top of page

Series: Women who changed the world - Rita Levi-Montalcini

“I tell young people: Do not think of yourself, think of others. Think of the future that awaits you, think about what you can do and do not fear anything.” - Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita Levi-Montalcini aimed higher in an era when girls were not encouraged in education beyond completing school. Her zeal to take up medicine grew within her and she convinced her father to let her pursue her studies and graduated with the highest distinction in medicine. But later, she became inspired by histologist and researcher Giuseppe Levi and that's when she advanced her interest in neurology.

She was forbidden from entering any laboratory. That's when she decided to start her own laboratory, to everyone's surprise in her own bedroom fashioning scalpels from sewing needles, using an ophthalmologist’s tiny scissors and a watchmaker’s forceps. All by reading some inspiring articles, she dissected chick embryos and examined their motor neurons under a microscope. Above all the hardships, she found joy in her research because she knew neuroembryology was her path. In between, she briefly treated patients at refugee camps.

In the year 1946, she joined Hamburger’s laboratory (took up a research position) and began her research in nerve growth factor (NGF). Later in her life, she also worked toward ensuring that other scientists acquired funds, equipment, and support. In the expansion of her research, Rita Levi-Montalcini was an enthusiastic supporter of scientific training for women. Subsequently, for her exemplary research work, in the year 1986, Rita Levi-Montalcini shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with her colleague Stanley Cohen for the discovery of the nerve growth factor (NGF).

She always felt her life was enriched by great human relations, work and interests without an ounce of loneliness. In the year 2012, she died in her home in Rome at the age of 103. A woman who supported, who endured many impediments but moved ahead only with sanguinity. There is so much to learn and remember her as a role model. Let's make her proud.

"If I had not been discriminated against or had not suffered persecution, I would never have received the Nobel Prize."

With thanks - this post was written by Vrinda Nair.

Photo credit -

93 views0 comments