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Google Honors Lucy Wills Who Helped Millions Of Pregnant Women Around The World

Pioneering English hematologist Lucy Wills’ research forever changed the lives of millions of pregnant women around the world. Today, Wills is being honored by Google with a Doodle on its search page.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Wills conducted research into prenatal macrocytic anemia in Bombay, India, where many pregnant textile workers were suffering from the condition. She hypothesized that the life-threatening condition, which causes red blood cells to enlarge, was related to the diet of these women.

Wills found that feeding monkeys afflicted with prenatal macrocytic anemia the popular breakfast spread Marmite caused their symptoms to disappear. It was later discovered that a lack of folic acid, which Marmite contains, caused the anemia. Her efforts provided immediate relief to the woman in Bombay, where Wills was based, and now folic acid is recommended for pregnant women around the globe.

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“Remembered for her wry sense of humor, Wills enjoyed mountain climbing, cross-country skiing, and rode a bicycle to work rather than driving in a car,” Google writes. “She devoted much of her life to traveling the world and working to ensure the health of mothers-to-be.”

Wills was born on April 10, 1888. She attended the Cheltenham College for Young Ladies, one of the first British schools to teach women science and mathematics. In 1911, she earned first honors in botany and geology at Cambridge University’s Newnham College, which was also at the forefront of women’s education, followed by the London School of Medicine for Women, the first school in Britain to educate female doctors. During World War I, she spent a few weeks volunteering as a nurse in a hospital in Cape Town, before returning to England.

She became a qualified medical practitioner with a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians London awarded in May 1920, and the University of London degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery awarded in December 1920, at age 32.

After graduating, Wills traveled to India to research a severe form of life-threatening anemia that affected pregnant textile workers. She immediately suspected that poor nutrition was the cause and carried out her experiments with monkeys, which proved successful.

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During World War II, she worked as a pathologist in the Emergency Medical Service. In 1944, the hospital suffered a direct hit from a V1 flying bomb and a number of people were killed. By the end of the war, she was the director of pathology at the Royal Free Hospital and established the first hematology department there.

Wills died in 1964. This Friday marks 131 years since her birth.

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