(1909 - 2012)
Rita Levi Montalcini was born on April 22, 1909, in Turin, Italy.
In 1930, she enrolled in the Turin Medical School, graduating
in 1936. Her academic career was cut short by Mussolini's 1938 Manifesto della Razza and the subsequent introduction
of laws barring Jews from academic and professional
During World War II, she conducted experiments from
a home laboratory, studying the growth of nerve fibers
in chick embryos which laid the groundwork for much
of her later research. In 1943, she fled with her family
where they lived underground until the end of the war.
In 1947, Levi Montalcini accepted an invitation to
Washington University in St. Louis, where she did her
most important work: isolating nerve growth factors.
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
1971, the Laboratory of Cellular Biology.
In 1986, she received the Nobel
Prize in Medicine, with colleague Stanley
Cohen, for their discovery of growth factors
In 2001 she has been nominated as Senator-for-life
by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
The following press release
from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
describes Cohen and Montalcini's work:
“The Nobel Prize
in Physiology or Medicine is awarded for
discoveries which are of fundamental importance
for our understanding of the mechanisms
which regulate cell and organ growth. The
pattern of cellular growth has long been
known, but it is the Italian developmental
biologist Rita Levi-Montalcini and the
American biochemist Stanley Cohen with
their discovery of nerve growth factor
(NGF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF),
respectively, who could show how the growth
and differentiation of a cell is regulated.
NGF and EGF were the first of many growth-regulating
signal substances to be discovered and
The discovery of NGF and
EGF has opened new fields of widespread
importance to basic science. As a direct
consequence we may increase our understanding
of many disease states such as developmental
malformations, degenerative changes in
senile dementia, delayed wound healing
and tumour diseases. The characterization
of these growth factors is therefore expected,
in the near future, to result in the development
of new therapeutic agents and improved
treatment in various clinical diseases.”
Prize Autobiography, Wikipedia