Rita Levi-Montalcini (born April 22, 1909) is an Italian-American neurologist who, together with colleague Stanley Cohen, received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of growth factors.
Born in Turin, Levi-Montalcini overcame the objections of her father - who believed that "a professional career would interfere with the duties of a wife and mother" - and enrolled in the Turin medical school in 1930, graduating in 1936. However, her academic career was cut short by Mussolini's 1938 Manifesto della Razza and the subsequent introduction of laws barring Jews from academic and professional careers. During World War II, she conducted experiments from a home laboratory, studying the growth of nerve fibers in chick embryos which laid the groundwork for much of her later research.
In 1947 Levi-Montalcini accepted an invitation to Washington University in St. Louis, where she did her most important work: isolating nerve growth factors. She was made a Full Professor in 1958, and in 1962 established a research unit in Rome, dividing the rest of her time between there and St. Louis.
In 1986 Levi-Montalcini and collaborator Stanley Cohen received the Nobel Prize in Medicine, as well as the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. This made her the fourth Nobel Prize winner to come from Italy's small (<50,000) Jewish community, after Emilio Segrč, Salvador Luria (a university colleague and friend) and Franco Modigliani.