Valentina Suntzeff (1891-1975)

Valentina Suntzeff
Valentina Suntzeff, 1954

Valentina Suntzeff was born on February 28, 1891 in Kazan, Russia. The daughter of a physician, Valentina Suntzeff decided at an early age to become a doctor. She graduated from the Women’s Medical Institute in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) in 1917, just before the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution. Suntzeff worked briefly as a physician for an industrial company in Perm, Russia before being mobilized as a physician for the Army. In August 1920 Suntzeff, her husband Alexander, and daughter emigrated to Harbin, China. After three years in China, part of which was spent as a physician at the Central Hospital in Harbin, Valentina Suntzeff and her family left for San Francisco where a relative had settled. Neither Valentina nor her engineer husband could find work in their chosen fields in San Francisco. After four years, Alexander Suntzeff found work in St. Louis, and the family moved there. In 1930 Valentina Suntzeff began as a volunteer researcher in the Pathology Department of the Washington University School of Medicine. After several months she joined the staff as a research assistant in Pathology. In 1941 Suntzeff became a research associate in Cancer Research, and in 1958 a research associate professor. The following year Suntzeff retired as research associate professor emeritus and lecturer in Anatomy, but she continued to carry on cancer research another 15 years. Suntzeff died on July 16, 1975, after suffering a series of strokes.

Suntzeff preferred to work as part of a research team. Her collaboration with biochemist Christopher Carruthers led to their discovery of a fundamental difference between the chemical composition of cancerous and normal tissues. She co-authored over 90 scientific publications.