Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori
Dr. Gerty Radnitz Cori was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine. She and her husband, Dr. Carl Cori, shared the prize for their discovery of the cycle of carbohydrates in the human body. They had been classmates at the German University of Prague, where Gerty Cori was one of only a few women students. She received her M.D. in 1920. The couple married and began to work in clinics in Vienna. In 1922, concerned that war would break out in Europe for a second time, they immigrated to Buffalo, New York. Carl Cori accepted a position at the State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases. Gerty Cori joined him six months later, after securing a job as an Assistant Pathologist. Although the couple was frequently discouraged from working together, they had a dynamic research partnership that proved immensely profitable in their work. Specializing in biochemistry, the husband and wife team began to study how glucose is metabolized in the human body. In 1929, they developed their theory of “the cycle of carbohydrates,” now known as the Cori Cycle. The theory explains how carbohydrates supply energy to muscles during exercise, and then are regenerated and stored until needed again by the muscles. It was the first time the cycle of carbohydrates in the human body had been fully explained and understood, and proved especially useful for the treatment of diabetes. Despite their collaborative partnership in defining the cycle, Carl Cori initially received more professional recognition than Gerty Cori. He was encouraged to abandon the team approach and work alone. He was even offered a job only on the provision that he stop working with his wife. The Cori’s continued in their successful collaboration, however, and in 1931 moved to St. Louis. Carl Cori took up the post of Chair of the Pharmacology Department at Washington University School of Medicine. Over the next sixteen years, Gerty Cori worked alongside him as a research assistant. Together, they made further discoveries that clarified the processes of carbohydrate metabolism, that they had originally laid out in the description of the Cori Cycle. In the mid-1940s, Carl and Gerty Cori received great recognition for their work. Carl Cori was appointed Chair of the new Biochemistry Department in 1946, and Gerty Cori was appointed to a full professorship. The following year, they were awarded the Nobel Prize for the Cori Cycle. They were the first married couple ever to win the Nobel Prize in Medicine.