Gertrude Elion

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Gertrude Elion gave the world anti viral drugs. Her work included rational drug design that focused on understanding the target of a drug rather than trial & error.

Gertrude was born on Jan. 23, 1918 in the United States. Her grandfather’s death from cancer motivated Elion during her life. Elion majored in Chemistry at New York City’s Hunter College and obtained her bachelor’s degree in 1937, and her Masters degree in 1941.

She began to dream of finding a cure for cancer, which was a choice few women made in her day. WW2 opened up the opportunity for Elion to become a working scientist as men-identifying people joined war efforts. She found work as an analytical chemist for a food company but grew bored of the position. She switched to research work, In 1944, she joined Burroughs Wellcome (now called GlaxoSmithKline) laboratory outside New York City.

Her contributions include the first successful anti viral drug, ACV, used in the treatment of the herpes infection. Elion helped develop such drugs as mercaptopurine, which changed childhood leukemia from a death-sentence to a condition that most could survive. She also designed thioguanine, which helps adults with leukemia, and co-developed azathioprine, which assists in preventing organ rejection in kidney transplants. He research included finding cures for ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.

She was a Nobel Peace Prizer winner in 1988 for advances in drug treatment.

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