May 30, 2015
Rita Levi-Montalcini Rita Levi-Montalcini was awarded The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986 "for their discoveries of growth factors." Rita Levi-Montalcini was 77 when she received this award. Levi-Montalcini became the fourth woman ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Levi-Montalcini was born in 1909 in Turin, Italy to a Jewish family, together with her twin sister Paola she was the youngest of four children. Her parents were Adamo Levi, an electrical engineer and gifted mathematician, and Adele Montalcini, a painter. She died at the age of 103 in 2012. Levi-Montalcini was a neurologist that discovered certain chemical tools that the body uses for it's direct cell growth and to build nerve networks. This study had opened up more studies and research for the study of how certain processes in the body can go wrong or fail which is demonstrated in diseases like dementia and cancer by not being able to repair or kill the bad cells. Dr. Levi-Montalcini started her study during World War II in the bedroom of her house in Turin, Italy to study the nervous system, because Mussolini instituted laws in Italy that any person with a Jewish heritage could not work in universities or certain professions, including medicine causing her to set her study up in secret. Her study began with chicken embryos, that then expanded the location to Washington University in Saint Louis with Dr. Viktor Hamburger, there they found a protein that, when released by cells, attracted a nerve growth from cells around it that are developing. The chicken embryos had demonstrated that the brain can "regenerate" itself. She also did studies and test with Dr. Stanley Cohen at Washington University where she stayed for more then twenty years. She describes this as "one of the happiest and most productive periods of her whole entire life. The "isolated and described the chemical, known as nerve growth factor — and in the process altered the study of cell growth and development." This study gave other scientists the ability to understand and study "disorders of neural growth" such as cancer, dementia, bipolar disease, and Alzheimer's disease. They had hoped that these studies would bring about some type of therapies. After the war, Levi-Montalcini returned to Italy to become the director of the laboratory of cell biology at the National Council of Scientific Research in Rome in 1969.
Dr. Levi-Montalcini and Dr. Cohen described a group of these "growth-promoting agents" to regulate the growth of specific cells. The epidermal growth factor, discovered by Dr. Cohen, plays an important role in breast cancer, and because of their study scientists were able to developed drugs to combat the abnormal growth of the cells. Even after she identified nerve growth factor she came to a second conclusion, that "the nervous, immune and endocrine systems are not separate entities. Levi-Montalcini and Cohen shared the Nobel Prize for their achievement. In 1977, Levi-Montalcini showed that the nerve growth factor, the first substance known to regulate the growth of cells, influences beyond the peripheral or central nervous system, but "it also affects the cells belonging to the immune system (mastocytes), and is produced by a variety of defensive cells (lymphocytes) and glandular cells (especially salivary)." Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a protein that is secreted by various tissues in the body; it promotes the growth of nerve cell processes and survival of neuron after they are damaged. The nerve growth factor is considered a "foundation for modern research" into the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and has influenced study of cancer, Parkinson's disease, bipolar disease, and muscular dystrophy. Stress and anxiety are usually a factor in these diseases, and affect the