Photo of Gertrude B. Elion

Gertrude B. Elion

  • National Medal of Science
  • Chemistry

For her basic research which enhanced the sciences of chemistry and medicine by elucidating fundamental principles of drug-receptor interactions for nucleic acid antagonists.

Biochemist Getrude B. Elion broke down many barriers for women in science throughout her career. Elion is one of few women to receive a Nobel Prize for her research, and even more rare, a scientist who did not have a doctorate.

Working alongside researcher George H. Hitchings for over four decades, Elion developed drugs for use in a range of conditions. They developed unique methods to create medicines by studying the chemical composition of diseased cells. Rather than relying on trial-and-error methods, they used the differences in biochemistry between normal human cells and pathogens (disease-causing agents) to design drugs that block viral infections.

Using their method of rational drug design, they developed effective drugs for herpes, leukemia, malaria, gout, immune disorders and AIDS. Elion also discovered treatments to reduce the body’s rejection of foreign tissue in kidney transplants between unrelated donors. In all, Elion developed 45 patents in medicine and her contributions have been invaluable to patients receiving treatment for these diseases.

By Jen Santisi