Rita Levi-Montalcini was an Italian Nobel Laureate honored for her work in neurobiology. She won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for the discovery of nerve growth factor. She was born in 1909 in Turin into a Sephardi Jewish family. Her father discouraged her aspirations of becoming a doctor because he feared it would disrupt her life as a wife and mother. She became a doctor anyway and began a career in neurology research.
Her academic career was cut short as a result of Mussolini’s 1938 ban barring Jews from academic and professional careers. So she set up a laboratory in her bedroom and studied the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos, which laid the groundwork for her later research. In 1946 she was granted a fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. She replicated her previous work done in her makeshift bedroom lab and was offered a research position at the university which she held for 30 years. There, in 1952 she did her most important work, isolating the nerve growth factor from observations of certain cancerous tissues that cause extremely rapid growth of nerve cells. She became the first Nobel Laureate ever to reach the age of 100.
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