Julius Axelrod couldn’t get into medical school as a young man because, as he put it, “It was hard in those days for Jews to get into medical school. I wasn’t that good a student, but if my name was Bigelow I probably would have gotten in.”
So Julius, son of Polish, Jewish parents whose father was a basketmaker, went to get a job, and to night school to get an M.S. Eventually he began to research with a more senior scientist and began a lifelong pursuit of research in pharmacological science. He did go back to school to get his Ph.D. in the mid-50s (he was in his 40s).
He pursued science and discovery his entire life. Among his many other honors, he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1970 (about 29% of Nobels for Medicine have been awarded to Jews) for his discovery of the actions of neurotransmitters in regulating the metabolism of the nervous system.
The Nobel Foundation had the following to say about his Prize (shared with two other researchers):
The discoveries which this year’s Nobel laureates have made have given us answer to questions of fundamental importance for the understanding of the mechanism underlying the transmission between the nerve cells, i.e. at the so-called synapses, and between the nerve terminals and the so-called effector organs, for instance between the motor nerve fibres and the muscle fibres which they innervate. The transmission between the nerve cells, which radically differs from the mechanisms underlying the impulse transmission in the nerve fibres, is mediated by chemical substances, so-called neurotransmitters, which carry the message from one cell to the other. The three scientists have been working independently of each other, but their discoveries all contribute in solving principal questions concerning the neurotransmitters, their storage, release and inactivation.
Dr. Julius Axelrod’s discoveries concern the mechanisms which regulate the formation of this important transmitter in the nerve cells and the mechanisms which are involved in the inactivation of noradrenaline, partly under the influence of an enzyme discovered by himself.
He was also recipient of numerous other prizes including the Gairdner Award (27% of all recipients have been Jewish) for individuals whose work or contribution constitutes tangible achievement in the field of medical science.