In the field of neuroscience, as in many other scientific disciplines, early research was dominated by men and their discoveries. However, many women have greatly impacted neuroscience from the beginning, yet, again and again, their stories go unheard—Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini is one such woman. Levi-Montalcini is most famous for her work as a neuroembryologist and for her discovery of nerve growth factor with Stanley Cohen. This discovery has proven to be incredibly important to the field of neuroscience; in fact, Levi-Montalcini and Cohen won the Noble Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1986 for their work. Nerve growth factors were the first molecules to be discovered in a series of neurotropic proteins that influence the growth and differentiation of sympathetic and sensory ganglia (2), and “provide a regulatory link between targets in the body and the nerve cells that innervate them” (3). In the years after Levi-Montalcini and Cohen’s discovery, it was determined that oncogenes, genes that cause tumors, are actually mutated growth factors, and that nerve growth factors, as neurotropins, may possibly be used to slow the degeneration of the nervous system in diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (2, 3). Despite the eventual success and acceptance of Levi-Montalcini’s discoveries, she faced both personal and professional challenges along her path to the discovery of nerve growth factor and to winning the Nobel Prize. This paper will explore Rita’s life, as its story is amazing and greatly adds to the history of women in science, as well as explore her scientific work and contributions to the field of neuroscience.
"“Above all, don't fear difficult moments. The best comes from them” (1): The Life and Work of Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini,"
Sound Neuroscience: An Undergraduate Neuroscience Journal:
1, Article 1.
Available at: http://soundideas.pugetsound.edu/soundneuroscience/vol2/iss1/1