Sarah Stewart (cancer researcher)

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Sarah Stewart
Sarah Stewart MD nci-vol-1921-300.jpg
Sarah Stewart, MD PhD.
Born (1905-08-16)August 16, 1905
Tecalitlán, Jalisco, Mexico
Died November 27, 1976(1976-11-27) (aged 71)
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Citizenship USA
Institutions United States Public Health Service
Alma mater Georgetown University School of Medicine
Known for first describing the Polyomavirus

Dr. Sarah Stewart (August 16, 1905 – November 27, 1976) was a Mexican American researcher who pioneered the field of viral oncology research, the first to show that cancer-causing viruses can spread from animal to animal. She and Bernice Eddy co-discovered the first polyoma virus, and Stewart-Eddy polyoma virus is named after them.[1]


Early life and education[edit]

Sarah Elizabeth Stewart was born on August 16, 1905 in Tecalitlán, Jalisco, Mexico.[2] Born to a Mexican mother and American engineer father, she moved back to the United States at the age of 5.[1] She did her undergraduate work at the New Mexico State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in 1927. She went on to earn a master's degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1930 and a Ph.D in microbiology from the University of Chicago in 1939. In 1949, she became the first woman to be awarded an MD Degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine.[3]


Sarah Elizabeth Stewart, ca 1950

Stewart joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 1935-1944 while completing her PhD at the University of Chicago.[1] She went on to teach microbiology at Georgetown University's School of Medicine, and once women were allowed to enroll, she became their first female graduate at the age of 39.[1][4] Stewart returned to the NIH in 1951, joining the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and eventually becoming medical director.[1]

Stewart developed an interest in researching viral links to cancer in light of the pioneering research of Jonas Salk in developing a vaccine for the virus which caused polio. Stewart is credited with discovering the Polyomavirus in 1953.[3] She and research partner, Dr. Bernice E. Eddy, were successful in growing the virus in 1958 and the SE (Stewart-Eddy) polyoma virus is named after them. Stewart was the first to successfully demonstrate that viruses causing cancer could be spread from animal to animal.[5]

She left the NIH to become professor at Georgetown University in 1971.[4]

Death and afterward[edit]

Stewart died of cancer at her home in New Smyrna Beach, Florida on November 27, 1976.[6] A collection of her papers is held at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e Fulghieri, Carl; Bloom, Sharon (2014). "Sarah Elizabeth Stewart". Emerging Infectious Diseases. 20 (5): 893–895. ISSN 1080-6040. doi:10.3201/eid2005.131876. 
  2. ^ Cancer Research, Sarah Stewart, Obituary, Volume 37, 4675
  3. ^ a b Biography from
  4. ^ a b "Sarah stewart student research lecture series". Georgetown University. 
  5. ^ Stanley, Autumn. Mothers and Daughters of Invention, Page 165. 1993, Rutgers University Press.
  6. ^ Smith, J. Y. (1976-12-08). "Dr. Sarah Stewart, Cancer Researcher, Dies". The Washington Post. p. C15. 
  7. ^ "Sarah E. Stewart Papers 1927-1977". National Library of Medicine.