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Michael C.
Democrat MA 7

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  • In Honor of Rita Levi-Montalcini

    by Representative Michael E. Capuano

    Posted on 2013-01-04

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    CAPUANO of massachusetts in the house of representatives Friday, January 4, 2013 Mr. CAPUANO. Mr. Speaker, I rise to honor the memory and the heroic example of Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Senator-for-Life of the Republic of Italy. My constituents in our district's universities, research institutes and teaching hospitals join me in this homage. Dr. Allen Mitchell, Professor of Epidemiology and Pediatrics at Boston University, studied with her and with her mentor, Victor Hamburger. Everyone, he remembered, recognized the ``enormity of her contributions.'' ``But,'' he continued, ``those of us privileged to interact directly with her saw Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini as a role model who combined scientific passion and rigor with a great sense of humanity.'' Edward A. Kravitz, George Packer Berry Professor of Neurobiology at the Harvard Medical School recalled that Dr. Levi-Montalcini was unfailingly kind and gracious to young researchers, welcoming them to her lab and her circle of distinguished colleagues. He was touched by her warmth and inspired by her eagerness always to know more.

    Rita Levi-Montalcini was born in Turin in 1909, one of four children of an educated family, her father an engineer and mathematician, her mother, like her twin sister Paola, a gifted painter. The arts were thought appropriate pastimes for young ladies, but science was not, and her first struggle was convincing her father to let her study medicine. She graduated, summa cum laude, in Medicine and Surgery in 1936 and began a specialization in neurology and psychiatry. Two years later, Mussolini promulgated racial laws based on those already in effect in Nazi Germany, barring Jews from universities. Rita Levi-Montalcini's second and most remarkable struggle was to continue her research alone and in secret. She cultivated chick embryos in her bedroom and studied them closely. Her inspiration, she always acknowledged, came from a paper by Victor Hamburger, pioneer of experimental embryology. Hamburger, like many of the most prominent German and Italian scientists, was at that time already in the United States. She chose to remain in Italy, confident that her country would return to its democratic principles. She was associated with the struggle for Liberation and, in the time of greatest danger, moved her laboratory into the countryside where she and her family found refuge. When Florence was freed, she practiced medicine, for the only time in her [[Page E15]] life, among refugees fleeing the fighting that still raged in northern Italy.

    After the war, Dr. Levi-Montalcini joined Hamburger at Washington University in St. Louis. There began her collaboration with Dr. Stanley Cohen with whom she shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986. Together they studied the biochemistry of nerve growth and revolutionized the study of cell growth and development. She flourished at Washington University but always maintained close ties to Italy and to a new generation of Italian scientists. She helped found the Institute of Cell Biology in Rome and became its first director. She died in Rome on December 30 at the age of 103. She continues to inspire us, and we do well to remember her brave advice, ``Above all, do not fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.'' ____________________

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