Lucy Wills, who pioneered preventive prenatal care for women, is being honored with a Google Doodle today. The search giant is marking the 131st birthday of the English hematologist today and the doodle shows the investigative instincts of Wills, which led her to India to conduct research on life-threatening anemia afflicting pregnant textile workers. Lucy Wills was born on this day in 1888 and she attended the Cheltenham College for Young Ladies, one of the first British boarding schools that trained female students in science and mathematics.
In 1911, Wills earned first honors in botany and geology at the Cambridge University’s Newnham College, which was at the forefront of educating women. She then went to the London School of Medicine for Women, which was the first school in Britain to train female doctors. Her biggest contribution to the world is the creation of a prenatal vitamin that helps prevent birth defects and she is the one pregnant women must thank for safe delivery of babies. For this research, Wills traveled to India to investigate a severe form of life-threatening anemia that affected pregnant textile workers in Mumbai (then Bombay).
She suspected that poor nutrition was the cause of this anemia and concluded when a laboratory monkey’s health improved after being fed the British breakfast spread Marmite made of yeast extract. The discovery came to be known as the “Wills Factor” and led to isolation of folic acid from spinach, a man-made form of folate, which is a Vitamin B found naturally in dark green vegetables and citrus fruits. The folic acid is vital to the creation of red blood cells and it can help prevent birth defects in the baby’s brain and spinal cord, if taken before and during pregnancy by the women.
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In the Google Doodle page, Google notes that Wills is remembered for her wry sense of humor and she enjoyed mountain climbing, cross-country skiing and instead of driving a car, she rode a bicycle to work. She opted for research and teaching rather than practicing medicine and devoted much of her to travel the world and work to ensure the health of mothers-to-be. She died in 1964 at the age of 75 and her contribution to the birth of healthier babies remains crucial even today.