Sarah Elizabeth Stewart

Class of 1927, 1961

Sara Stewart

A pioneer in the field of viral oncology, Sarah Elizabeth Stewart was born in Mexico in the early 1900s. Her father, a mining engineer, relocated to the U.S. and Stewart attended schools in Oregon before enrolling at New Mexico State University. Stewart graduated in 1927 with bachelor’s degrees in science and in home economics.

Stewart earned a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. In 1949, she became the first woman to graduate from the Georgetown University School of Medicine with an M.D.

Stewart worked as a Research Fellow at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine, a bacteriologist with the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and an instructor at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She returned to the USPHS, where she began her research in virology and oncology at the Public Health Service Hospital in Baltimore.

In 1953, Stewart and fellow researcher Bernice Eddy discovered the SE polyoma virus, which was found to cause many kinds of tumors in mice and other rodents. Non-infectious to humans, the virus has served over the decades as a valuable tool for researchers focused on understanding the causes of cancer and developing ways to prevent it.

Stewart received many honors, including honorary degrees from NMSU and Georgetown University, the Lenghi Award of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome and the Lucy Wortham James Award of the James Ewing Society, just to name a few.


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