Google Doodle celebrates Lucy Wills whose work changed prenatal care for women forever

Wills was a haematologist whose discovery changed preventive prenatal care for women everywhere.

Google is commemorating the 131st birth anniversary of English haematologist Lucy Wills with a special Doodle today.

Will’s discovery of the link between the “Wills Factor” and macrocytic anaemia changed prenatal care for women across the world.

Born at Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham, England, in 1888, Wills grew up at a time when educational opportunities were improving for young women who wanted to take up a profession.

She made the most of this opportunity and went on to study botany and geology at Cambridge University's Newnham College. She received a certificate in 1911 because the university refused to grant women degrees until 1948.

Google Doodle celebrates Lucy Wills whose work changed prenatal care for women forever

Wills discovery led to women taking a vitamin that helps prevent certain birth defects. Image: Google

In 1915, Wills enrolled at the London School of Medicine for Women and became a legally qualified medical practitioner in 1920, earning a bachelors' degree in medicine and science.

Despite her qualifications, Wills opted for research and teaching rather than practicing medicine.

Lucy Wills and her work in India

Her research efforts soon bore fruit and brought her to India in 1928 to study aneamia in pregnant textile workers. During her observations of different classes of women in Mumbai (then Bombay), she discovered that there was a correlation between the dietary habits of women and the likelihood of their becoming aneamic during pregnancy.

Ultimately, her studies suggested that a vitamin deficiency was to blame. During her clinical trials, she found that a laboratory monkey's health improved after being fed the British breakfast spread Marmite, made of a cheap yeast extract.

Her discovery was the first step toward the creation of folic acid. For many years it was called the Wills Factor until folic acid was named in 1941 when it was isolated from spinach.

In the summer of 1929, Will moved her work to the Pasteur Institute of India in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu and in early 1931 she was working at the Caste and Gosha Hospital in Madras. In each of the summers of 1930, 1931 and 1932 she returned to England for a few months and continued her work in the pathology laboratories at the Royal Free, before returning full-time in 1933.

She died in 1964 at the age of 75, eventually, never marrying or having children. But for her contribution to the birth of countless healthier babies, we really do owe Lucy Wills a homage.

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