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Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori

Born 1896
Died 1957

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Czech-born American biochemist, born August 15, 1896, Prague, Austria-Hungary, now Czechia; died October 26, 1957, St. Louis, Missouri.

Biography of Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori

Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori was born on August 15, 1896, in Prague, then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was the oldest of three daughters of Martha and Otto Radnitz, manager of a sugar refinery. The family was Jewish and she was educated by private tutors. She enrolled in a Lyceum for girls in 1906 and graduated in 1912. Since she wished to study chemistry, she was obliged to prepare for the university entrance examination. After passing the examination at the Tetschen Realgymnasium in Prague she entered the medical school of the German University in Prague – the Ferdinand University – in 1914. Her wish to study medicine was influenced by her uncle, who was a professor of paediatrics at the University of Prague. She received the M.D. degree in 1920. When she was attending medical school, she met Carl Ferdinand Cori, a fellow student with whom she shared many common outdoor activities as well as a curious interest in laboratory research. They were married on August 5, 1920, and accepted positions at the University of Vienna.

She subsequently spent two years at the Karolinen-Kinderspital der Stadt Wien (Karolinen Children’s Hospital in Vienna), where she worked on the problem of temperature regulation in a case of congenital myxoedema before and after thyroid therapy.

The Coris decided to pursue careers in medical research, rather than medical practice, and in 1922, they emigrated to the United States to join the staff of the New York State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases in Buffalo, New York. He became an assistant pathologist and she was appointed as an assistant biochemist. While at Buffalo, they concentrated on studying the absorption of sugars from the intestines and the effects of insulin epinephrine on the fate of absorbed carbohydrates and or glycerine formation and degradation. They both became United States citizens in 1928 and in 1936, they had their only child, Carl Thomas.

At Buffalo the Coris initiated a close collaboration in research on the metabolism of carbohydrates in animals. Their first joint report on this subject appeared in 1923. During the succeeding dozen years they described, in a series of important papers, the effects of the hormones epinephrine and insulin on carbohydrate metabolism. During the course of this work the Coris demonstrated that epinephrine increases the rate of conversion of liver glycogen to glucose, an effect counteracted by insulin, and so that epinephrine increases the rate of conversion of muscle glycogen to lactate, with the formation of hexosemonophosphate.

In 1931 the Coris accepted positions at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, where he became chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and she took a position as research associate in the department of pharmacology– at a token salary.

A closer study of the hexosemonophosphate led the Coris to discover and to isolate, in 1936, a new phosphorylated intermediate (glucose-1-phosphate) in carbohydrate metabolism. In 1938 they described its enzymatic interconversion with glucose-6-phosphate, already known as to be formed by the phosphorylation of glucose in an enzyme-catalysed reaction involving adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The crystallization and characterization of rabbit muscle phosphorylase (fully described in 1943) laid the groundwork for later studies by the Coris and others on the hormonal control of its enzymatic activity.

In 1946 the Coris moved to the department of biochemistry at Washington university, and in 1947 Gerty Cori became full professor of biochemistry, the post she occupied at her death.

In subsequent work Gerty Cori used the enzymes involved in the biological cleavage of glycogen as tools for the chemical definition of its molecular structure. This was achieved in 1952, almost exactly 100 years after the discovery of glycogen by Claude Bernard. The insights into the chemistry of glycogen, and of the enzymes concerned with its biological transformations, made it possible for Gerty Cori to illuminate in 1953 the nature of the glycogen storage diseases in children. She recognised two groups of disorder, one involving excessive amounts of normal glycogen and the other characterized by abnormally branched glycogen, and showed the to be a consequence of deficiencies or changes in particular enzymes of the metabolic pathway.

Carl and Gerty Cori were awarded the 1947 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, which they shared with the Argentine physiologist Bernardo Alberto Houssay (1887-1971). Gerty Cori was the third woman to receive a Nobel Prize in science, the other two being Marie Curie and Irène Joliot-Curie.

Carl and Gerty Cori received the prize "for their discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen", Bernardo Alberto Houssay "for his discovery of the part played by the hormone of the anterior pituitary lobe in the metabolism of sugar".

Gerty Cori received many honours and awards during her life, among them honorary degrees from Smith College, Yale University and Rochester University. She was also one of twelve women honoured at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. in 1949, at ceremonies of the first medical degree bestowed on a woman. In 1950 President Truman appointed her to the Board of Directors of the National Science Foundation.

In the summer of 1947, Gerty started to feel the symptoms of myelofibrosis, a rare disease of the bone marrow. For ten years she continued her work, suffering with pain and refusing to stop her laboratory activities. On October 26, 1957, she died of kidney failure.

After his wife's death Carl Cori devoted his efforts to research concerning the physico-chemical action of enzymes involved in the breakdown of glycogen to lactic
acid.

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