Google is commemorating English haematologist Lucy Wills with a cutesy doodle on her 131st birth anniversary.
Born in England, in 1888, she is best remembered for her exemplary research work into the prevention of prenatal anaemia. It was her research that led to the creation of a prenatal vitamin that helps prevent birth defects.
This vitamin is folic acid, a man-made form of folate, a B-vitamin which occurs naturally in dark green vegetables and citrus fruits. It is important for forming red blood cells. When taken by women before and during pregnancy, it can help prevent birth defects in the baby’s brain and spinal cord.
Wills was the first one to bring this to the fore with her research paper about anemia in pregnant women in India.
She earned her first honours degree in botany and geology at Cambridge University’s Newnham College in the year 1911. In 1914, she became involved in medicine – when she volunteered as a nurse in Cape Town when the first World War broke out. In 1915, she enrolled at the London School of Medicine for Women and became a legally qualified medical practitioner in 1920, earning bachelor degrees in medicine and science.
It was while she was researching in India on anemia in pregnant women, she figured out that there is a correlation between their dietary habits and the likelihood of their becoming anemic during pregnancy.
During a lab study, she found out that a monkey’s health improved after being fed a breakfast spread, Marmite. Further research proved the factor to be folic acid, which is now recommended to pregnant women all over the world. This discovery is known as the ‘Wills Factor’.
She spent the remainder of her life travelling and researching on the impact of nutrition on pregnancy, before she passed away on 16 April, 1964.