ROME (JTA) — The oldest living Nobel Prize winner kicked off celebrations for her 100th birthday at a special ceremony.
Rita Levi Montalcini, who turns 100 on Wednesday, enjoyed cake and a glass of sparkling wine at Saturday’s event hosted by the European Brain Research Institute.
Levi Montalcini, who still conducts biomedical research, told reporters at the ceremony that she feels sharper today than when she was a student.
"At 100 I have a mind that is superior, thanks to experience, than when I was 20," she said.
Levi Montalcini, who was born in Turin, was forced to leave Italy because of the anti-Semitic racial laws imposed by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. She studied and worked in the United States.
In 1986, Levi Montalcini shared the Nobel Prize for medicine with American Stanley Cohen for discovering mechanisms that regulate the growth of cells and organs.
"I should ‘thank’ Mussolini for having declared me to be of an inferior race," she said. "This led me to the joy of working, not anymore unfortunately, not in university institutes but secretly in a lab set up in my bedroom."
Levi Montalcini is an Italian senator for life. Other events marking her birthday this week are scheduled to include a meeting with Italy’s president, a gala concert, conferences and ceremonies in parliament.