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Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel Prize for her work in discovering nerve growth factor, crucial for understanding neurodegenerative disorders like ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Levi-Montalcini earned degrees in medicine and surgery at the University of Turin and began studying neurology and physiology before the race laws of 1938 barred her from both school and jobs. She began doing independent research out of her parents’ home, and when Turin was bombed, she relocated to the countryside and rebuilt her laboratory. Despite the primitive conditions, she made breakthroughs in the study of neurology with chicken embryos. In 1947, she began teaching at Washington University in Saint Louis, where she researched neurobiology and nerve growth in cancer cells. It was there that she and Stanley Cohen discovered nerve growth factor, which is responsible for the development and distribution of nerve cells. The two scientists shared the Nobel Prize in 1986 for their work. In 1961, she returned to Italy as director of the Research Center of Neurobiology and the Laboratory of Cellular Biology before founding the European Brain Research Institute in 2002. In 2001, the Italian senate appointed her a senator for life.

Rita Levi-Montalcini at 100, 2009
Full image
Rita Levi-Montalcini, at age 100. Photo by Presidenza della Repubblica Italiana, 2009.
Date of Birth
April 22, 1909
Place of Birth
Date of Death
December 30, 2012

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rita Levi-Montalcini." (Viewed on January 18, 2018) <>.


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