Diabetes Breakthrough

Gerty (Radnitz) Cori was born into a Jewish family in Czechoslovakia in 1896. Gerty is her real name and she was named after an Austrian warship. Gerty was tutored at home until high school. She decided she wanted to pursue a medical career but didn’t have the necessary courses. She undertook to prepare herself in Latin, science, and mathematics over a period of one year.

Gerty was admitted to medical school where she met her husband, Carl. They had moved to Austria where Gerty worked in pediatrics. Her husband was drafted to serve in World War I. With food shortages, Gerty suffered from severe malnutrition. Gerty’s health concerns and the growing hatred of Jews in her country led them to relocate to the U.S.

Gerty and her husband ran into another challenge. They got a job at an institute for malignant diseases and began to work together. The director of the institute threatened to fire her if she continued to collaborate with her husband. They continued to work together anyway. In their work on carbohydrate metabolism, they published 50 papers together and Gerty published 11 articles as the sole author. Their work is still referred to today as the Cori Cycle.

When the Cori’s were looking for a new position, Carl was offered jobs but not Gerty. One university said it was un-American for a husband and wife to work together. Eventually, they found a university that would hire both of them, but Gerty’s salary was one-tenth of Carl’s. It took 13 years before she attained the same rank as the one that Carl started at.

Gerty was finally promoted to a full professor position just months before she and Carl won the Nobel Prize. She was the first American woman to receive a Nobel Prize in the sciences.

Many hidden heroes face challenges because of their biology. Without the work of Gerty and Carl, the treatment of diabetes would have been delayed. After the Nobel Prize, she was honored by many of the same institutions that were disparaging to her as she was seeking positions.

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            “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” – Sheryl Sandberg (Business executive)

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