Rosalyn Yalow: The Physicist Who Developed the Radioimmunoassay Technique

Rosalyn Yalow (1921–2011) was a world-renowned physicist and the second woman to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine for her pioneering work in developing the technique of radioimmunoassay. Yalow devoted her life to studying the function of hormones, insulin, and other substances in the body, and ultimately put forward a method for accurately measuring them in small samples of blood. This revolutionary technique made it possible to investigate changes in hormones in response to treatments and opened the door to countless medical discoveries.

This article will discuss the life and achievements of Rosalyn Yalow, as well as the impact that her work has had on medical science.

Rosalyn Yalow’s Early Life and Education

Rosalyn was born at the beginning of 1921 in The Bronx, New York. She was the eldest of three children, and her parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia.

Though Rosalyn’s parents did not want her to go to college because of the expected lack of job security for female graduates, she pursued higher education and graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in 1938. She then went on to attend Hunter College, but had to drop out for a year to work in order to pay for her tuition.

She returned to her studies and graduated with her degree in physics in 1941, at the age of 20. Yalow then attended the University of Illinois, where she received her PhD in 1945.

Her Achievements in Physics

Yalow’s research focused primarily on measuring the effects of hormones in the body. She pioneered a method of radioimmunoassay (RIA), which is a powerful tool for quantifying hormones and other substances in tiny amounts of blood.

The process starts with injecting a sample of serum containing the substance to be measured into a laboratory animal. This is followed by the injection of a radioactive “label” into the animal, along with a solution containing the substance to be measured. The animal’s body will then produce antibodies to the radioactivity, which are called “antibodies”.

When the antibodies are added to a sample containing the original substance, they attach to it. The amount of radioactive labelled antibody-bound substance is then measured via a detector (such as a gamma counter). This process can then be used to measure the amount of substance present in a given sample.

Impact of Yalow’s work

Yalow’s discovery revolutionized the way that hormones and other substances were studied. Previously, it was difficult to measure these substances in a laboratory, since their levels in the blood were too low to be accurately measured. However, with the introduction of RIA, scientists were able to accurately measure hormones and other substances with just a small sample of blood.

This breakthrough allowed medical researchers to study the effects of hormones in response to treatments, and to also explore the changes that occur in endocrine systems as conditions like diabetes and cancer develop.

Yalow’s Recognition and Awards

Yalow’s achievements in physics were recognized throughout the world. In 1976 she became the first woman in the United States to receive a Nobel Prize in Medicine, and was appointed to the National Science Board in 1987.

Throughout her lifetime she earned numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, and the American Public Health Association’s John Snow Award. In 1994, she became the first woman scientist to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Yalow’s Legacy

Yalow’s work has had a lasting impact on medical science. Her technique of RIA has been used in countless studies, and has led to numerous medical breakthroughs.

RIA has been used to detect hormones in the body, measure their levels in response to treatments, and to monitor conditions like diabetes and thyroid disorders. It’s also been used in epidemiological studies to determine the prevalence of certain diseases in a population.

In addition to its medical applications, RIA has also been used in food and drug testing, as well as in criminal investigations. Yalow devised a method to detect drugs and internal body fluids with the technique.

Rosalyn Yalow was a pioneering physicist who changed the way that hormones, insulin, and other substances in the body were studied. She developed the technique of radioimmunoassay (RIA) for accurately measuring these substances in small amounts of blood, paving the way for countless medical discoveries.

Yalow was the recipient of numerous awards throughout her life, and in 1994 she became the first woman to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Her groundbreaking work has revolutionized medical research, and continues to be used to this day. Her legacy will continue to live on in science and medicine as her technique of RIA has been used to make countless medical advances.