Today in Mighty Girl History, we remember the contributions of Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist Rita Levi-Montalcini who died today at the age of 103. Born into a Jewish-Italian family in Turin in 1909, Levi-Montalcini's years in medical school coincided with the rise of fascism in Italy and the imposition of anti-Semitic laws which limited her career prospects.
Once WWII broke out, she and her family decided to stay in Italy rather than flee overseas and she built a laboratory in her bedroom to continue her research work. It was in this makeshift laboratory that she began studying the development of chicken embryos; research that laid the underpinning of her later Nobel Prize-winning work on the mechanism of cell growth regulation.
After the Nazi invasion of Italy in 1943, Levi-Montalcini and her family were forced underground and moved to Florence where she worked as a doctor in Allied war camps after the city was liberated. Following the war, in 1946, she moved to the U.S. for more than twenty years to conduct research at Washington University in St. Louis. It was there that she discovered nerve growth factor, a protein which regulates the growth of cells; this discovery was critical to better understanding tumor growth among other conditions. Continue reading Continue reading