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Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori wins Nobel Prize

December 10, 1947
Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori
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Biochemist Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori (1896-1957) and her husband Carl Ferdinand Cori (1896-1984) were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1947 for their work on how the human body metabolizes sugar. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori (1896–1957) became the first Jewish woman, as well as the first American woman, to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences when she received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on December 10, 1947. She won the prize jointly with her husband, Dr. Carl F. Cori, and Bernardo A. Houssay. The scientists were honored for their research in identifying the “Cori Cycle” which explains how the body converts carbohydrates into sugars that supply muscles with energy. This research was particularly important in leading to the understanding and treatment of diabetes.

Dr. Gerty Cori was born in Prague. Encouraged by her family, she enrolled at the Medical School of the German University of Prague, receiving her Doctorate in Medicine in 1920. Together with her husband, Cori immigrated to the United States and became a citizen in 1928. Carl took a position at the State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases in Buffalo, NY, and Gerty was hired as an assistant pathologist. The Coris persisted in working together despite the discouragement of many institutions that sought to hire only Carl. In 1931, they moved to St. Louis where Carl became the chair of the pharmacology department at Washington University School of Medicine. Gerty was offered a position as a research assistant.

When Carl was made chair of a new biochemistry department in 1946, Gerty was finally promoted to full professor. They won the Nobel Prize the following year. In 1952, President Truman appointed her to the Board of Directors of the National Science Foundation.

To learn more about Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: Jewish women and the Nobel prize, Jewesses with Attitude.

Sources: New York Times, October 24, 1947, October 27, 1957; www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_69.html.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori wins Nobel Prize." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/dec/10/1947/gerty-theresa-radnitz-cori>.