Lucy Wills Biography
Lucy Wills was born on 10th May 1888 –and died on 16th April 1964. Today on 10th May 2019, Google commemorates Lucy Wills with a Doodle on her 131st birthday anniversary. She was a leading English hematologist. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, She conducted seminal work in India on macrocytic anemia of pregnancy. Her observations led to her discovery of a nutritional factor in yeast which both prevents and cures this disorder. Macrocytic anemia is characterized by enlarged red blood cells and is life-threatening. Poor pregnant women in the tropics with inadequate diets are particularly susceptible. The nutritional factor identified by Lucy Wills (the ‘Wills Factor’) was subsequently shown to be folate, the naturally occurring form of folic acid.
Lucy Wills Google Doodle
Today on 10th May 2019, Google commemorates Lucy Wills with a Doodle on her 131st birthday anniversary. The accompanying text states, “Today’s Doodle celebrates English hematologist Lucy Wills, the pioneering medical researcher whose analysis of prenatal anaemia changed the face of preventative pre-natal care for women everywhere.”
— Tigrikorn ??✨? (@odouglasj) May 10, 2019
Lucy Wills Early Life and Career
Wills was born in 1888, near Birmingham England. In 1911 she became one of the first women in the country to get degrees in botany and geology from Cambridge University.
While working as one of the few female medical research scientists in the United Kingdom in the1920s, she became aware that poor female textile workers in India were suffering in large numbers from anemia (deficient red blood cells) during pregnancy. Anemia during pregnancy causes fatigue, potential heart problems, and diarrhea, and can be fatal.
Lucy Wills First Female Medical Research Scientists In the 1920s
When WWI broke out, Wills volunteered as a nurse in Cape Town. She returned to London in 1915, and attended the London School of Medicine for Women; which was one of the first medical school that trained women as doctors in the UK. She became a legally qualified medical practitioner with the qualification of Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians London awarded in 1920.
She also received the University of London degrees of Medical Bachelor and Bachelor of Science awarded a few months later. She was 32. Upon receiving her certification, however, Wills chose not to practice as a physician, but to research and teach in the Department of Pregnant Pathology at the Royal Free. She traveled to India in 1928, where she began her seminal research work on macrocytic anaemia in pregnancy.
According to Vox, Wills became aware that poor female textile workers in India were suffering in large numbers from anemia during pregnancy. Anemia, which is a condition that develops when your blood lacks healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin, can fatigue, potential heart problems, and can sometimes be fatal during pregnancy.
Lucy Wills Research Would Lead to the Discovery of Folic Acid In 1941
While her findings were pivotal in treating anemia, Wills was initially unsure as to why Marmite was the solution. “At present it is only possible to state that in Marmite, and probably in other yeast extracts, there appears to be a curative agent for this dread disease which equals liver extract in potency, and has the advantage in India of being comparatively cheap and of vegetable origin,” she reported to the British Medical Journal.
— claraibarra (@claraibarra) May 10, 2019
The treatment known as the “Wills Factor” would be renamed in 1941, when folic acid was first isolated from spinach. Despite no longer bearing her name, Wills’ research is still recognized as laying the groundwork for its subsequent use. She continued to work upon her return from India, serving as a pathologist in the Emergency Medical Service during WWII. She was appointed the head of pathology at the Royal Free after WWII, and helped establish the first haematology department there. She remained the head of pathology until her retirement in 1947.
— The Health Site (@HealthSite4U) May 10, 2019
Wills was never married and had no children. She was close to her siblings and the rest of her family, however, and she maintained several lifelong friendships. Some of her most notable friends include Christine and Ulysses Williams, whom she worked with at Royal Free; and Margot Hume, who graduated from Cambridge and with whom she owned a cottage in Surrey.
“Wills Factor” Discovery
Wills initially discovered that anemia wasn’t caused by a pathogen (a bacteria, virus, etc.). “Wills made an exhaustive search for pathogens in feces from the women with anaemia,” a 1988 article in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health recounts. But “no evidence of an infective cause could be established.”
Upon investigation, it seemed wealthier women weren’t getting symptoms of anemia as often, so Wills wondered if the anemia was linked to nutrition.
Google Doodle celebrates Lucy Wills and Marmite today; you’ll love it, misogynists will hate it! How Lucy Wills discovered a medical marvel in Marmite https://t.co/6QXMaVvlX0
— John Ager (@John1954Moi) May 10, 2019
Her studies in rats suggested two things seemed to help: liver supplements and a spread called Marmite. It’s made from brewer’s yeast (that is, after the yeast finishes its work making alcohol, it can be concentrated and eaten), and it’s especially rich in B vitamins. It’s super salty — one of those foods that baffle American tastebuds but is loved abroad.
Wills then went back out into the field, testing the effectiveness of liver supplements and Marmite supplements in pregnant Indian women. They both worked. She treated several anemic women with the Marmite, and the improvement “was amazing,” the Asia-Pacific Journal writes. “They experienced a quick return of appetite … and an increase in the red cell count by the fourth day.”
Her results were published in a 1931 edition of the British Medical Journal, where Wills admitted she didn’t know what, exactly, in Marmite or the liver supplement was responsible for the difference.
That secret ingredient would be dubbed “the Wills Factor” until 1941 when folic acid — the specific substance that made the difference — was first isolated from spinach. The discovery of the Wills Factor, a 1964 obituary in the BMJ explains, was a “simple but great observations” and a landmark “in the history and treatment of nutritional anemias.”
Lucy Wills Continued to Study Nutrition & Anemia Until Her Death In 1964
Wills continued to work long after her retirement. Google writes that she enjoyed outdoor activities like mountain climbing, skiing, and general travel, but she never relinquished her passion for medical research. She developed her research on nutrition and anemia in places such as Jamaica and South Africa until her death on April 26, 1964.
Google Celebrates Lucy Wills, Who Found a Simple Solution to Improve the Health of Pregnant Women Everywhere https://t.co/iEUHeBbsro
— WebsiteofEverything (@wsoeorg) May 10, 2019
In her obituary for the British Medical Journal, Wills was described as a “tireless” spirit who changed anemia research forever. “Lucy Wills even in her seventies was always a tireless worker and seeing her example other people found themselves working harder than they had believed possible,” the obit read. “Though impatient with laziness and with half-baked opinions, she was compassionate to other human failings. She held strong convictions on social questions and steadily upheld them as a borough councilor in Chelsea during the last decade of her life.
“She had wide interests, particularly loving books, gardens, music, and the theatre, and enjoying life always with keen intelligence and humor,” the obit added. “Her generosity and magnanimity, combined with outstanding ability and resolution, made friends of all who ever worked with her and found her worthy of profound respect and deep affection.”
Lucy Wills Life Story
10 Fast Facts You Need to Know
- Her Family Sparked Her Interest In Science from An Early Age
- She came from a family of scholars; as her great-grandfather had been involved with the British Association for the Advancement of Science and wrote papers on meteorology
- Her maternal grandfather James Johnson was a well-known doctor in the Birmingham area
- She Became One of the First Female Medical Research Scientists In the 1920s
- She Discovered the ‘Wills Factor’ As a Treatment for Anemia
- Google writes that she enjoyed outdoor activities like mountain climbing, skiing, and general travel, but she never relinquished her passion for medical research
- Her Research Would Lead to the Discovery of Folic Acid In 1941
- She developed her research on nutrition and anemia in places such as Jamaica and South Africa until her death on April 26, 1964.
- She Continued to Study Nutrition & Anemia Until Her Death In 1964