Rita Levi-Montalicini, along with her twin sister, was born on April 22, 1909 in Turin, Italy. The Levi- Montalicini family adhered to traditional, Victorian-era values and gender roles. Rita had to convince her father to allow her to attend University. Dr. Levi-Montalicini graduated summa cum lauade from the University of Turin Medical School in 1936. Soon after, Mussolini issued the "Manifesto per la Difesa della Razza" which was followed by a number of laws barring academic and professional careers to non-Aryan Italian citizens. Dr. Levi-Montalicini spent a short period of time in Brussels before returning home to Turin just prior to the German invasion of Belgium. There she set up a laboratory in her bedroom and began researching limb extirpation in chick embryos. Heavy bombings by Allied forces in 1941 forced Dr. Levi-Montalicini and her family to flee to the country-side, but she quickly resumed her experiments. Unfortunately, in the fall of 1943, Rita and her family had re-located yet again, this time to Florence, where she remained until the end of the war.
In 1947, Dr. Levi-Montalicini accepted a residency invitation from Dr. Viktor Hamburger at the Washington University. Here she worked with biochemist Stanley Cohen, pioneering nerve-growth factor (NGF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF) discovery. Dr. Levi-Montalcini and Stanley Cohen were awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine. They won the prize for elucidating a substance essential to the survival of nerve cells. Their discovery of nerve growth factor led to a new understanding of the development and differentiation of the nervous system. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Levi-Montalcini has received many honors and awards. In 1963 she was the first woman scientist to receive the Max Weinstein Award, given by the United Cerebral Palsy Association for outstanding contributions in neurological research. In 1975 Levi-Montalcini became the first woman to be installed in the Pontifical Scientific Academy. She is a recipient of the International Feltrinelli Medical Award of the Accademia Nazionale die Lincei, Rome (1969), the William Thomson Wakeman Award of the National Paraplegia Foundation (1974), the Lewis S. Rosentiel Award for Distinguished work in Basic Medical Research of Brandeis University (1982), the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize of Columbia University (1983), the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (1986), and the National Medal of Science (1987). She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences of Italy.
Rita Levi-Montalcini died December 3, 2012.
Navis, Adam R., "Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012)". Embryo Project Encyclopedia (2007-11-08). ISSN: 1940-5030 http://embryo.asu.edu/handle/10776/1670.
Levi-Montalcini, Rita. “Levi-Montalcini, Rita.” http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1986/levi-montalcini-autobio.html.