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Definition: Yalow from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

Rosalyn Yalow 1921–2011 née Sussman Am. med. physicist


Summary Article: Yalow, Rosalyn Sussman (1921-2011)
from The Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography

Subject: biography, physics

Place: United States of America

US medical physicist who shared the 1977 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, with Roger Guillemin and Andrew Schally (1926- ), for her work in developing the radioimmunoassay (RIA) technique. The Nobel citation called Yalow's work 'a spectacular combination of immunology, isotope research, mathematics, and physics.' Although Yalow's research concentrated on the human endocrine system- the glands and the hormones they secrete into the blood to control the organs- the RIA technique has been applied throughout medicine.

Rosalyn Sussman was born on 19 July 1921 in New York City. She graduated in physics from Hunter College, New York, in 1941 and obtained a PhD in experimental nuclear physics from the University of Illinois in 1945. There she met Aaron Yalow, whom she married in 1943. Rosalyn then returned to Hunter College to teach; she also started working part-time in the Radioisotope Unit of the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital in the Bronx. In 1950 Yalow began working full-time at the VA. For the first 22 years, Yalow worked with a medical doctor called Sol Berson. Recalling their partnership, she said: 'He wanted to be a physicist and I wanted to be a doctor'. When Berson died in 1972, their laboratory was renamed the Solomon A Berson Research Laboratory and Yalow was appointed its director. She retired from the post in 1992.

In the Radioisotope Unit at the VA, radioactive isotopes were used in diagnosis, therapy, and research. Yalow and Berson started studying the thyroid gland with radioactive iodine and developed methods to measure the amount of blood in circulation and the rate of removal of proteins from the blood. Next they studied the behaviour of insulin (a small protein or peptide hormone) in the blood. They injected diabetic and non-diabetic volunteers with radioactive-labelled insulin and discovered that the insulin disappeared more slowly from the blood of the diabetics. This was surprising because diabetes was thought to result from the absence of insulin. However the diabetics had a history of taking insulin and this 'foreign' insulin was triggering the production of antibodies in the blood. The insulin was binding to the antibodies. In developing methods to measure the antibody concentration, Yalow and Berson invented RIA.

To measure the concentration of a natural hormone, a solution containing a known amount of the radioisotope-labelled form of the hormone and its antibody is prepared. When a solution containing the natural hormone is added to the first solution, some of the labelled hormone is displaced from the hormone-antibody complex. The fraction of labelled hormone displaced is proportional to the amount of the natural hormone (which is unknown). The hormone-antibody complex can then be removed from the solution and the amount of labelled hormone in each sample determined from measurements of radioactivity. This in turn enables the amount of natural hormone to be calculated. This technique is known as radioimmunoassay.

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