Menten, Maud Lenora

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Maud Lenora Menten is commemorated at the University of Toronto by an Ontario Heritage Plaque erected in 1979 near Queen’s Park Crescent outside the Medical Sciences Building, and as one of the 10 Giants of Biomedical Science whose sculptured likenesses were mounted in the College Street entrance of the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research in 2006. The third floor of this Centre also bears her name and provides a précis of an obituary written by two of her colleagues at the University of Chicago. Maud Menten also was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 1998.

The year 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Michaelis-Menten equation that accounts for her fame. This equation provides a way of mathematically analyzing chemical reactions catalyzed by enzymes and has been basic knowledge in all textbooks of biochemistry ever since its development.

Maud Menten was born in Port Lampton, Ontario, on March 20th, 1879, but spent most of her young years in Harrison Mills, British Columbia. She attended the University of Toronto, receiving her B.A. in 1904, M.B. in 1907 and M.D. in 1911.She was a class assistant (demonstrator) for Prof. A.B. Macallum in Physiology from 1905 to 1907 and published her first research paper with him. Between 1907 and 1916 she held research appointments in New York, Cleveland, Berlin, and St. Louis, and earned a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1916. The year 1912-1913 that she spent in Berlin in the laboratory of Dr. Leonor Michaelis resulted in the publication of their famous equation in Volume 49 of Biochemische Zeitschrift in 1913.

In 1916 Maud Menten became a clinical pathologist at the E.S. Magee Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Two years later she joined the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh as a demonstrator (she was 39), became an Assistant Professor in 1923, but was not promoted to full professor until just before her retirement in 1950. Her 18-hour working days included not only her pathology teaching and her responsibilities as pathologist-in-chief of the Children’s Hospital, but also important scientific research that resulted in more than 70 publications. Particularly noteworthy are her group’s studies of human hemoglobins by electrophoresis in 1944 that predated by a number of years the use of this technique by other investigators, and the discovery of an azo-dye coupling reaction for the demonstration of alkaline phosphatase in the kidney that opened up the field of enzyme histochemistry.

Aside from her science, Maud Menten was fluent in several languages, played the clarinet, and was an accomplished painter whose canvasses were hung in art exhibitions. She also enjoyed travelling and mountain climbing.

Not content with being retired, in 1950 Maud Menten joined the Medical Research Institute of British Columbia where she continued with her research on cancer. Her last two papers were published in 1954. Ill health brought her to be with family members in Leamington, Ontario, where she died in July of 1960.

Maud Menten was an extraordinarily talented Canadian whose name seems to be familiar only to biochemistry students. Marian A. Packham


The information in this short biography of Maud Lenora Menten was drawn from 11 sources and a number of items that were available at the University of Toronto Archives. I found many instances of errors and disagreements. Her name was misspelled as Maude in a few documents at the Archives, but her signature in the 1907 Torontonensis is Maud L. Menten. Her student record at the Archives has her middle name as Lenora, as do several other references. The common misspelling as ‘Leonora” probably arose from confusion with the given name of her 1913 co-author, Leonor Michaelis. Unfortunately, the plaque outside the Medical Sciences Building has “Leonora”. The engraved short biography mounted with her sculpture in the Hall of Giants of Biomedical Science is incorrect in stating that she obtained her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto, whereas it should have been the University of Chicago. The number of her publications is not known. Estimates vary from “over 70” to “over 100”. Records of the year when she joined the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh disagree – 1916 or 1918. Some sources give two years and others four years as the time she spent at the Medical Research Institute of British Columbia after retirement. There is no doubt that her last two papers were published in 1954. Finally, the day of the month when she died has been given as 20 in some records and 26 in others.