Women’s History Month: Medical Pioneer Gerty Cori

Born in 1896, Gerty Cori was a naturalized American biochemist who became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in the field of medical physiology. She was born into a Jewish family in Prague and was tutored at home from a young age. After passing the entrance exam, Gerty was accepted to what is now known as Charles University in Prague. There, she met her future husband Carl Cori, and they married after graduating in 1920.

Gerty Cori in 1947

By 1922, the couple made the decision to immigrate to the United States because of increasing anti-Semitism in Europe. They wished to pursue medical research together in American but, unlike her husband, Gerty Cori had a difficult time securing research positions.

The couple met and collaborated with an Argentinian physiologist named Bernardo Houssay to study how glycogen is broken down and resynthesized in the body as a source of energy.  This process became known as the Cori Cycle and their research resulted in the award of the Nobel Prize. During her lifetime, Gerty Cori received numerous awards and accolades including honorary doctorate degrees from multiple institutions, including Yale University and Columbia University.

Gerty died in 1957 from a lengthy illness. After her death, she continued to receive honors and recognition for her work in carbohydrate metabolism, work which ultimately contributed to the treatment of metabolic diseases including diabetes. In 2004, Gerty and Carl Cori’s work received the National Historic Chemical Landmark designation.

Contributed by Adrian Clark, Diversity and Inclusion Officer

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