January 23, 1918–February 21, 1999
BY MARY ELLEN AVERY
IN THE SPRING OF 1933 Gertrude Elion graduated from high school and that summer she had to select a major subject before she could begin her freshman year at Hunter College. This posed a quandary for the future Nobel Prize recipient, as well as holder of 45 patents, 23 honorary degrees, and a long list of other honors: She had liked all her school subjects, making it difficult to select just one. “I loved to learn everything, everything in sight and I was never satisfied that I knew everything there was to know in each of my courses.” Fatefully, that summer her grandfather, whom she loved dearly, died of cancer. “I watched him go over a period of months in a very painful way, and it suddenly occurred to me that what I really needed to do was to become a scientist, and particularly a chemist, so that I would go out there and make a cure for cancer.” (All quotations in this memoir are from the author 's taped 1997 interview with G. B. Elion).
Become a scientist she did, and along the way she synthesized and co-developed two of the first successful drugs for the treatment of leukemia (thioguanine and mercaptopurine), as well as azathioprine (Imuran), an agent to prevent the rejection of kidney transplants and to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Trudy (as she was called by her many friends) also