Google Doodle’s Lucy Wills and her Indian connection
Google Doodle on Friday paid tribute to Lucy Wills, an English haematologist whose early research in prevention of prenatal anemia helped in the identification of folic acid as a supplement for pregnant women.
Born in 1888, Lucy Wills studied in three institutions in England that were at the forefront of educating women — Cheltenham College for Young Ladies, one of the first British boarding schools to train female students in science and mathematics; Cambridge University’s Newnham College; and the London School of Medicine for Women, the first school in Britain to train female doctors.
After receiving her license, Wills travelled to Bombay, where she did her research on a life-threatening form of anemia which was observed in pregnant textile workers. The condition, known as macrocytic anemia, caused the red blood cells to become larger than normal during pregnancy.
Identifying poor nutrition as a probable cause, Wills conducted research on monkeys, feeding them the British breakfast spread Marmite, made of yeast extract. The monkey’s health improved, and the discovery came to be known as the “Wills factor”.
In later years, further research showed the extract to be folate, of which the synthetic form is folic acid. Folic acid, along with calcium, vitamins and iron, is now recommended as a supplement for pregnant women around the world for prevention of prenatal anemia and other medical conditions.
Wills spent her life travelling the world and researching on health of pregnant women until her death on April 16, 1964.