Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita Levi-Montalcini - cvIn 2001 Rita Levi-Montalcini presented at the Ambrosetti Forum, held in Cernobbio (Italy), the opportunity for Italy to create an International research institute dedicated entirely to brain research.

The proposal received an enthusiastic response and in 2002 the European Brain Research Institute (EBRI) was established.

EBRI is dedicated to promoting Levi-Montalcini’s vision of a research institute of scientific excellence in brain research that would attracts foreign scientists to Italy, as well as offer Italian neuroscientists, working in prestigious foreign institutes, an opportunity to return home.




Rita Levi Montalcini biography

Rita Levi Montalcini was born on April 22nd 1909 in Turin, Italy, with her twin sister Paola. She received her M.D. from the Institute of Human Anatomy of the University of Turin under the direction of Prof. Giuseppe Levi. Since her first years at the university she dedicated herself to the study of the nervous system.

In 1938, the proclamation of racial laws prevented her from continuing her studies at the university. However, she continued her research on the mechanisms of differentiation of the nervous system first in Belgium and then again back in Turin in 1940, in a small laboratory set up privately. During the German occupation, she and her family spent a period in Florence hiding from the Nazi army but with constant contact with the leaders of the Action Party (Partito d´Azione).

Invited by Professor Viktor Hamburger in 1947, she moved to Washington University in St Louis (Missouri, USA) to continue the research started in Turin.

In 1952, she went to Brazil to continue her in vitro culture experiments at the University of Rio de Janeiro, Institute of Biophysics, as a guest of the director Professor Carlo Chagas. The experiments performed in Brazil in December 1952, allowed for the identification of the growth factor of neuronal cells (Nerve Growth Factor, also known as the acronym NGF). Upon her return in St Louis in the winter of 1953, a young biochemist Stanley Cohen joined her and together, using the in vitro system that Rita Levi Montalcini designed, performed the first biochemical characterization of this growth factor.

For this discovery Rita Levi-Montalcini and Stanley Cohen received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986.

In 1969 she settled permanently in Italy to assume the direction of the Institute of Cell Biology at the CNR in Rome. From 1993 to 1998, she acted as the director of the Institute of the Italian Encyclopedia.
Rita Levi-Montalcini is a member of the most prestigious scientific academies, such as l´Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, l´Accademia Pontificia, l´Accademia delle Scienze, the National Academy of Sciences of the USA and the Royal Society.

She is President of the Rita Levi-Montalcini Foundation, which provides scholarships and educational support for African women.

In 2001 she was appointed Senator for life of the Italian Republic.

In 2002 she founded and presided the European Brain Research Institute (EBRI), a position he held until her death at the age of 103 on December 30, 2012.

In Praise of Imperfection

Rita Levi-Montalcini dedicated her life to science and humanity. The following text, taken from her autobiography “In Praise of Imperfection", testifies to her exemplary modus operandi in life. We hope it will serve as an inspiration to all.

“The absence of complexes, a remarkable tenacity in following the path I believe to be right, and a way of underestimating the obstacles standing between me and what I want to accomplish – a trait I believe I inherited from my father – have helped me  enormously in facing the difficult years of life.

To him as to my mother, I owe a tendency to look on others with sympathy and without animosity and to see things and people in a favourable light. ...Looking back now on the long path my life has followed, on the lives of my peers and colleagues, and on the briefer ones of the young recruits who have worked with us, I have become persuaded that, in scientific research, neither the degree of one’s intelligence nor the ability to carry out one’s tasks with thoroughness and precision are factors essential to personal success and fulfilment.

More important for the attaining of both ends are total dedication and a tendency to underestimate difficulties, which cause one to tackle problems that other, more critical and acute persons instead opt to avoid. ...I have tried – as will be clear from a reading of this sort of balance-sheet or final account of my life – to reconcile two aspirations that the Irish poet William Butler Yeats deemed to be irreconcilable: perfection of the life and perfection of the work. By so doing, and in accordance with his predictions, I have achieved what might be termed “imperfection of the life and of the work”.

The fact that the activities that I have carried out in such imperfect ways have been and still are for me a source of inexhaustible joy, leads me to believe that imperfection, rather than perfection, in the execution of our assigned or elected tasks is more in keeping with human nature”.

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