Gerty Cori

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Dr. Gerty Cori

Dr. Gerty Theresa Cori, née Radnitz, (August 15, 1896October 26, 1957) was an American biochemist born in Prague (then Austria-Hungary) who, together with her husband Carl Ferdinand Cori and Argentine physiologist Bernardo Houssay, received a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947 for their discovery of how glycogen (animal starch) — a derivative of glucose — is broken down and resynthesized in the body, for use as a store and source of energy.

Born into a Jewish family, she was tutored at home before enrolling in a Lyceum for girls. Her uncle, a professor of pediatrics, encouraged her to attend medical school, and she was admitted to the German University of Prague in 1914, at that time there where there were only a few female students. While studying she met Carl Cori, they married in 1920 following graduation, with her converting to Catholicism (possibly to lessen the objections of his family). In 1922 they both emigrated to the United States to pursue medical research at the 'State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases' (now the Roswell Park Memorial Institute) in Buffalo, New York. In 1928, they became naturalized citizens of the United States.

While at Roswell they were discouraged from working together, but did so anyway, devoting their efforts to how energy is produced and transmitted in the human body. Specializing in biochemistry, they began studying how sugar glucose is metabolized. The Coris published fifty papers jointly while at Roswell, with either researcher's name appearing first, depending on who had done the bulk of the research for a given paper. Gerty Cori also published eleven articles as single author. In 1929, they proposed the theory that bears their name and later won them a Nobel Prize. The Cori cycle is their explanation for the movement of energy in the body—from muscle, to the liver, and back to muscle.

The Coris left Roswell after publishing their work on carbohydrate metabolism. A number of universities offered Carl a position but refused to hire Gerty. They moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1931, where Carl had been offered the chair of the pharmacology department at Washington University School of Medicine. Despite her research Gerty was only offered a position as a research assistant. She was promoted to a full professor when Carl was made head of the biochemistry department.

In 1947 Gerty Cori became the third woman — and first American woman — to win a Nobel Prize in science, the previous recipients being Marie Curie and Irène Joliot-Curie. The same year, she became a full professor of biochemistry at Washington University, a post she held until her death in 1957.

The Cori crater on the Moon is named after her.

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