Monday, February 6, 2017

Maud Slye, M.D., 1923 Nobel Laureate. (1869–1954)

Dr. Maud Slye (1869–1954)
When Maud Slye began her work on the pathology of cancer, very few scientists believed that cancer was a genetic disease. Most experts thought that human cancers were either caused by viruses-like The Rous Sarcoma Virus, which had recently been implicated as the cause behind tumors in chickens, or a side-effect of rapid industrialization. 

Maud Slye, an American pathologist, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A historian of women and science wrote that Slye "'invented' genetically uniform mice as a research tool." Her work focused on the heritability of cancer in mice. She was also an advocate for the comprehensive archiving of human medical records, believing that proper mate selection would help eradicate cancer. During her career, she received multiple awards and honors, including the gold medal of the American Medical Association in 1914 and the gold medal of the American Radiological Society in 1922.
Slye received her undergraduate training at the University of Chicago and Brown University. While at the University of Chicago, she supported herself as a secretary for University President William Rainey Harper. After a breakdown, she completed her studies at Brown in 1899.

After teaching, she began her postgraduate work in 1908 at the University of Chicago, performing neurological experiments on mice. She would remain at the University of Chicago for the rest of her career. After hearing of a cluster of cattle cancers at a nearby stockyard, she changed the focus of her research to cancer.

Slye raised—and kept pedigrees for—150,000 mice during her career. In 1913 she first presented a paper before the American Society for Cancer Research. In 1919 she was selected as director of the Cancer Laboratory at the University of Chicago. In 1922, she was promoted to assistant professor and became an associate professor in 1926. She retired, as a professor Emeritus of Pathology, in 1945. Her belief that cancer was a recessive trait that could be eliminated through breeding caused clashes with fellow scientists, including C. C. Little.
Not unlike Madame Curie, who worked under adverse conditions to bring untold benefits to the world through the discovery of radium, Dr. Maud Slye, University of Chicago research scientist, has been tracking down methods of controlling cancer, for the past 38 years. Working in barren quarters on a tiny fellowship, Dr. Slye has observed the disease in 150,000 mice, all of them dead now because the doctor did not have the funds to feed them, and planed to apply her findings to humans. But on July 1st Dr. Slye will turn 65, the retirement age for the University's professors, and will be forced to vacate her quarters. "I have proved that cancer can be controlled in mice. All I want now is the time and a place to continue my work, and I want to continue in this place. If I can just be left alone here to go with my work, that is all I ask of life," the doctor says. (1933)
Slye was devoted to her work. A 1937 Time account of her behavior at a science convention described her as "high-spirited" and quoted her as saying: "I breed out breast cancers. I don't think we should feel so hopeless about breeding out other types. Only romance stops us. It is the duty of scientists to ascertain and present facts. If the people prefer romance to taking advantage of these facts, there is nothing we can do about it."  Reluctant to leave her mice to the care of her assistants, she once went twenty-six years without a vacation. She never married and spent her retirement reviewing data from her research.

She is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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