Biotechnology companies such as Cyclica owe a great deal of gratitude to the early trailblazers of scientific research, including Dr. Maud Leonora Menten (Figure 1). At a time when women were virtually nonexistent in research and medicine in Canada, Maud Menten shattered social barriers to become one of the most renowned biochemists in the world.
Having completed her Master’s degree in 1907 at the University of Toronto, few opportunities in research waited for her in Canada. Instead of abandoning her interests in research, she secured a fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, where her work on the effect of radioactive salts on tumours in mice resulted in the Institute’s first published article (1).
Menten is best known for her seminal work on enzymes with German scientist Leonor Michaelis. Enzymes facilitate and accelerate a wide range of chemical reactions in the body and were just beginning to be properly characterized. Despite the sinking of the Titanic that very same year, Menten braved the Atlantic Ocean to work with Michaelis. Together in 1913 they defined the first model describing the kinetics (or rates) at which enzymes successfully converted one biomolecule to another given the concentrations of the enzyme and its substrate (2). Enzyme kinetics has broad implications in medicine; for example, a common way to improve a drug molecule is to slow down the rate at which it is degraded by enzymes.
While Menten’s work in enzyme kinetics is perhaps her best-known work, many of her other contributions are still widely in use today. She pioneered the usage of electric fields to separate different proteins in a mixture based on their size in 1944 (3), a process referred to as electrophoresis. Electrophoresis of proteins is an essential lab technique used the world-over to study almost all biological systems. Menten also demonstrated the utility of coupling a dye to a alkaline phosphatase, a protein, so it could be visualized in the cell, a method that is still used today for this purpose (4).
Menten is remembered today for her groundbreaking research in biochemistry at a time when few women were in science (Figure 2 documents some notable achievements in her lifetime). She co-authored approximately 100 research papers over the course of her career and has a professorship named after her at the University of Pittsburgh, where she conducted research until 1950. Accounts of Menten describe her as a “dynamo”, being not only an accomplished scientist, but also one of Canada’s first female medical doctors, an accomplished artist (Figure 3) and linguist, and one-time Arctic explorer. While much of her research took place outside of Canada, she always retained her Canadian citizenship. As a proudly Canadian company, Cyclica honours the pioneering work and memory of Dr. Maud Menten.
Stay tuned for our next blog outlining great discoveries by Canadian scientists.
This blog was written by Tonny Huang, a graduate student at the Princess Margaret Cancer Center. Tonny has a deep interest in the applications of protein science for the betterment of human health. You can find him here on LinkedIn.
1. Simon, F., Joblin, J. W., Menten, M. L. (1910) Tumors of animals. Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, New York
2. Michaelis, L., & Menten, M. L. (1913) Die Kinetik der Invertinwirkung. Biochem Z 49, 333-369. A translated version can be found here: Johnson, K. A., & Goody, R. S. (2011) The Original Michaelis Constant: Translation of the 1913 Michaelis-Menten Paper. Biochemistry-US 50(39), 8264-8269 (link http://pubs.acs.org/doi/suppl/10.1021/bi201284u/suppl_file/bi201284u_si_001.pdf)
3. Andersch, M. A., Wilson, D. A., & Menten, M. L. (1944) Sedimentation Constants and Electrophoretic Mobilities of Adult and Fetal Carbonylhemoglobin. J Biol Chem 153, 301-305
4. Menten, M. L., Junge, J., & Green, M. H. (1944) A coupling histochemical azo dye test for alkaline phosphatase in the kidney. J Biol Chem 153, 471-477