Helen Murray Free Dies at 98; Chemist Developed Diabetes Test


Helen Murray Free, a chemist who ushered in a revolution in diagnostic testing when she co-developed the dip-and-read diabetes take a look at, a paper strip that detected glucose in urine, died on Saturday at a hospice facility in Elkhart, Ind. She was 98.

The trigger was issues of a stroke, her son Eric stated.

Before the invention of the dip-and-read take a look at in 1956, technicians added chemical substances to urine after which heated the combination over a Bunsen burner. The take a look at was inconvenient, and, as a result of it couldn’t distinguish glucose from different sugars, outcomes weren’t very exact.

Working along with her husband, who was additionally a chemist, Ms. Free found out methods to impregnate strips of filter paper with chemical substances that turned blue when glucose was current. The take a look at made it simpler for clinicians to diagnose diabetes and cleared the way in which for house take a look at kits, which enabled sufferers to watch glucose on their very own.

People with diabetes now use blood sugar meters to watch their glucose ranges, however the dip-and-read checks are ubiquitous in scientific laboratories worldwide.

Helen Murray was born on Feb. 20, 1923, in Pittsburgh to James and Daisy (Piper) Murray. Her father was a coal firm salesman; her mom died of influenza when Helen was 6.

She entered the College of Wooster in Ohio in 1941, intent on turning into an English or Latin instructor. But she modified her main to chemistry on the recommendation of her housemother; World War II was creating new alternatives for girls in a discipline that had been a male protect.

“I think that was the most terrific thing that ever happened, because I certainly wouldn’t have done the things I have done in my lifetime,” Ms. Free recalled in a commemorative booklet produced by the American Chemical Society in 2010.

She acquired her bachelor’s diploma in 1944 and went to work for Miles Laboratories in Elkhart, first in high quality management after which within the biochemistry division, which labored on diagnostic checks and was led by her future husband, Alfred Free. They married in 1947.

He provided the ideas; she was the technician “who had the advantage of picking his brain 24 hours a day,” Ms. Free recalled in an interview for this obituary in 2011. They quickly set their sights on creating a extra handy glucose take a look at “so no one would have to wash out test tubes and mess around with droppers,” she stated. When her husband prompt chemically handled paper strips, “it was like a light bulb went off,” she stated.

They confronted two challenges. First, they wanted to refine the take a look at in order that it will detect solely glucose, the type of sugar that’s discovered within the urine of individuals with diabetes. Second, the chemical substances they wanted to make use of have been inherently unstable, in order that they needed to discover a technique to hold them from reacting to mild, temperature and air.

The first drawback was simply solved with the usage of a lately developed enzyme that reacted solely to glucose. To stabilize the chemical substances, the Frees experimented with rubber cement, potato starch, varnish, plaster of Paris and egg albumin earlier than selecting gelatin, which appeared to work finest.

With her husband, Ms. Free wrote two books on urinalysis. Later in her profession she returned to highschool, incomes a grasp’s in scientific laboratory administration from Central Michigan University in 1978 at age 55. She held a number of patents and printed greater than 200 scientific papers.

At Miles, she rose to director of scientific laboratory reagents and later to director of selling companies within the analysis division earlier than retiring in 1982; by then the corporate had been acquired by Bayer. She was elected president of the American Chemical Society in 1993. In 2009, she was awarded a National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Barack Obama, and in 2011 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y., for her position in creating the dip-and-read take a look at.

Alfred Free died in 2000. In addition to her son Eric, Ms. Free is survived by two different sons, Kurt and Jake; three daughters, Bonnie Grisz, Nina Lovejoy and Penny Maloney; a stepson, Charles; two stepdaughters, Barbara Free and Jane Linderman; 17 grandchildren; and 9 great-grandchildren.

Miles Laboratories adopted the introduction of the dip-and-read glucose take a look at with a bunch of different checks designed to detect proteins, blood and different indicators of metabolic, kidney and liver issues. “They sure went hog wild on diagnostics, and that’s all Al’s fault,” Ms. Free stated within the commemorative booklet. “He was the one who pushed diagnostics.”

It wasn’t all clean crusing. Several years after the introduction of the dip-and-read take a look at, Miles moved Ms. Free to a different division, citing an anti-nepotism coverage. But two years later, after a change in administration, she was transferred again to her husband’s division.

“They realized that breaking up a team like this was interfering with productivity in the lab,” Ms. Free stated.



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