Women’s History Month: Patricia Goldman-Rakic


Have you ever heard the name Patricia Goldman-Rakic? Probably not, but her work as a neurobiologist has almost certainly touched your life in some way.

It was Goldman-Rakic’s work on memory centers of the brain that allowed scientists to finally break the code on Alzheimer’s disease and several other common brain conditions. Her story came to an abrupt end in 2003 when she was struck by a car and died at the age of 66, still in the peak of her career.

Patricia Goldman-Rakic, 2003Alzheimer’s disease was first mentioned in the early 20th century. It was a mysterious disease that presented with profound memory loss and paranoid behavior around family members. The disease was often confused with other forms of dementia before the diagnosis became more prevalent. It was Goldman-Rakic’s research into the frontal lobe that allowed researchers to better understand the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s and potential work toward a treatment or cure.

Watching a family member struggle with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be devastating. The transformation is gradual but begins with general confusion. They may not know where they are and may respond with panic. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Alzheimer’s reached a peak. Because of the difficulty in caring for Alzheimer’s patients, dedicated nursing facilities began to open up to specialize in the condition. Patients were sent to live in sometimes deplorable conditions because there were very few alternatives. Neither the children of these patients, who often had young families of their own, nor the spouses could provide the care they needed at home.

Because of the research conducted by Goldman-Rakic science began to better understand this condition and, while a cure does not yet exist, there are far superior treatment options available today.

Alzheimer’s research, elder care, and nursing home facilities all go hand in hand. Without the experiences of many people in my generation watching their own parents deteriorate while living in the less than ideal conditions of many nursing homes there wouldn’t be a push today to create alternatives.

So, this Women’s History Month, I honor the legacy of neurobiologist Patricia Goldman-Rakic. I sincerely hope that her work can continue so others may have a better quality of life as they age.

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Maria Goldman-Rakic – 10.1371 journal.pbio.0000038.g001-O” by Levitt P – Levitt P (2003) Patricia Goldman-Rakic. PLoS Biol 1(2): e38 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0000038. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
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