Italian Nobel winner, Montalcini, dies at age 103

Italian Rita Levi Montalcini, who won the Nobel Prize in 1986 with American Stanely Cohen for their discovery of nerve growth factor, died Sunday. Montalcini was a well-known figure in Italy, known for encouraging young women to study science.

Riccardo De Luca/AP/File
Italian neurologist and senator for life Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1986, is seen at a press conference for her one hundredth birthday, in Rome in 2009.

Rita Levi Montalcini, joint winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine and an Italian Senator for Life, died on Sunday at the age of 103, her family said.

The first Nobel laureate to reach 100 years of age, she won the prize in 1986 with American Stanley Cohen for their discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that makes developing cells grow by stimulating surrounding nerve tissue.

Her research helped in the treatment of spinal cord injuries and has increased understanding of cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer's and conditions such as dementia and autism.

One of twins born to a Jewish family in Turin in 1909, Montalcini was the oldest living recipient of the prize.

During World War Two, the Allies' bombing of Turin forced her to flee to the countryside where she established a mini-laboratory. She fled to Florence after the German invasion of Italy and lived in hiding there for a while, later working as a doctor in a refugee camp.

After the war she moved to St. Louis in the United States to work at Washington University, where she went on to make her groundbreaking NGF discoveries.

She also set up a research unit in Rome and in 1975 became the first woman to be made a full member of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1975. She won several other awards for her contributions to medical and scientific research.

Her face was instantly recognisable in Italy and she was well known as a dignified and respected intellectual, a counterbalance to the image of women succeeding through their looks and sexuality, exacerbated during the scandal-plagued era of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Two days after her birthday in April this year she posted a note on Facebook saying it was important never to give up on life or fall into mediocrity and passive resignation.

"I've lost a bit of sight, and a lot of hearing. At conferences I don't see the projections and I don't feel good. But I think more now than I did when I was 20. The body does what it wants. I am not the body, I am the mind," she said.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said in a statement that Montalcini's Nobel prize had been an honour for Italy, and praised her efforts to encourage young people, especially women, to play a central role in scientific research.

Editing by Louise Ireland

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Italian Nobel winner, Montalcini, dies at age 103
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Latest-News-Wires/2012/1230/Italian-Nobel-winner-Montalcini-dies-at-age-103
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe