With Chinese traditional medicine pioneer Youyou Tu in the news for becoming the 12th woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the question comes to mind: who was the first? Madame Curie, of course, won two Nobels, with her first becoming the first woman Nobel Laureate. But Curie’s awards were in Physics and Chemistry. The Czech-American Gerty (Radnitz) Cori won the first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded to a woman.
Cori was also the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in any of the sciences. Her seminal work imprinted her name on the science she pioneered. The “Cori Cycle” describes how glucose is broken down into lactic acid by muscle tissue to be stored as energy. The catalyzing compound responsible for this transformation is now known as Cori ester.