Gertrude Elion, 1918 - 1999
"It's amazing how much you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit."
Gertrude Elion's accomplishments over the course of her long career as a chemist were tremendous. Among the many drugs she developed were the first chemotherapy for childhood leukemia, the immunosuppressant that made organ transplantation possible, the first effective anti-viral medication, and treatments for lupus, hepatitis, arthritis, gout, and other diseases. With her research partner, George Hitchings, she revolutionized the way drugs were developed, and her efforts have saved or improved the lives of countless individuals.
Although Elion herself cared far more about the practical outcome of her lab's collective work than about her own reputation, her achievements earned her one of the highest honors a scientist can receive: the Nobel Prize in Medicine. She overcame enormous obstacles to reach this pinnacle. Battling longstanding prejudices against women in science, she initially had trouble even getting a job, but a combination of brilliance, determination, and stubbornness brought her to the top of her profession. She was the fifth female Nobel laureate in Medicine, the ninth in science in general, and she reached this height without earning a Ph.D.
Elion worked tirelessly to convey the fun and excitement of science to students of all ages and to encourage children—especially girls—to pursue scientific careers. A warm, animated woman with a great love of life, she was also an avid photographer, an eager traveler, and a true opera enthusiast. Her achievements, her curiosity about the world around her, her generosity, and her concern for humanity make her not only a valuable role model for budding scientists but also an inspiration for all who wish to better the world.
- Quote from "Gertrude Elion: A Legacy of Excellence" (video), GlaxoSmithKline Inc. Heritage Center.