Dr. Gerty Cori worked alongside her husband Dr. Carl Cori in an equal partnership making significant discoveries in the understanding of human biological processes. The pair met in medical school marrying shortly after both earned their doctorates in medicine in 1920. Immigrating to Buffalo, New York in 1922 they began working at the Roswell Park Memorial Institute where their research focused on the mechanism for the metabolism of glucose.
Their most significant discovery was the explanation for the movement of energy in the body from muscle, to the liver, and back to the muscle that they named the “Cori cycle.” In this cycle glycogen in muscles in converted into glucose when energy is needed for physical activity, but the muscle leaves some of the sugar as lactic acid for later use that is then recycled into glycogen by the liver and finally stored in the muscles until needed.
This was the first time the cycle of carbohydrates in the human body had been fully explained and this understanding was useful for the treatment of diabetes. Their paper on the cycle was published in 1929 and shortly thereafter they decided to leave Roswell but they were faced with sexism. The two had the same education and research experience and while Carl was offered various positions, the schools refused to hire Gerty even going so far as to say she was ruining his career. The couple stood their ground and accepted positions at Washington University School of Medicine in 1931.
Their research continued into how glycogen is broken down into glucose and in 1938 not only were they able to identify the enzyme that initiates the decomposition but also to use this process to create glycogen in a test tube. Gerty was promoted to full professor in 1946 and the next year their work on the Cori cycle was recognized with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Around the same time Gerty was diagnosed with a bone marrow disease but she continued her work until just a few months before her passing in 1957.
Written by Angela Goad