Italian Nobel medicine laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini, a neurologist and developmental biologist, died on Sunday at her home in Rome at the age of 103, according to Agence France Presse. The oldest living Nobel laureate at the time of her death, Levi-Montalcini shared the prize with colleague Stanley Cohen in 1986 for their ground-breaking discovery of growth factors, which has helped understanding of such disorders as cancer, birth defects and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
Born into a wealthy Jewish intellectual family in northern Turin in 1909, she earned a summa cum laude degree in medicine and surgery in 1936, the same year that dictator Benito Mussolini decreed racial laws that barred Jews from pursuing academic and professional careers. With the German invasion in 1943, her family fled to Florence, where they lived undergound until the end of the war. She established the Levi-Montalcini Foundation to help African women, and as Food and Agriculture Organization ambassador for many years and in many other public forums she advocated the alleviation of world hunger.