Today the Cori Cycle is introduced in numerous biology classes. It is the mechanism of how our muscles produce and store energy. It has become such a basic part of science that it is easy to forget how revolutionary it was in the 1920s when Gerty Radnitz Cori alongside her husband discovered it (McGrayne 93). Throughout her life, Gerty Cori faced many hardships and obstacles, yet she was able to accomplish so much and make many more discoveries.
Dr. Gerty Radnitz Cori was born Gerty Theresa Radnitz, daughter of Otto Radnitz and Martha Neustadt on August 15, 1896, in Prague, Czechoslovakia (Exton 5). While she had a wealthy Jewish family and her father was a chemist and her uncle was a pediatrics professor, attending a university was not easy. Gerty was homeschooled, by her mom, until the age of ten, she then went to a girls’ finishing school that did not teach her the required subjects to enter a university (Exton 5). With the encouragement of her uncle, she did everything possible to attend medical school, even learned three years of Latin in one summer (McGrayne 101).
Once in medical school, Gerty met her husband Carl Cori and became fascinated with biochemistry (McGrayne 94). Since women were not socially accepted, Carl played a major role in the success of Gerty. Once they graduated from medical school, Gerty and Carl were married, since Gerty was Jewish she changed her religion to Catholicism, not only to marry but to avoid religious discrimination (McGrayne 5&98). For a while, they worked in Europe, where the living conditions were not the best, so they made the decision to move to the United States.
Carl was the one receiving job offerings; however, he did not accept any job offers from any university if they did not offer one to Gerty (McGrayne 93). The Coirs were a well-wired team, the talents of one completed the skills of the other. While many thought Carl was the genius of the partnership it was not exactly like that. Both were ambitious, but Carl was more of the visionary and Gerty was the genius, but it was because of Carls Contemplative talents and Gerty’s instinct for ferreting out information in the lab that they made one discovery after another (McGrayne 101).
Gerty’s first job in the U.S. was a pathologist assistant, although it was not what she wanted to study, it gave her time in the lab (McGrayne 99). The Coris slowly started studying how the body sends energy from one place to another. Through the 1920s Gert made sure she and Carl carefully measured “minutes amount” of sugar, glycogen, and two controlling hormones in laboratory animals (McGrayne 100). After six years of intense work, the Coris could explain how mammals get energy from muscle exercise. According to their theory, energy moves in a cycle from a muscle to the liver and back again to a muscle (McGrayne 100). “The muscles extract most of the energy from the sugar, but leave some in the form of lactic acid. To conserve its resources, the body recycles the lactic acid back into glycogen in a series of elaborate steps” known as the Cori Cycle (McGrayne 100). First, it is sent from the muscle to the liver. Next, the body supplies oxygen, so that the liver can convert the lactic acid back into sugar. The sugar then returns to the muscle, where it converts back into glycogen for storage (McGrayne 100).
It became difficult to study carbohydrates in a cancer research institute, so the Coris looked for a new job and accepted a job at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, where Gerty worked as a research assistant (McGrayne 102-103). The lab there was less equipped than other labs, yet their careers still took off there. They discovered the glucose compound, Glucose-1-phosphate, how glycogen breaks down into sugar, and made glycogen in a test tube, something that was said could not be made without living cells (McGrayne 105-106). The Coris became the leaders in the enzyme world discovering one enzyme after another. At the time biologist and physicians thought that biochemistry was irrelevant to their work, but the Coris understood that precise chemical processes occurred in the body and revolutionized biology and medicine (McGrayne 104). Their work had wide Implications for the treatment of diabetes and pushed Biochemistry closer and closer into modern molecular biology (McGrayne 106).
Even with all these incredible discoveries and accomplishments, Gerty was still a low research associate and it was not until 1944 that she became associate professor and was given tenure (McGrayne 107). By 1947 the Coris established a lab to focus fully on enzymes (McGrayne 107). Gerty spent every working day there, she was a very passionate woman with high standers, she was ruthless at times and could cut students and Noble prize winners to shreds if their minds were not working right (McGrayne 110). In 1947 Gerty along with her husband and scientist Bernardo A. Houssay won the Nobel prize for their discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen (book or 112). She was the first American Women and the third woman in general to win a Nobel Prize (McGrayne 93).
After winning the Noble Prize Gerty was diagnosed with a fatal type of anemia that left her needing blood transfusions for the rest of her life (McGrayne 113). This was the second disease Gerty dealt with in her life, Gerty developed xerophthalmia, a form of blindness when she lived in Europe (Exton 5). Even with her illness Gerty kept on working and did some of her most important work while sick. She discovered the second molecular disease through a bet she made with Joseph Larner, the disease was caused by a missing enzyme (McGrayne 115). Gerty was “elected to the National Academy of Sciences and received an award from the American Chemical Society, the Squibb Award from the Endocrine Society, the Garven Medal of the American Chemical Society, the St. Louis Award, the Borden Award of the Association of American Medical Colleges, and many honorary degrees.” (Exton 147).
The rest of her remaining years, Gerty’s main interest was to define the enzyme deficiencies underlying certain glycogen storage diseases (Exton 145). Gerty died on October 26, 1957, at the age of 61. Gerty was “a human of great spiritual depths…modest, kind, generous and affectionate to a superlative degree and a lover of nature and art.” (McGrayne 116). Her work opened an entire field of genetic diseases for study and laid a foundation for the understanding of how cells use food and convert it to energy (McGrayne 116). Gerty Cori was an amazing colleague, scientist, and friend to many and even heroic to her husband (McGrayne 116).
Dr. Gerty RandiCori studied carbohydrates metabolism, enzymes, and children diseases caused by an enzyme deficiency. She was the third woman and the first American women to win the noble prize. She grew up in a time where getting a college education was possible but difficult. She faced religious and gender discrimination and was diagnosed with anemia that left her needing a blood transfusion for the rest of her life. Through it all, she continued to work and stay just as passionate about her research. She survived in science because she was passionately determined and in love with her work. Biochemistry was her love and she continued to love it until she died. ?
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