Thursday, June 2, 2011

Deceased--Rosalyn Sussman Yalow

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow
July 19th, 1921 to May 30th, 2011

"Rosalyn S. Yalow, Nobel Medical Physicist, Dies at 89"


Denise Gellene

June 1st, 2011

The New York Times

Rosalyn S. Yalow, a medical physicist who persisted in entering a field largely reserved for men to become only the second woman to earn a Nobel Prize in Medicine, died on Monday in the Bronx, where she had lived most of her life. She was 89.

Her son, Benjamin Yalow, confirmed her death.

Dr. Yalow, a product of New York City schools and the daughter of parents who never finished high school, graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College in New York at the age of 19 and was the college’s first physics major. Yet she struggled to be accepted for graduate studies. In one instance, a skeptical Midwestern university wrote: “She is from New York. She is Jewish. She is a woman.”

Undeterred, she went on to carve out a renowned career in medical research, largely at a Bronx veterans hospital, and in the 1950s became a co-discoverer of the radioimmunoassay, an extremely sensitive way to measure insulin and other hormones in the blood. The technique invigorated the field of endrocrinology, making possible major advances in diabetes research and in diagnosing and treating hormonal problems related to growth, thyroid function and fertility.

The test is used, for example, to prevent mental retardation in babies with underactive thyroid glands. No symptoms are present until a baby is more than 3 months old, too late to prevent brain damage. But a few drops of blood from a pinprick on the newborn’s heel can be analyzed with radioimmunoassay to identify babies at risk.

The technique “brought a revolution in biological and medical research,” the Karolinska Institute in Sweden said in awarding Dr. Yalow the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977.

“We are witnessing the birth of a new era of endocrinology, one that started with Yalow,” the institute said.

Dr. Yalow developed radioimmunoassay with her longtime collaborator, Dr. Solomon A. Berson. Their work challenged what was then accepted wisdom about the immune system; skeptical medical journals initially refused to publish their findings unless they were modified.

Dr. Berson died in 1972, before Dr. Yalow was honored with the Nobel. The institute does not make awards posthumously. Dr. Yalow was the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The first, in 1947, was Gerty Theresa Cori, an American born in Prague. Dr. Yalow shared her Nobel with two other scientists for unrelated research. (Eight more women have won the medicine prize since then.)

Rosalyn Sussman was born in the South Bronx on July 19, 1921. Her father, Simon Sussman, who had moved from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the Bronx, was a wholesaler of packaging materials; her mother, the former Clara Zipper, who was born in Germany, was a homemaker.

Dr. Yalow told interviewers that she had known from the time she was 8 years old that she wanted to be a scientist in an era when women were all but prohibited from science careers. She loved the logic of science and its ability to explain the natural world, she said.

At Walton High School in the Bronx, she wrote, a “great” teacher had excited her interest in chemistry. (She was one of two Walton graduates, both women, to earn a Nobel in medicine, the other being Gertrude Elion, in 1988. Walton was closed in 2008 as a failing school.) Her interests gravitated to physics after she read Eve Curie’s 1937 biography of her mother, Marie Curie, a two-time Nobel laureate for her research on radioactivity.

Nuclear physics “was the most exciting field in the world,” Dr. Yalow wrote in her official Nobel autobiography. “It seemed as if every major experiment brought a Nobel Prize.”

She went on to Hunter College, becoming its first physics major and graduating with high honors at only 19. After she applied to Purdue University for a graduate assistantship to study physics, the university wrote back to her professor: “She is from New York. She is Jewish. She is a woman. If you can guarantee her a job afterward, we’ll give her an assistantship.”

No guarantee was possible, and the rejection hurt, Dr. Yalow told an interviewer. “They told me that as a woman, I’d never get into graduate school in physics,” she said, “so they got me a job as a secretary at the College of Physicians and Surgeons and promised that, if I were a good girl, I would take courses there.” The college is part of Columbia University.

World War II and the draft were creating academic opportunities for women; to her delight, Dr. Yalow was awarded a teaching assistantship at the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. She tore up her steno books and headed to Champaign-Urbana, becoming the first woman to join the engineering school’s faculty in 24 years.

As the only woman among 400 teaching fellows and faculty members, however, she faced more than the usual pressure to prove herself. When she received an A-minus in one laboratory course, the chairman of the physics department at Illinois said the grade confirmed that women could not excel at lab work; the slight fueled her determination.

She married a fellow graduate student, Aaron Yalow, in 1943. He died in 1992. Besides her son, Benjamin, of the Bronx, she is survived by her daughter, Elanna Yalow of Larkspur, Calif., and two grandchildren.

Dr. Yalow received her doctorate in nuclear physics in 1945, and went to teach at Hunter College the following year. When she could not find a research position, she volunteered to work in a medical lab at Columbia University, where she was introduced to the new field of radiotherapy. She moved to the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital, now the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as a part-time researcher in 1947 and began working full time in 1950. That same year, she began her 22-year collaboration with Dr. Berson.

Dr. Berson was seen as the dominant partner. By virtue of his gender and medical degree, he had more contacts with journals, professional societies and in academia. Dr. Yalow was single-mindedly focused on her research; for much of her professional life, she lived in a modest house in the Bronx less than one mile from the hospital. She had no hobbies and traveled only to give lectures and attend conferences.

In their work on radioimmunoassay, Dr. Yalow and Dr. Berson used radioactive tracers to measure hormones that were otherwise difficult or impossible to detect because they occur in extremely low concentrations. They went on to use the test to measure concentrations of vitamins, viruses and other substances in the body. Today the test has been largely supplanted by a technique that does not use radioactivity.

Their early work met with resistance. Scientific journals initially refused to publish their discovery of insulin antibodies, a finding fundamental to radioimmunoassay. The discovery, in 1956, challenged the accepted understanding of the immune system; few scientists believed antibodies could recognize a molecule as small as insulin. Dr. Yalow and Dr. Berson had to delete a reference to antibodies before The Journal of Clinical Investigation accepted their paper, and Dr. Yalow did not forget the incident; she included the rejection letter as an exhibit in her Nobel lecture.

With Dr. Berson, Dr. Yalow made other discoveries. Using radioimmunoassay, she determined that people with Type 2 diabetes produced more insulin than non-diabetics, providing early evidence that an inability to use insulin caused diabetes. Researchers in her lab at the Bronx veterans hospital modified radioimmunoassay to detect other hormones, vitamin B12 and the hepatitis B virus. The latter adaptation allowed blood banks to screen donated blood for the virus.

Dr. Berson’s death affected Dr. Yalow deeply; she named her lab in his honor so his name would continue to appear on her published research.

She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975 and received the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award, often a precursor to the Nobel, in 1976. At her death, she was senior medical investigator emeritus at the Bronx veterans medical center and the Solomon A. Berson distinguished professor-at-large at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Five years after she received the Nobel, Dr. Yalow spoke to a group of schoolchildren about the challenges and opportunities of a life in science. “Initially, new ideas are rejected,” she told the youngsters. “Later they become dogma, if you’re right. And if you’re really lucky you can publish your rejections as part of your Nobel presentation.”

"Rosalyn Yalow"

Rosalyn Yalow, who died on May 30 aged 89, was one of a handful of women scientists to win a Nobel Prize; in 1977 she became only the second woman to win the prize in physiology or medicine, for her work on the development of radioimmunoassay (RIA), a method of quantifying minute amounts of biological substances in the body using radioactive isotopes.

June 2nd, 2011

The Telegraph

The work that won her the Nobel Prize concerned peptide hormones — substances built up by chains of amino acids that are secreted by the pituitary and thyroid glands, the parathyroid glands, the placenta, the gastrointestinal tract and other tissues. While chemical methods for quantitative analysis of other hormones in the body were in common use by the mid-1950s, such procedures were not available for peptide hormones. The main reason for this was their occurrence in blood in extremely low concentrations.

The lack of procedures to measure peptide hormones with some degree of accuracy brought about stagnation in a vitally important area of biological and medical research. Rosalyn Yalow and her colleague Solomon Berson removed this barrier to research almost by accident.

In the mid-1950s they made the surprising finding that people who had received injections of the polypeptide hormone insulin — for diabetes or for treatment of schizophrenia — had developed antibodies against it. This conflicted with the prevailing belief that so small a molecule as insulin could not provoke an immune response.

Subsequently Yalow and Berson developed a system by which they would “tag” a known sample of insulin with a radioisotope, then mix a blood sample of unknown content with a complex of that tagged insulin and its antibody.

Because the antibodies regularly abandoned the tagged hormones for any “naturally occurring” hormones of the same sort, they found that the amount of “stranded” radioactive hormones in the final mixture reflected precisely the amount of the same hormones occurring in the sample being tested. This was to become the starting point for radioimmunological determination of insulin and, later, for all peptide hormones in blood, other fluids and tissues.

In a series of papers between 1956 and 1960, the two scientists described the radioimmunoassay method (or RIA) in detail. The procedure revolutionised biological and medical research and has been used to screen blood for hepatitis virus in blood banks; to determine effective dosage levels of drugs and antibiotics; to detect foreign substances such as drugs in the blood; to treat dwarfism with growth hormones; to test and correct hormone levels in infertile couples, and in many other fields.

Rosalyn Yalow went on to elucidate the physiology of the peptide hormones insulin, ACTH and growth hormone, and also to throw light upon the origin of diseases caused by abnormal secretion of these hormones. She demonstrated that insulin is bound by antibodies in some diabetics, which leads to abnormal degradation of the insulin. It had previously been thought that diabetes is due to deficiency of insulin secretion.

Rosalyn Yalow was born Rosalyn Sussman on July 19 1921 in New York, into a family of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. Neither of her parents had gone to university, or even to high school, but they were determined that their two children should. As there were no books at home, the children, Rosalyn and her older brother Alexander, made weekly visits to the public library.

By the time she enrolled at Walton High School, she had already become a proficient mathematician. She went on to Hunter College, then a women-only college in New York City, where her interest was diverted to nuclear physics. She was inspired by reading Eve Curie’s biography of her mother, Marie Curie, and by Enrico Fermi, whose colloquium on nuclear fission at Columbia University she attended in 1939.

Rosalyn Sussman wanted to pursue her interest in physics at graduate school, but when she applied for a teaching assistantship at Purdue University she was rejected. Her professor at Hunter was told that this was because she was a Jewish woman from New York. Instead, immediately after graduation in 1941, she was forced to take work as a secretary to a Columbia University biochemist.

Within a month she had received an offer of a teaching assistantship in Physics at the University of Illinois faculty of Engineering. She was the only woman among its 400 members, and she believed that the opportunity had come her way only because, as men were being drafted into the military, many universities began accepting women into graduate programmes rather than close the schools.

Hunter College had offered a Physics course for the first time in September 1940, in Rosalyn’s last year, and she thus began the graduate course far behind her male contemporaries. In order to catch up, she sat in on two undergraduate courses at the same time as taking three graduate courses. A further difficulty was that only one Illinois professor would offer her work as a teaching assistant.

Yet she excelled, receiving straight As in two of her courses, an A in the lecture half of the course in Optics and an A-minus in its laboratory half — far better than most men on the course. Yet when the head of the Physics department saw her results, all he could say was: “That A-minus confirms that women do not do well at laboratory work.”

In 1943 she married Aaron Yalow, a fellow physicist, and afterwards went on to study for a doctorate in Nuclear Physics under Maurice Goldhaber, becoming proficient in the construction and use of apparatus for the measurement of radioactive substances, a skill that would prove critical in her later research.

After taking her doctorate in 1945 she returned to New York, where she became the only woman engineer at the Federal Telecommunications Laboratory, a research lab for ITT. When the research group in which she was working left New York the following year, she returned to Hunter to teach Physics, not to women but to returning veterans.

In 1947, while still teaching at Hunter, she became a consultant in nuclear physics at the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital in the Bronx, where the staff was conducting research on medical applications of radioactive materials. Rosalyn Yalow helped to develop the service at the Bronx VA and started research projects with Bernard Roswit, chief of radiotherapy services.

In 1950 she was joined by Solomon Berson, who remained her colleague during the most important years of her research. Their joint investigations began with an attempt to use radioisotopes to obtain more accurate estimates of blood volume, but their first major contribution was a study of how the thyroid gland and kidneys remove iodine from the blood. They developed a method of discerning the quantity of blood cleared of iodine by the thyroid gland per unit of time and later extended these methods to the study of peptide hormones, in particular insulin. Rosalyn Yalow had a personal reason to be interested in insulin, since her husband was diabetic.

The commercial possibilities for RIA were enormous, but while Rosalyn Yalow and Berson recognised this, they refused to patent their method. Instead they made every effort to get RIA into common use, putting its scientific value ahead of their own financial interests.

In 1968 Rosalyn Yalow became acting chief of the Radioisotope Service at the Bronx VA, while Berson left to become chairman of the department of medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. She assumed leadership of the RIA reference laboratory in 1969 and was head of the nuclear medicine service from 1970 to 1980. When Berson died of a heart attack in 1972, Rosalyn Yalow requested that the laboratory where they both worked should be renamed in his honour.

The Veterans Administration hospital later affiliated with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where she became a professor in 1968. She was also a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, Israel, from 1979 to 1985 and chairman of the Department of Clinical Science, Montefiore Hospital and Medical Centre from 1980 to 1985.Link
Roslayn Yalow served on many boards and committees. She was secretary of the US National Committee on Medical Physics (1953-57), president of the Endocrine Society (1978-79) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Aaron Yalow died in 1992, and she is survived by their son and daughter.

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow [Wikipedia]

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