Like Rosalyn Yalow, Elion was admitted to Hunter College in New York at an early age. Elion began her classes at the women's college at the age of 15. Four years later, she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in chemistry. She went on to earn a masters degree in chemistry at New York University before going to work for George Hitchings.
Elion eventually became a partner with Hitchings doing biochemical research. Their work resulted in the development of a variety of drugs, including the AIDS drug, AZT, a drug to treat acute leukemia and another that made kidney transplants possible between unrelated donors. The world's first medication that could kill a virus, which Elion and Hitchings developed together, is often used to treat herpes.
Elion's work earned 45 patents. She shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988 with George Hitchings and James Black.