Helen Murray Free Dies at 98; Chemist Developed Diabetes Check

Helen Murray Free, a chemist who ushered in a revolution in diagnostic testing when she co-developed the dip-and-read diabetes check, 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.

Earlier than the invention of the dip-and-read check in 1956, technicians added chemical substances to urine after which heated the combination over a Bunsen burner. The check 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 discovered the best way to impregnate strips of filter paper with chemical substances that turned blue when glucose was current. The check made it simpler for clinicians to diagnose diabetes and cleared the best way for residence check kits, which enabled sufferers to observe glucose on their very own.

Folks with diabetes now use blood sugar meters to observe their glucose ranges, however the dip-and-read assessments 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 Faculty of Wooster in Ohio in 1941, intent on changing into an English or Latin instructor. However she modified her main to chemistry on the recommendation of her housemother; World Warfare II was creating new alternatives for girls in a discipline that had been a male protect.

“I feel that was essentially the most terrific factor that ever occurred, as a result of I definitely wouldn’t have finished the issues I’ve finished 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 assessments and was led by her future husband, Alfred Free. They married in 1947.

He supplied the concepts; she was the technician “who had the benefit of choosing his mind 24 hours a day,” Ms. Free recalled in an interview for this obituary in 2011. They quickly set their sights on growing a extra handy glucose check “so nobody must wash out check tubes and fiddle with droppers,” she stated. When her husband instructed chemically handled paper strips, “it was like a light-weight bulb went off,” she stated.

They confronted two challenges. First, they wanted to refine the check in order that it could 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 had been inherently unstable, in order that they needed to discover a strategy to preserve them from reacting to gentle, temperature and air.

The primary downside was simply solved with using a just 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 deciding on gelatin, which appeared to work greatest.

Along 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 College 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 promoting 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 Nationwide Medal of Know-how and Innovation by President Barack Obama, and in 2011 she was inducted into the Nationwide Girls’s Corridor of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y., for her position in growing the dip-and-read check.

Alfred Free died in 2000. Along with her son Eric, Ms. Free is survived by two different sons, Kurt and Jake; three daughters, Bonnie Grisz, Nina Lovejoy and Penny Moloney; 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 check with a bunch of different assessments designed to detect proteins, blood and different indicators of metabolic, kidney and liver problems. “They positive 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 easy crusing. A number of years after the introduction of the dip-and-read check, Miles moved Ms. Free to a different division, citing an anti-nepotism coverage. However two years later, after a change in administration, she was transferred again to her husband’s division.

“They realized that breaking apart a staff like this was interfering with productiveness within the lab,” Ms. Free stated.

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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