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Edith Bülbring

Published: 05 Sep 2013 in Pharmacology Hall of Fame

Elected in 2013

Born on 27 December 1903 in Bonn, Germany
Died on 5 July 1990 in Oxford, UK

Achievements

  • Bülbring pioneered research in the physiology and pharmacology of smooth muscle. Her greatest legacy is considered to be inspiring the many investigators from around the world who continued and expanded upon her work
  • After qualifying as a doctor in 1928, she worked as an unpaid Assistant Pharmacologist in Berlin, where she began her lifelong friendship with Marthe Vogt. Remarkably, given her junior position, she published three papers of which she was the sole author
  • With Jewish grandparents, the rise of Nazism in Germany led to dismissal from her post in 1933. While on holiday in England in the same year, Sir Henry Dale offered her a job and provided an introduction to JH Burn, who subsequently employed her as his assistant in Oxford
  • Her early research focused on adrenaline, acetylcholine and their interactions, but her main contributions were in unravelling the electrical properties of smooth muscle and defining the mechanisms through which hormones and transmitters act to stimulate and inhibit smooth muscle in different tissues
  • She established a research group in Oxford that over the course of 17 years published over 200 papers, eleven per cent of which she was sole author
  • She was the second ever woman to become a member of the British Pharmacological Society, in 1936, and she was subsequently elected to honorary membership and awarded the Wellcome Gold Medal

Personal life

  • Bülbring played the piano at concert standard solo, in duet, or as an accompanist, although after retirement she gave up playing before an audience
  • She overcame the disability of losing a leg in her late seventies with great spirit, as exemplified by her typical greeting of “Now tell me what exciting discoveries you have made”
  • Her death coincided with the 11th International Congress of Pharmacology in Amsterdam, where an announcement was made to many of her assembled friends and colleagues from all over the world