'Lady of the Cells' Dead at 103

Inside the fascinating life of Rita Levi-Montalcini

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 31, 2012 9:21 AM CST

(Newser) – Italy has lost a truly fascinating centenarian. Nobel Prize winner Rita Levi-Montalcini died at her home yesterday at age 103, leading Rome's mayor to declare the scientist's death a loss "for all of humanity." It may not be much of an exaggeration: The so-called "Lady of the Cells" faced many obstacles, reports the AP: a father who believed women should not study (she ultimately obtained a degree in medicine and surgery), a Fascist regime (Levi-Montalcini lost her neurobiology job in 1938 when Jews were banned from major professions), and the Nazis, whose 1943 invasion of Italy forced her family to flee to Florence and live underground.

But the petite woman's determination was formidable: In the face of the Fascist regime she studied chicken embryos in a makeshift lab in her bedroom. She chose not to marry or have a family—without hesitation or regret, she once said—fearing doing so would weaken her independence. She claimed to sleep no more than three hours a night, and worked well into her final years. That effort produced contributions that were just as formidable. Levi-Montalcini shared the Nobel medicine prize in 1986 with American biochemist Stanley Cohen for their groundbreaking cellular research. Her research increased the understanding of many conditions, including tumors, developmental malformations, and senile dementia.

Italian neurologist and senator for life Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1986, seen with a glass, at the end of a press conference for her one hundredth birthday.
Italian neurologist and senator for life Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1986, seen with a glass, at the end of a press conference for her one hundredth birthday.   (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
In this photo from files, taken on April 18, 2009, Italian neurologist and senator for life Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1986, is seen at a press conference.
In this photo from files, taken on April 18, 2009, Italian neurologist and senator for life Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1986, is seen at a press conference.   (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
Undated file photo of Italian neurologist and senator for life Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1986.
Undated file photo of Italian neurologist and senator for life Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1986.   (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
« Prev« Prev | Next »Next » Slideshow
My TakeCLICK BELOW TO VOTE
0%
8%
5%
84%
1%
1%
To report an error on this story, notify our editors.

NEWS FROM OUR PARTNERS
Other Sites We Like:   The Street   |   MSN Living   |   PopSugar Tech   |   RealClear   |   24/7 Wall St.   |   Biography   |   Barstool Sports   |   OK!