Geek Of The Week: Gertrude Belle Elon

Geek Of The Week: Gertrude Belle Elon

Gertrude Belle Elion was an American biochemist and pharmacologist, who shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with George H. Hitchings and Sir James Black. Working alone as well as with Hitchings and Black, Elion developed a multitude of new drugs, using innovative research methods that would later lead to the development of the AIDS drug AZT. She developed the first immunosuppressive drug, azathioprine, used for organ transplants

Rather than relying on trial-and-error, Elion and Hitchings used the differences in biochemistry between normal human cells and pathogens (disease-causing agents such as cancer cells, protozoa, bacteria, and viruses) to design drugs that could kill or inhibit the reproduction of particular pathogens without harming the host cells. The drugs they developed are used to treat a variety of maladies, such as leukemia, malaria, organ transplant rejection (azathioprine), as well as herpes (acyclovir, which was the first selective and effective drug of its kind). Most of Elion’s early work came from the use and development of purines. Elion’s inventions include 6-mercaptopurine (Purinethol), the first treatment for leukemia and used in organ transplantation. Azathioprine (Imuran), the first immuno-suppressive agent, used for organ transplants. Allopurinol (Zyloprim), for gout. Pyrimethamine (Daraprim), for malaria. Trimethoprim (Proloprim, Monoprim, others) for meningitis, septicemia, and bacterial infections of the urinary and respiratory tracts, and acyclovir (Zovirax), for viral herpes. That is quite a list of things, of which many are still the treatment of choice for a given malady. As if the Nobel Prize isn’t enough to warrant Geek of the Week Status.

About the Author

avatar MIKE: A geek who currently works as a Biologist and has an extensive science background. He is an avid user of HPC systems used for scientific research in the Washington DC area. Mike's working knowledge of using computers to solve problems brings a unique viewpoint to the podcast.