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Rita Levi-Montalcini

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Rita Levi-Montalcini Photo courtesy Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine

Rita Levi-Montalcini, MD, neurologist and Nobel Laureate, died on December 30, 2012 at her home in Rome, Italy. She was 103. Along with her colleague, Stanley Cohen, PhD, Dr. Levi-Montalcini earned the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986, “for their discoveries of growth factors”.

Dr. Levi-Montalcini earned her MD summa cum laude from the University of Turin Medical School in 1936 and completed a degree for specialization in neurology and psychiatry in 1940. An Italian Jew, Dr. Levi-Montalcini was prevented from practicing medicine or working in a university due to the Fascist laws of the time. As such, she set up a laboratory in her bedroom to continue research on neurogenesis, studying the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos. In 1941, her family was forced to leave Turin because of Allied bombing, and she reestablished her laboratory in the family’s cottage in the countryside. From 1943 until the end of the war, the family lived underground in Florence, where Dr. Levi-Montalcini then worked as a physician in an Italian refugee camp. After the war, she returned to Turin and resumed her post as an assistant at the University of …

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