Elion, Gertrude Bell

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ELION, GERTRUDE BELL (1918–1999), U.S. pharmacologist and Nobel Prize laureate. Elion was born in New York City. She studied chemistry at Hunter College and nyu, where she obtained her master of science degree in 1941. After a series of intellectually less challenging appointments, she joined Burroughs Wellcome in North Carolina as a biochemist in 1944, becoming head of the Department of Experimental Therapy in 1967 and scientist emeritus after her retirement in 1983. Her collaboration with George Hitchings led to her lifelong interest in dna and rna synthesis from purine and pyrimidine precursors and the design of drugs which selectively inhibit these pathways. This led to the development of 6-mercaptopurine, a landmark drug which inhibits cell proliferation and thus has anti-cancer properties, and its derivative, the anti-leukemic drug 6-thioguanine. Later came the immunosuppressive drug Imuran (Azathioprine), used to combat graft rejection and to treat immunological diseases; acyclovir, which inhibits herpes viruses and was the first anti-viral drug; and allopurinol, which inhibits uric acid synthesis and is a mainstay of gout treatment.

In 1988 she received the Nobel Prize in medicine (jointly with George Hitchings and James Black). Other honors include the Garvan Medal (1968), the American Cancer Society's Medal of Honor (1990), election to the National Academy of Sciences (1990) with subsequent Council membership, and the National Medal for Science (1991).

[Michael Denman (2nd ed.)]