When we eat donuts after Mass, the sugars (carbohydrates) from those donuts are broken down for use in our bodies. They give us energy to do all the Sunday chores like go to the grocery store, do the laundry, read the newspaper, play sports, or whatever we need to do after Father Roger says, “Go in peace; the Mass has ended.”
The cells in our bodies cannot use little pieces of donuts to carry out their functions, though wouldn’t it be cool if they did! Instead, once we eat those donuts, our digestive system starts to break them down into smaller and smaller pieces, until what was a chocolate old-fashioned donut becomes tiny molecules of sugar that can enter our cells and be transformed into energy.
This breaking-down process is highly regulated. Our bodies need to make sure that the food we eat is actually being turned into energy. Many hormones control this activity through a process called the “Cori Cycle,” named after the two Catholic scientists who figured it all out.
The first of these scientists, Gerty Radnitz, was born in Prague in 1896. She was a determined, confident woman, who worked her way through a school system bent on excluding women from the fields of science and math. When she applied for university, she learned that her education had grossly underprepared her and that she lacked the necessary prerequisites for entry. Undeterred, however, she managed to study the equivalent of eight years of Latin, five years of science, and five years of mathematics in one year. She earned admittance to medical school and graduated in 1920.
The second scientists, Carl Cori, also was born in Prague in 1896, but had a slightly different path to the sciences. His family encouraged his interest in math and science from a young age, his father having run a national marine biological station and his grandfather having been a professor of theoretical physics. His education prioritized all the things that Gerty’s did not, and though he was slightly deterred from his career path due to World War I conscription, he too entered medical school and graduated in 1920.
Gerty and Carl graduated in 1920, and married the same year. Her family was Jewish, but she converted to Roman Catholicism in order to marry her husband in the Church. The Cori’s emigrated to the United States in 1922, due to deteriorating conditions in Europe, where they began a research lab together in Buffalo, New York. While each did publish individually, they worked largely as team, doing some of their most groundbreaking science side-by-side.
Remember the donuts? The Cori’s wanted to know how exactly our bodies turn sugar into usable energy for our cells, a process called carbohydrate metabolism. In a series of fifty papers, they proposed a model that worked it all out. The Cori’s were recognized for this incredible work in 1947, when they won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with their research colleague Bernardo Houssay. As a naturalized U.S. citizen, Gerty became the first American woman to receive this prestigious recognition.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Father Roger Gustafson