Dr. Judith Vaitukaitis jokes that if her name had gone on the product created as a result of her research no one would be able to pronounce it. The truth is that during the time she was working as a researcher at the U.S. National Institutes of Health there was a policy that the researchers couldn’t file patents on their discoveries.
Vaitukaitis attended medical school at the Boston University School of Medicine, earning her medical degree in 1966.
For her postdoctoral research she joined the NIH planning on studying human chorionic gonadotropin. A reproductive hormone hCG is also secreted by certain malignant tumors. Working with another postdoc, Vaitukaitis was trying to find accurate techniques for the detection of hCG to be used as a cancer diagnostic tool. In trying to create a sensitive hCG assay, the researchers realized that this system might be able to detect pregnancy at an early stage as the hormone is secreted during pregnancy as well. Publishing their findings in 1972, the researchers shared their method which was far more sensitive than existing tests and became the basis for the first home pregnancy tests produced in 1978.
Leaving the NIH in 1974, Vaitukaitis returned to Boston University School of Medicine as a professor and at the Boston City Hospital she was the head of endocrinology and metabolism. She continued her research, this time looking at the mechanisms controlling hormonal action and metabolism at the cellular level. In 1977 she was promoted to director of the General Clinical Research Center at Boston University.
Nine years later she returned to NIH to serve as director of the General Clinical Research Centers program–a nationwide network of more than 70 specialized centers at major teaching hospitals. During her tenure the programs expanded their technologies, training, and mentoring of physician-scientists, and the range of services provided. She also helped to create three National Gene Vector Laborites and to establish NIH’s Institutional Development Award Program.
Vaitukaitis retired in 2005 shortly after she was named a senior advisor on scientific infrastructure and resources to the director of the NIH.
Written by Angela Goad