New Delhi: Google recently dedicated a Doodle to honour English haematologist Dr Lucy Wills, who invented folic acid, a prenatal vitamin that helps prevent birth defects.
The doodle, depicting Dr Wills working in a laboratory setting, commemorates her 131st birth anniversary.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, she conducted seminal work in India on macrocytic anaemia during pregnancy. Her research on anaemia in pregnant women in Mumbai in 1928 led to the discovery of folic acid that helps prevent birth defects in babies.
Her observations during the research on pregnant textile workers in Mumbai led to the discovery of a nutritional factor in yeast which both prevents and cures this disorder.
The extract, later identified as folic acid, improved the health of the monkeys during the research which was named the “Wills Factor”.
The folic acid is a form of folate — a B-vitamin found naturally in dark green vegetables and citrus fruits.
Macrocytic anaemia was prevalent in a severe form among poorer women with dietary deficiencies, particularly those in the textile industry.
Wills observed an apparent correlation between the dietary habits of different classes of women in Mumbai and the likelihood of their becoming anaemic during pregnancy.
This anaemia was then known as ‘pernicious anaemia of pregnancy’.
However, Dr Wills was able to demonstrate that the anaemia she observed differed from true pernicious anaemia, as the patients did not have achlorhydria or inability to produce gastric acid.
Born in 1888, Dr Wills conducted seminal work in India in 1928 on macrocytic anaemia during pregnancy, which is characterised by enlarged red blood cells and is life-threatening.
Dr Lucy Wills became a legally qualified medical practitioner with the qualification of Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians London awarded in May 1920 (LRCP Lond 1920), and the University of London degrees of Medical Bachelor and Bachelor of Science awarded in December 1920 (MB BS U Lond) aged 32.
On qualifying, Dr Wills decided not to practise as a physician, but to research and teach in the Department of Pregnant Pathology at the Royal Free. There she worked with Christine Pillman (later Mrs Ulysses Williams) who had been at Girton at the same time Lucy was at Newnham, on metabolic studies of pregnancy.
Wills spent her life travelling the world and researching on the health of pregnant women until her death in 1964.