WUOMFM

Looking back at the life of Rosalyn Yalow, the woman who changed modern medicine

Jul 20, 2015

Dr. Rosalyn Yalow
Credit Wikimedia Commons / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

This week marks the 94th anniversary of the birth of one of the most determined and important women in medical science: Rosalyn Yalow.

While many people may not know her by name, countless patients have benefited from her research.

"She's one of the unsung heroes of modern radiation medicine," says University of Michigan medical historian Dr. Howard Markel.

Yalow helped develop the radioimmunoassay technique. This technique attaches radioactive tracers to measure minute amounts of hormones in the body. While the test isn't as popular today, Markel says it had a large impact on the medical world.

Yalow was raised in the Bronx and graduated high school at 16. Her interest in medicine came after reading a biography of Marie Curie. 

At just 19, Yalow graduated from Hunter College, but she struggled to find a post-secondary program that would accept a woman in 1941.

But then came World War II, and as men entered the service, women began getting admitted to programs. She was offered an assistantship at the University of Illinois College of Engineering in Champagne-Urbana.

Yalow graduated with her PhD in 1945. She eventually landed a job at a hospital in the Bronx where she met Solomon Berson.

"Burson taught her all about medicine and endocrinology, and she taught him all about physics and radiation biology," says Markel.

Together they developed radioimmunoassay technique. Their discovery awarded them the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.