion". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved July 26, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Directory: IOM Member - Gertrude B. Elion, M.S.". Institute of Medicine. Retrieved July 26, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter E" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 25, 2014. 
  16. ^ Staff. "The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details: GERTRUDE B. ELION".  
  17. ^ Staff. "Invent Now: Hall of Fame: Gertrude Belle Elion".  
  18. ^ Staff (1988). "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1988: Sir James W. Black, Gertrude B. Elion, George H. Hitchings". Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  19. ^ Staff (March 6, 1991). "Gertrude B. Elion: Interview (page: 5/7)".  
  20. ^ "Gertrude Elion url=". 


  • "I had no specific bent toward science until my grandfather died of cancer. I decided nobody should suffer that much."
  • "The idea was to do research, find new avenues to conquer, new mountains to climb."[19]
  • "Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Don’t let others discourage you or tell you that you can’t do it. In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry. I saw no reason why we couldn’t." [20]


Elion never married, had no children, and listed her hobbies as photography, travel and listening to music.[18] Gertrude Elion died in North Carolina in 1999, aged 81.

Personal life

In 1988 Elion received the Nobel Prize in Medicine, together with Hitchings and Sir James Black. She was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1990,[13] a member of the Institute of Medicine in 1991[14] and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences also in 1991.[15] Other awards include the National Medal of Science (1991),[16] Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award (1997), and the Garvan-Olin Medal (1968). In 1991 she became the first woman to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.[17] She was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1995.[1]

Awards and honors

During 1967 she occupied the position of the head of the company’s Department of Experimental Therapy and officially retired in 1983. Despite her retirement, Elion continued working almost full-time at the lab, and oversaw the adaptation of azidothymidine (AZT), which became the first drug used for treatment of AIDS.

Rather than relying on trial-and-error, Elion and Hitchings used the differences in biochemistry between normal human cells and pathogens (disease-causing agents) to design drugs that could kill or inhibit the reproduction of particular pathogens without harming the host cells. Most of Elion's early work came from the use and development of purines. Elion's inventions include:

Elion had moved to the Burroughs Wellcome.

Career and research

She began to go to school night at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, but after several years of long range commuting, she was informed that she would no longer be able to continue her doctorate on a part-time basis, but would need to give up her job and go to school full-time. Elion made what was then a critical decision in her life, to stay with her job and give up the pursuit of a doctorate.[6] She never obtained a formal Ph.D., but was later awarded an honorary Ph.D from Polytechnic University of New York in 1989 and honorary SD degree from Harvard university in 1998.


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