Gerty Cori (1896-1957)
Prague, Austro-Hungarian Empire
Digital Illustration, 24" x 32", 2022
Biochemist Gerty Cori was the third woman to win the Nobel Prize and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in the field of Physiology/Medicine in 1947. While working at Washington University, Cori and her husband studied the fate of sugar on animals and the effects of insulin and epinephrine. By examining frog muscles, they discovered an intermediate compound that allowed the breakdown of glycogen, glucose 1-phosphate. Today this is called the “Cori ester.”
Going against the nepotism rules of the university, Washington University made a special allowance for Cori to work as Carl’s assistant. She was paid a tenth of what her husband made but stayed silent in fear it would harm his career. It took her 13 years to hold the same professor rank as Carl.
The “Cori ester” led to the catalytic conversion of glycogen in glucose. This allowed scientists to better understand how the body breaks down glucose as energy to store. Cori went on to win many awards and honors but her name was seldom associated with her discoveries. Ten years after winning the Nobel Prize, Gerty Cori passed away at age 61 from a fatal bone marrow disease with Carl by her side.