The Italian Almanac

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Rita Levi Montalcini

Rita Levi Montalcini

Thousands of Italians turned out to pay their last respects to Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist Rita Levi-Montalcini in Turin where she was buried. Levi-Montalcini, 103, died in her Rome home. She was laid to rest next to the remains of her twin sister Paola, an accomplished painter.

The scientist and Life Senator received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1986 with the US scientist Stanley Cohen for their discovery of the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the peripheral nervous system, which was pivotal to cancer research. She was born in Turin on April 22, 1909 to Jewish parents and earned a degree in medicine and surgery from the city university in 1936, despite her father's objection to women studying.

After specialising in neurology and psychiatry she began to work as a university assistant but, in 1938, was forced by Fascist persecution laws to leave her job. She continued her research from her home, creating a makeshift lab in her bedroom where she studied the development of chicken embryos. In 1946 she began a 30-year career in Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where she conducted her most important work.

Levi-Montalcini was the oldest living Nobel laureate and the first ever to live to 100. The centenarian, who in 2009 was feted with a 100th birthday party in Rome's city hall, worked well into her final years.