Isabel Torres Salas

* 1905 (Cuenca) 1998 (Granada) Spain
Fields of activity: health sciences, fundamental and applied research
Author: Carmen Vives Cases

Santander, Vadecilla Hospital, 2002



Isabel Torres Salas, born in Cuenca in 1905, was a pharmacist and a researcher who, despite her scientific contributions, has unfortunately gone unnoticed in history. In the nineteen thirties, she was the only woman amongst the doctors and postgraduate students in the then Casa de Salud Valdecilla (Valdecilla Health Centre) (now Hospital Universitario Marqués de Valdecilla (Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital)). Her scientific contribution to the development of diets has still not been recognised. In the forties, fifties and sixties, after conducting research in Germany with the Nobel laureate for medicine, Dr Otto Meyerhof, she was the technical director of the Laboratorio farmacéutico Cántabro (Cantabrian Pharmaceutical Laboratory) (later called Industrial Farmacéutica Cantabria (Cantabrian Pharmaceutical Industry) – IFC-) in Santander, an unusual post for women of the time, like everything this woman did during her life.

Those who knew her directly say she was an intelligent, conscientious, independent and disciplined woman; a true pioneer in a man’s world. However, this limited her possibilities of being able to develop her full potential as a researcher.



In 1928, she graduated with a degree in pharmacy from the Universidad Central de Madrid.

In 1929, she applied for a training position in the chemistry department of the Casa de Salud Valdecilla (Valdecilla Health Centre) (now Hospital Universitario Marqués de Valdecilla (Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital) in Santander. She was accepted, becoming the only woman among 70 doctors and postgraduate students. Although she was interested in fundamental research, mainly into vitamins, her superiors assigned her applied research tasks, in particular the task of analysing the nutritional value of the food consumed in the hospital, with a view to developing an appropriate diet for each patient. This is how the “Puyal-Torres Dietary Framework” developed, a pioneer in its day, revealing the contents of food in terms of hydrates, fats and proteins, with a view to obtaining full and balanced portions. This contribution was a breakthrough within the usual management of food in charity hospitals.

In 1932 she presented her PhD thesis “Contribution to the Study of the Chemical Composition of Spanish Foods”.

In 1934 she worked with Dr. José Collazo on the structure of vitamins, in the Instituto de Patología Médica (Medical Pathology Institute) directed by Doctor Marañón. At this time, she applied for a grant to conduct research into vitamins in Germany. Whilst there, she worked with the Nobel laureate for medicine, Otto Meyerhof, specialising in the physiology of muscles and the intermediary metabolism of carbohydrates. 

In 1936 she worked in Munich on the structure of vitamin K with H. Dyckerhoff. This stage of her professional life has been described as special for Isabel Torres in her different biographies because she dedicated it to what really interested her; fundamental research.

When she returned to Spain in 1939, when the Civil War had ended, she joined the Laboratorio Cántabro (later Industrial Farmacéutica Cantabria – IFC-) as a pharmacist and technical director, and stayed there until she retired in 1966. Her work there consisted of the development of formulas, quality control, trials, and the development of good manufacturing practices. She died in Granada in 1998.

As a reminder of her work as a dietician, pharmacist and researcher, her name appears in the Aula Interdisciplinar Isabel Torres de Estudios de las Mujeres y del Género (Isabel Torres Interdisciplinary lecture Room for Women's and Gender Studies)
of the Universidad de Cantabria (University of Cantabria), established in 2004, and every two years the Premio Isabel Torres (Isabel Torres Award) is awarded to research in these subject areas.


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