Celebrating Dr. Gerty Cori, First American Woman to Receive Nobel Prize in Science - and a WNY Connection

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By Colleen Daddario, Special Events Specialist

When I think of women in science, the first who comes to mind is of course Marie Curie. It took me by surprise to learn that the first woman in America to win a Nobel Prize in science was Dr. Gerty Cori for her research conducted at the State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases (now Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center) in Buffalo, NY.  

Dr. Cori was born in Prague in 1896 into a Jewish family. In 1920, she obtained her M.D. degree from the German University of Prague alongside her classmate, Dr. Carl Cori, whom she married later that year. 

To escape war-torn Europe, the Coris immigrated to the United States in 1922 and began working in Buffalo specializing as biochemists, researching how sugar (glucose) is metabolized throughout the body.  

Though they were highly discouraged from working together professionally, the Coris continued their research that ultimately led them to winning the Nobel Prize for their discovery of enzymes that convert glycogen to sugar and back again into glycogen. While working at Roswell, the Coris published 50 papers together and Dr. Gerty was the sole author on an additional 11 papers.  

Considering all of her significant accomplishments, it’s shocking that various institutes did not offer Dr. Gerty jobs, but instead only offered her husband work. Even though they had the same education from the same university along with the same work experience, Dr. Gerty was denied many opportunities and recognition because she was a woman.  

For example, in 1931 her husband became a chair in the pharmacology department at Washington University School of Medicine while Dr. Gerty was offered merely a position as a research assistant. It took her 16 years to finally be promoted to full professor.

Without Dr. Gerty’s contributions, who knows where the treatment and care for diabetics would be today. As someone whose father is a diabetic, I would like to personally thank Dr. Gerty Cori for her work and allowing me many more wonderful years with my dad.  

 

Works Cited:

https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_69.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerty_Cori

 

   

 

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