Rita Levi-Montalcini

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Senator for life
of the Italian Republic

Rita Levi-Montalcini
Rita Levi Montalcini.jpg
Rita Levi-Montalcini in 2009
Born(1909-04-22)22 April 1909
Turin, Italy
Died30 December 2012(2012-12-30) (aged 103)
Rome, Italy
CitizenshipItaly
NationalityItalian
FieldsNeurology
InstitutionsWashington University in St. Louis
Alma materTurin Medical School, University of Turin
Known forNerve growth factor
Notable awardsNobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1986)
National Medal of Science (1987)
 
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Senator for life
of the Italian Republic

Rita Levi-Montalcini
Rita Levi Montalcini.jpg
Rita Levi-Montalcini in 2009
Born(1909-04-22)22 April 1909
Turin, Italy
Died30 December 2012(2012-12-30) (aged 103)
Rome, Italy
CitizenshipItaly
NationalityItalian
FieldsNeurology
InstitutionsWashington University in St. Louis
Alma materTurin Medical School, University of Turin
Known forNerve growth factor
Notable awardsNobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1986)
National Medal of Science (1987)

Rita Levi-Montalcini (Italian pronunciation: [ˈrita ˈlɛvi montalˈcʃini]; 22 April 1909 – 30 December 2012) was an Italian neurologist who, together with colleague Stanley Cohen, received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF).[1] Also, from 2001, until her death, she served in the Italian Senate as a Senator for Life.[2]

Rita Levi-Montalcini had been the oldest living Nobel laureate and the first ever to reach a 100th birthday.[3] On 22 April 2009, she was feted with a 100th birthday party at Rome's city hall.[4][5]

Early life and education[edit]

Born on 22 April 1909 at Turin[6][7] to a wealthy Italian Jewish family,[8] she and her twin sister Paola were the youngest of four children. Her parents were Adamo Levi, an electrical engineer and mathematician, and Adele Montalcini, a painter.[6]

In her teenage years, she considered becoming a writer and admired Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf.[9] Adamo discouraged his children from attending college as he feared it would disrupt their lives as wives and mothers but he eventually supported Levi-Montalcini's aspirations to become a doctor anyway.[6] Levi-Montalcini decided to attend University of Turin Medical School after seeing a close family friend die of stomach cancer.[10] While attending, she was taught by neurohistologist Giuseppe Levi who introduced her to the developing nervous system.[3] After graduating with an M.D. in 1936, she went to work as Giuseppe Levi's assistant, but her academic career was cut short by Benito Mussolini's 1938 Manifesto of Race and the subsequent introduction of laws barring Jews from academic and professional careers.[11]

Professional life[edit]

Levi-Montalcini lost her assistant position in the anatomy department after a 1938 law was passed, barring Jews from university positions.[12] During World War II, Levi-Montalcini would conduct experiments from a home laboratory, studying the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos, which laid the groundwork for much of her later research. She described this experience decades later in the science documentary film Death by Design/The Life and Times of Life and Times (1997),[13] which also features her identical twin sister Paola, who had entered a decades-long career in the arts. Her first genetics laboratory was in her bedroom at her home. In 1943, to escape the German occupation of Italy, her family fled south to Florence, and she set up a laboratory there also, using the corner of a shared living space. During this time she also volunteered her medical expertise for the Allied health service. Her family returned to Turin in 1945.

In September 1946, Levi-Montalcini accepted an invitation to Washington University in St. Louis, under the supervision of Professor Viktor Hamburger. Although the initial invitation was for one semester, after she repeated the exciting results from her home laboratory, Hamburger offered her a research associate position. She stayed in St. Louis for thirty years. It was there that, in 1952, she did her most important work: isolating the nerve growth factor (NGF) from observations of certain cancerous tissues that cause extremely rapid growth of nerve cells.[11] By transferring pieces of tumors to chick embryos, Montalcini established a mass of cells that was full of nerve fibers. This discovery, of nerves growing everywhere like a halo around the tumor cells, was surprising. Montalcini described this "like rivulets of water flowing steadily over a bed of stones." [14] The nerve growth produced by the tumor was unlike anything she had seen before – the nerves took over areas that would become other tissues and even entered veins in the embryo. But nerves did not grow into the arteries, which would flow from the embryo back to the tumor. This suggested to Montalcini that the tumor itself was releasing a substance that was stimulating the growth of nerves. She was made a Full Professor in 1958, and in 1962, established a research unit in Rome, dividing the rest of her time between there and St. Louis.

From 1961 to 1969 she directed the Research Center of Neurobiology of the CNR (Rome), and from 1969 to 1978 the Laboratory of Cellular Biology.[11]

Rita Levi-Montalcini founded the European Brain Research Institute in 2002, and then served as its president.[15][16] Her role in this institute was at the center of some criticism from some parts of the scientific community in 2010.[17]

Controversies were raised about the cooperation of Levi-Montalcini with the Italian pharmaceutical industry Fidia . While working for Fidia, she improved the understanding of gangliosides. Beginning in 1975, the scientist supported the drug Cronassial (a particular ganglioside) produced by Fidia from bovine brain tissue. Independent studies showed that the drug actually could be successful in treatment of intended diseases (periphrastic nervous system neuropathies).[18][19] Years later, some patients under treatment with Cronassial reported a severe neurological syndrome (Guillain-Barré syndrome). As per the normal cautionary routine, Germany banned Cronassial in 1983, followed by other countries. Italy prohibited the drug only in 1993; at the same time, an investigation revealed that Fidia paid the Italian Ministry of Health for a quick approval of Cronassial and later paid for pushing use of the drug in treatment of diseases where it had not been tested.[20][21][22] During the investigation, one of the witnesses spoke about the use of Levi-Montalcini as a sponsor for the drug and serious criticism was levied at Levi-Montalcini.[23]

In the 1990s, she was one of the first scientists pointing out the importance of the mast cell in human pathology.[24] In the same period (1993) she identified the endogenous compound palmitoylethanolamide as an important modulator of this cell.[25] This line of research led to using this endogenous compound as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory drug.[26]

Political activity[edit]

On 1 August 2001, she was appointed as Senator for Life by the President of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.[7]

On 28–29 April 2006, Levi-Montalcini, aged 97, attended the opening assembly of the newly elected Senate, at which the President of the Senate was elected. She declared her preference for the centre-left candidate Franco Marini. Due to her support of the government of Romano Prodi, she was often criticized by some right-wing senators, who accused her of "saving" the government when the government's exiguous majority in the Senate was at risk. She was insulted by politician Francesco Storace.[27][28]

Death[edit]

Rita Levi-Montalcini died in her home in Rome on 30 December 2012 at the age of 103.[29]

Upon her death, the Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, stated it was a great loss "for all of humanity." He praised her as someone who represented "civic conscience, culture and the spirit of research of our time." Italian astrophysicist Margherita Hack told Sky TG24 TV in a tribute to her fellow scientist, "She is really someone to be admired." Italy's premier, Mario Monti, paid tribute to Levi-Montalcini's "charismatic and tenacious" character and for her lifelong endeavor to "defend the battles in which she believed." Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi praised Levi-Montalcini's civil and moral efforts, saying she was an "inspiring" example for Italy and the world.[30]

Family[edit]

Levi-Montalcini had an older brother Gino, who died after a heart attack in 1974. He was one of the most well known Italian architects and a professor at the University of Turin.

She had two sisters: Anna, five years older than Rita, and Paola, her twin sister, a popular artist who died on 29 September 2000, age 91.

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1968, she became the tenth woman[31] elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences.[32]

In 1974, although a professed atheist,[33] she became a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences[34]

In 1983, she was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University.[35]

In 1986, Levi-Montalcini and collaborator Stanley Cohen received the Nobel Prize in Medicine,[11] as well as the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research.[36] This made her the fourth Nobel Prize winner to come from Italy's small (less than 50,000 people) but very old Jewish community, after Emilio Segrè, Salvador Luria (a university colleague and friend) and Franco Modigliani.

In 1987, she received the National Medal of Science, the highest American scientific honor.[32]

In 1991, she received the Laurea Honoris Causa in Medicine from the University of Trieste, Italy. On that occasion, she expressed her desire to formulate a Carta of Human Duties as necessary counterpart of the too much neglected Declaration of Human Rights. The vision of Rita Levi-Montalcini came true with the issuing of the Trieste Declaration of Human Duties and the foundation in 1993 of the International Council of Human Duties, ICHD, at the University of Trieste.[37]

In 1999, Levi-Montalcini was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.[38]

In 2001, she was nominated Senator-for-life by the Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.[39]

In 2006, Levi-Montalcini received the degree Honoris Causa in Biomedical Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Turin, in her native city.

In 2008, she received the PhD Honoris Causa from the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.

She was a founding member of Città della Scienza.[40]

Publications[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1986". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  2. ^ Bradshaw, R. A. (2013). "Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909–2012)". Nature 493 (7432): 306. doi:10.1038/493306a. PMID 23325208.  edit
  3. ^ a b Abbott, A. (2009). "Neuroscience: One hundred years of Rita". Nature 458 (7238): 564–567. doi:10.1038/458564a. PMID 19340056.  edit
  4. ^ "The Doyenne of Neuroscience celebrates her 100th birthday". IBRO. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  5. ^ Owen, Richard (30 April 2009). "Secret of Longevity: No Food, No Husband, No Regrets". Excelle. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c Carey, Benedict (30 December 2012). "Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel Winner, Dies at 103". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ a b "Scheda di attività – Rita LEVI-MONTALCINI". Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  8. ^ http://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21569019-rita-levi-montalcini-biologist-died-december-30th-aged-103-rita-levi-montalcini Rita Levi-Montalcini
  9. ^ Krause-Jackson, Flavia; Martinuzzi, Elisa (30 December 2012). "Levi-Montalcini, Italian Nobel Laureate, Dies at 103". Bloomberg. 
  10. ^ Siegel, Judy (4 March 2008). "Oldest living Nobel laureate arrives today on solidarity visit. 98- year-old Italian neurologist Rita Levi-Montalcini triumphed over Mussolini's anti-Jewish edicts". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Nobel-winning scientist Levi-Montalcini dies in Rome at 103, biologist studied growth factor". Fox News Channel. 30 December 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  12. ^ Yount, Lisa, Twentieth-Century Women Scientists, Facts on File, Inc., 1996, p. 29, ISBN 0-8160-3173-8
  13. ^ "Death by Design: Where Parallel Worlds Meet". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  14. ^ Yount, Lisa (2009). Rita Levi-Montalcini: Discoverer of Nerve Growth Factor. Chelsea House. 
  15. ^ "Rita Levi-Montalcini". Washington University. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  16. ^ "The European Brain Research Institute in Rome". Network of European Neuroscience Institutes. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  17. ^ "Self-inflicted damage.The autocratic actions of an institute's founder could destroy a centre of excellence for brain research.Nature 463, 270 (21 January 2010)". 
  18. ^ "Ganglioside (Cronassial) therapy in diabetic neuropathy". Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  19. ^ "Double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of a mixture of gangliosides ('Cronassial') in post-herpetic neuralgia.". Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  20. ^ "Qualità Intellettuale". UNIPG. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  21. ^ "Fallimenti storici". Dica33. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  22. ^ "Rita Levi Montalcini e la vicenda Cronossial". Politica Molecolare. November 2011. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  23. ^ "Nobel comprato? Non ne so nulla". Retrieved 6 June 2010. 
  24. ^ Leon, A.; Buriani, A.; Dal Toso, R.; Fabris, M.; Romanello, S.; Aloe, L.; Levi-Montalcini, R. (1994). "Mast cells synthesize, store, and release nerve growth factor". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 91 (9): 3739–3743. PMC 43657. PMID 8170980.  edit
  25. ^ Aloe, L.; Leon, A.; Levi-Montalcini, R. (1993). "A proposed autacoid mechanism controlling mastocyte behaviour". Agents and actions. 39 Spec No: C145–C147. PMID 7505999.  edit
  26. ^ www.omicsgroup.org pdf
  27. ^ "Mastella: sì al procedimento su Storace". Repubblica. 17 October 2007. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  28. ^ "Dispetto alla Montalcini al seggio". La Repubblica. 14 April 2008. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  29. ^ "Addio al premio Nobel Rita Levi Montalcini". ANSA. 30 December 2012. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  30. ^ D'Emilio, Frances (30 December 2012). "Nobel-winning biologist Rita Levi-Montalcini dies at 103". NBC News. Associated Press. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  31. ^ Wasserman, Elga (2000). The Door in the Dream: Conversations With Eminent Women in Science. Joseph Henry Press. p. 61. ISBN 0309086191. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  32. ^ a b Yount, Lisa (2007). A to Z of Women in Science and Math. Infobase Publishing. p. 174. ISBN 1438107951. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  33. ^ Costantino Ceoldo (2012-12-31). "Homage to Rita Levi Montalcini". Retrieved 20 July 2013. "Born and raised in a Sephardic Jewish family in which culture and love of learning were categorical imperatives, she abandoned religion and embraced atheism." 
  34. ^ "Rita Levi-Montalcini". The Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  35. ^ "Rita Levi-Montalcini – The Embryo Project Encyclopedia". ASU. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  36. ^ "Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award: 1986 Winners". Lasker Foundation. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  37. ^ "International Council of Human Duties". Retrieved 2 January 2013. 
  38. ^ "Meet the Goodwill Ambassadors". FAO. Retrieved 31 December 2012. 
  39. ^ Ghieth, Sheyam (13 April 2006). "Prodi May Need Elderly Senators to Keep Government". Bloomberg. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  40. ^ "E’ scomparsa Rita Levi Montalcini, premio Nobel per la medicina, tra i soci fondatori di Città della Scienza". Città della Scienza. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 

For further reading[edit]

  • Sandrone, Stefano (Mar 2013). "Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909–2012)". Journal of Neurology (in eng) 260 (3): 940–941. doi:10.1007/s00415-013-6864-8. 
  • Navis, Adam (2007), "Rita Levi-Montalcini.", Embryo Project Encyclopedia. 
  • Aloe, L. (2004). "Rita Levi-Montalcini: The discovery of nerve growth factor and modern neurobiology". Trends in Cell Biology 14 (7): 395–399. doi:10.1016/j.tcb.2004.05.011. PMID 15246433.  edit
  • Shampo, M. A.; Kyle, R. A. (2003). "Stamp vignette on medical science. Rita Levi-Montalcini--Nobel Prize for work in neurology". Mayo Clinic proceedings. Mayo Clinic 78 (12): 1448. doi:10.4065/78.12.1448. PMID 14661672.  edit
  • Aloe, L. (2003). "Rita Levi-Montalcini and the discovery of nerve growth factor: Past and present studies". Archives italiennes de biologie 141 (2–3): 65–83. PMID 12825318.  edit
  • Cowan, W. M. (2001). "Viktor Hamburger Andrita Levi-Montalcini: The Path to the Discovery of Nerve Growth Factor". Annual Review of Neuroscience 24: 551–600. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.24.1.551. PMID 11283321.  edit
  • Provine, R. R. (2001). "In the trenches with Viktor Hamburger and Rita Levi-Montalcini (1965-1974): One student's perspective". International journal of developmental neuroscience : the official journal of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience 19 (2): 143–149. doi:10.1016/S0736-5748(00)00081-2. PMID 11255028.  edit
  • Levi-Montalcini, R. (2000). "From a home-made laboratory to the Nobel Prize: An interview with Rita Levi-Montalcini". The International journal of developmental biology 44 (6): 563–566. PMID 11061418.  edit
  • Raju, T. N. (2000). "The Nobel chronicles. 1986: Stanley Cohen (b 1922); Rita Levi-Montalcini (b 1909)". Lancet 355 (9202): 506. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(00)82069-3. PMID 10841166.  edit
  • Aloe, L. (1999). "Rita Levi-Montalcini: A brief biographic view of past and present studies on nerve growth factor". Microscopy Research and Technique 45 (4–5): 207–209. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-0029(19990515/01)45:4/5<207::AID-JEMT3>3.0.CO;2-E. PMID 10383112.  edit
  • Bendiner, E. (1992). "Rita Levi-Montalcini and the unveiling of growth factors". Hospital practice (Office ed.) 27 (4A): 135–145. PMID 1560084.  edit
  • Pécsi, T. (1987). "Nobel Prize for medicine, 1986 (Rita Levi-Montalcini)". Orvosi hetilap 128 (20): 1047–1048. PMID 3295669.  edit
  • Weltman, J. K. (1987). "The 1986 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine awarded for discovery of growth factors: Rita Levi-Montalcini, M.D., and Stanley Cohen, Ph.D". New England and regional allergy proceedings 8 (1): 47–48. doi:10.2500/108854187779045385. PMID 3302667.  edit
  • Holloway, Marguerite (January 1993). "Finding the Good in the Bad". Scientific American Magazine 268: 32–36. 

Sources[edit]

  • Levi-Montalcini, Rita, In Praise of Imperfection: My Life and Work.(Elogio dell'imperfezione) Basic Books, New York, 1988.
  • Yount, Lisa (1996). Twentieth Century Women Scientists. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-3173-8.
  • Muhm, Myriam : Vage Hoffnung für Parkinson-Kranke – Überlegungen der Medizin-Nobelpreisträgerin Rita Levi-Montalcini, Süddeutsche Zeitung #293, p. 22. December 1986 "L'Archivio "medicina – medicine"". Larchivio.org. Retrieved 2011-03-16. 

External links[edit]