Italian Jewish Nobel winner dies at 103

Rita Levi-Montalcini (Photo: AP)

Rita Levi-Montalcini (Photo: AP)

Tributes have been paid to an Italian scientist who won a Nobel Prize in spite of her career being hampered by antisemitism.

Rita Levi-Montalcini, who was 103 when she died on Sunday, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986, along with her Jewish colleague Stanley Cohen. The pair had made significant progress in the field of nerve growth factor.

Ms Levi-Montalcini grew up in Turin, and was working as a research assistant when she found her career impeded by antisemitic laws passed under Italy's fascist dictatorship. But she continued her research in secret, hiding underground from the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Gianni Alemanno, the mayor of Rome, spoke in praise of the biologist Italy knew as the Lady of the Cells. He said her death was a great loss "for all of humanity" as she was a person who represented "civic conscience, culture and the spirit of research of our time".

Her niece, Piera Levi-Montalcini, told an Italian paper that a "beacon of life" had been extinguished.

Last updated: 3:33pm, December 31 2012