Nobel Laureate Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini has died in Rome at the age of 103, according to a statement by the city’s Mayor Gianni Alemanno.
Levi-Montalcini was a biologist who conducted underground research despite Fascist persecution threats.
She went on to win a Nobel Prize for her work to help unlock the mysteries of the cell. Alemanno called the Nobel winner’s death a great loss “for all humanity,” reports Yahoo! News.
He added that Rita was someone who represented “civic conscience, culture and the spirit of research of our time.” Levi-Montalcini was a Jew who grew up and worked during the Nazi invasion and anti-Semitic discrimination.
She is known as Italy’s “Lady of the Cells” and went on to become one of the country’s leading scientists. She earned the Nobel medicine prize in 1986, paired with American biochemist Stanley Cohen, for their research on cells that was conducted in the United States.
Her research helped increase scientists’ understanding of several different conditions, such as tumors, developmental malformations, and senile dementia. Along with her Nobel prize, Levi-Montalcini was also honored in Italy when the country made her a senator-for-life in 2001, according to NBC News.
One of her nieces, Piera Levi-Montalcini, a city councilwoman in Turin, Italy, stated of Rita Levi-Montalcini’s death, “A beacon of life is extinguished.” She added that her aunt passed away peacefully after lunch. She added that Rita kept up her research work several house a day “right up until the end.”
Levi-Montalcini graduated from Turin University in 1938 and worked as a research assistant in neurobiology, but lost her job when Italy’s Fascist regime passed laws preventing Jews from attending universities and working in major professions in 1938. Instead of waiting for the war to pass and the regime to change, Levi-Montalcini created a makeshift lab in her bedroom.
The research she did in her bedroom eventually led to the discoveries that granted Rita Levi-Mondalcini the Nobel prize. She never married and had no children, fearing that either would cause her to lose a sense of independence.