Rosalyn Sussman Yalow Biography

(American Medical Physicist and Co-winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Medicine)

Birthday: July 19, 1921 (Cancer)

Born In: New York City, New York, United States

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow was an American biochemist and a medical physicist who received Nobel Prize in 1977 for developing ‘radioimmunoassay’ or RIA technique. She was the only woman scientist until then to receive this prize in Physiology or Medicine. The technique was used to measure various minute quantities of biological substances in the human blood and other aqueous fluids with the help of radioactive isotopes. The technique involves the use of two reagents of which the radioactive reagent bonds with the target substance while the antibody reagent reacts chemically with the target substance. Initially this technique was used to measure the level of insulin in the blood but was later used to measure hundreds of other substances such as vitamins, hormones, enzymes and also drugs in the blood stream which could be detected easily earlier. Yalow was helped by another physicist, Solomon A. Berson, in developing the RIA technique. She shared the prize money with two other scientists, Andrew Schally and Roger Guilleman as Solomon Berson was no longer alive when the announcement was made. She was also the first woman to achieve many more scientific feats during her career such as finding the underlying mechanism which caused type-II diabetes. Her radioimmunoassay technique is also used for testing the presence of the hepatitis virus in patients.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Rosalyn Sussman

Died At Age: 89


Spouse/Ex-: Aaron Yalow

father: Simon Sussman

mother: Clara Zipper

children: Benjamin, Elanna

Physicists American Women

Died on: May 30, 2011

place of death: Bronx, New York, United States

Notable Alumni: University Of Illinois At Urbana–Champaign, Hunter College, Grainger College Of Engineering

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates In Physiology

City: New York City

U.S. State: New Yorkers

discoveries/inventions: Radioimmunoassay (RIA)

More Facts

education: Hunter College, University Of Illinois At Urbana–Champaign, New York University, Grainger College of Engineering

awards: 1972 Dickson Prize
1975 AMA Scientific Achievement Award
1976 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research

1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1988 National Medal of Science

Childhood & Early Life
Rosalyn Sussman Yalow was born in The Bronx, New York City, USA, on July 19, 1921. Her father, Simon Sussman, was son of a Russian immigrant, and her mother, Clara Zipper was a German immigrant. She had an elder brother named Alexander.
Not having any formal education, both her parents instilled the urge to read and write in their children by going to the public library as they did not have enough books.
Yalow joined the ‘Walton High School’ in the Bronx and became interested in science subjects like mathematics and chemistry.
After graduation from the high school she enrolled at Hunter College which conducted courses especially for women. This college became a part of the ‘City University of New York’ later. Here she took up nuclear physics as her major subject. She persisted with her studies even though her parents wanted her to be a school teacher.
She graduated from Hunter College in January 1941 with honors and joined a business school where she did not stay for long.
Since good graduate schools neither accepted female students for doctoral programs nor provided any financial help, she planned to get a backdoor entrance into the graduate courses. With help from her earlier physics professor Dr. Jerrold Zacharias, she wanted to become a secretary and typist for Dr. Rudolf Schoenheimer at the ‘College of Physicians and Surgeon’ under the ‘Columbia University’.
However, when she was offered a teaching assistantship in the department of physics of the ‘University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana’ in February 1941, she immediately grabbed the opportunity and joined the most prestigious graduate school in June 1941.
During the meeting of the faculty members of the ‘College of Engineering’ in September, it was discovered that she was the only female member out of the 400 other members. She was congratulated by the Dean as the first woman to be a member since 1917.
She received her PhD in physics from the ‘University of Illinois’ in 1945.
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Rosalyn Yalow returned to New York in January 1945 without her husband Aaron Yalow who was still busy completing his thesis at the ‘University of Illinois’ and could join her only in September 1945.
She joined the ‘Federal Telecommunications Laboratory’ as the only woman assistant engineer but had to return to ‘Hunter College’ when the laboratory closed down in 1946.
She started teaching physics at Hunter College from 1946 to 1950 to not only women but also veterans returning from the war.
In December 1947 she was appointed as a part-time consultant of nuclear physics to the ‘Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital’. She served here as an assistant chief and physicist of the department dealing with radioisotopes. She retained her teaching post at Hunter College till the spring of 1950.
At Hunter College she started her research on the effects of radioisotopes on different diseases with the help of another American physicist named Solomon A. Berson.
Her research on the causes of Type-II diabetes led her to develop the RIA technique. It was already known by the 1950s that animal insulin had to be injected in increasing amounts into a diabetic patient to be effective, but no explanation was available for this growing resistance to insulin.
The RIA technique developed by Yalow showed that the foreign insulin created antibodies that clung to the insulin and reduced its effectiveness against glucose.
She was appointed the Chief of the laboratory which later came to be known as the ‘Nuclear Medical Service’ of the ‘Veterans Administration Hospital’.
The technique developed by Yalow was soon being used to measure traces of other biological substances such as drugs, viruses, proteins, hormones and other substances. The technique also helped in detecting hepatitis virus and helped in deciding effective dosages of antibiotics.

In 1979 she was made a distinguished professor at large of the ‘Albert Einstein College’ under the ‘Yeshiva University’.
She left this college in 1985 and joined the ‘Mount Sinai School of Medicine’ as a ‘Solomon A. Berson Distinguished Professor at Large’.
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Awards & Achievements
Rosalyn S. Yalow was the first female scientist to be awarded the ‘Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award’ in 1976.
She received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977.
She received the ‘National Medal of Science in 1988.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married Aaron Yalow in 1943 and had two children, a son named Benjamin and a daughter named Elanna.
Rosalyn S. Yalow died in New York, USA, on May 30, 2011.

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