Rita Levi-Montalcini

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Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012) was an Italian neurologist who, with the help of her colleague Stanley Cohen, discovered the first of many cell-growth factors to be found in the bodies of animals, which received the name nerve-growth factor (NGF). In order to achieve this discovery, she had been doing research on the effects that peripheral tissues have on nerve cell growth. For this achievement, they both shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986.

Rita studied medicine at the University of Turin and then, in 1946, she was invited by Professor Viktor Hamburger to work in a research associate position at Washington University in St. Louis (USA), where she stayed for 30 years. It was there where she could isolate the nerve growth factor from observations of certain cancerous tissues that cause extremely rapid growth of nerve cells. She then discovered that nerves would grow everywhere like a halo around the tumor cells. While being in St. Louis, she established a laboratory in Rome. 

Among all the awards and honors, Rita was the first woman to receive the Max Weinstein Award for her significant contributions to neurological research. She was awarded for it in 1963. 

Interesting fact: Rita became the first laureate to reach the age of 100. In fact, she passed away when she was 103 years old.