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Pitt's Historic Impact

Life-Saving Drugs? Thank Maud Menten


Maud Menten's research helped to lay the groundwork for modern drug therapy and biochemistry.

Ignoring people who tried to talk her out of crossing the Atlantic by ship in 1912, not long after the Titanic sank, Menten traveled to Germany to work with biochemist Leonor Michaelis. The following year, the two developed the Michaelis-Menten equation, which provides a mathematical means for determining the rate of an enzyme reaction.

The equation is taught in every undergraduate biochemistry course (though textbooks often misspell Maud’s name as “Menton”) and it’s used exhaustively in most research laboratories. Without it, the development of most drugs over the last century would have been impossible

In 1918, Menten joined Pitt’s Department of Pathology, where she became known for her 18-hour workdays—she delivered one-third of the department’s lectures and attended every lab session—and as one of the University’s most versatile scientists. She was also head of pathology at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

And Menten wasn’t just interested in science. She was also an accomplished clarinetist and linguist, and for years her original paintings hung uncredited in the halls of Pitt before finding their way into art exhibitions. (Alas, Menten was less accomplished as a driver. Pedestrians learned to get out of her way as she lurched through Pittsburgh’s Oakland and Shadyside neighborhoods in her Model T Ford. She never could remember which pedal to push when, so she would enthusiastically push them all.)

Today, the University recognizes Menten with memorial lectures in her honor and a named chair.