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assays: the sensitivity, specificity, and competitive binding of antibodies. The radiolabeled ligand (131I-insulin, in their case) provided exquisite sensitivity, detecting a substance down to 1 picogram. The antibody conferred exquisite specificity. By choosing an appropriately matched antigen and antibody, RIA could measure all sorts of substances amid a myriad of other substances that were present in a blood sample in billion-fold higher concentrations. And best of all, RIA was easy and quick. Thousands of samples could be assayed as easily as one or two (2). Yalow and Berson recognized RIA’s broad potential, and they believed that scientific discoveries should be shared to benefit society. Rather than pursuing a patent, they made every effort to get RIA into common use (2, 12). They welcomed physicians and researchers who came from all points of the globe: from Montreal to Santiago and from Brussels to Auckland. Some stayed a few days; others stayed for a month. Under Yalow’s careful guidance, they acquired hands-on experience with this new method, and many left with a precious sample of guinea pig plasma containing specific antibodies that would enable them to begin work quickly in their own labs (2).

Making a Home While Yalow and Berson were deeply immersed in their groundbreaking RIA research, the Yalows were raising two children. The VA required pregnant women to resign in their fifth month, with no expectation of returning to their jobs. Yalow and Berson ignored the requirement. Her “fifth month” lasted for four more.

She worked until the day before she delivered (2). A week later, she returned to work. Two years later, she did it again. Aaron had become a physics professor at Cooper Union’s School of Engineering, and Rosalyn held traditional views of a woman’s role and responsibilities as a homemaker. Fortunately for her as well as the children, their elementary school was just a couple of blocks from home. Each morning, Rosalyn would rise absurdly early to go to the VA, which was a mile away. She would return home briefly to fix breakfast and get the children ready for school. Between experiments, she met them at home for lunch and returned again to make dinner for the family. Then, back to the lab, to work late into the night (2, 12). The Yalows employed a housekeeper who greeted the children home from school when Rosalyn couldn’t, but they never had a nanny. Rosalyn did the shopping and cooking in their kosher home. Sometimes, she would take the children to the lab, so she could watch them while she worked, and they helped by feeding the animals and doing other small chores. When they grew older, she showed them her experiments and explained the scientific rationale and methods. “That’s how we learned science” (12). Rosalyn discussed her research with Aaron over dinner, and when the children could keep up, they joined in the discussion. The Yalows did not take conventional vacations. Instead, the family accompanied her on her speaking tours, and they would take an extra day to sightsee. As teenagers, the children were allowed more independence than their classmates. Rosalyn’s only requirement was that they should always do their best. And they did. But when she became frustrated listening to her son’s hunt-andpeck typing, she would take his handwritten report and type it herself (12). For Rosalyn, there was no balance between work and family. She was an overachiever who wrapped time for her family around her work. Overall, though, her daughter says, “She was a pretty wonderful mom” (12).

Benjamin Yalow

Professional Family

(From left to right) Benjamin Yalow, Aaron Yalow, Rosalyn Yalow, and Elanna Yalow in 1977.

Initially, Yalow and Berson were not interested in accommodating research fellows in their lab. Yalow was happy working exclusively with Berson and concentrating on their work without distraction. Yet, as their lab morphed from the janitor’s closet to a

Reprinted from The Pharmacologist • September 2017

Profile for ASPET

2018 Special Compilation Issue of The Pharmacologist  

ASPET is pleased to present the second in a series of special editions of our quarterly news magazine, The Pharmacologist. This special com...

2018 Special Compilation Issue of The Pharmacologist  

ASPET is pleased to present the second in a series of special editions of our quarterly news magazine, The Pharmacologist. This special com...