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African American Inventors and Medicine

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Patricia Bath method for removing cataract lenses

Patricia Bath - method for removing cataract lenses

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Patricia Bath invented a method for removing cataract lenses. Charles Drew invented the blood bank. Percy Julian synthesized cortisone for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Patricia Bath

Doctor Patricia Bath’s passionate dedication to the treatment and prevention of blindness led her to develop the Cataract Laserphaco Probe. The probe, patented in 1988, is designed to use the power of a laser to quickly and painlessly vaporize cataracts from patients’ eyes, replacing the more common method of using a grinding, drill-like device to remove the afflictions. With another invention, Bath was able to restore sight to people who had been blind for over 30 years. Bath also holds patents for her invention in Japan, Canada, and Europe.

Patricia Bath graduated from the Howard University School of Medicine in 1968 and completed specialty training in ophthalmology and corneal transplant at both New York University and Columbia University. In 1975, Bath became the first African-American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center and the first woman to be on the faculty of the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute. She is the founder and first president of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. Patricia Bath was elected to Hunter College Hall of Fame in 1988 and elected as Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine in 1993.

Charles Drew - The Blood Bank

Charles Drew, a Washington, D.C. native, excelled in academics and sports during his graduate studies at Amherst College in Massachusetts. He was also a honor student at McGill University Medical School in Montreal, where he specialized in physiological anatomy. It was during his work at Columbia University in New York City where he made his discoveries relating to the preservation of blood. By separating the liquid red blood cells from the near solid plasma and freezing the two separately, he found that blood could be preserved and reconstituted at a later date. The British military used his process extensively during World War II, establishing mobile blood banks to aid in the treatment of wounded soldiers at the front lines. After the war, Drew was appointed the first director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank. He received the Spingarn Medal in 1944 for his contributions. He died at the early age of 46 from injuries suffered in a car accident in North Carolina.

Percy Julian - Synthesis of Cortisone & Physostigmine

Percy Julian synthesized physostigmine for treatment of glaucoma and cortisone for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. He is also noted for a fire-extinguishing foam for gasoline and oil fires. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Percy Julian had little schooling because Montgomery provided limited public education for Blacks. However, he entered DePauw University as a "sub-freshman" and graduated in 1920 as class valedictorian. He then taught chemistry at Fisk University, and in 1923, earned a master’s degree from Harvard University. In 1931, Julian received his Ph.D. from the University of Vienna.

Percy Julian returned to DePauw University, where his reputation was established in 1935 by synthesizing physostigmine from the calabar bean. Julian went on to become director of research at the Glidden Company, a paint and varnish manufacturer. He developed a process for isolating and preparing soy bean protein, which could be used to coat and size paper, to create cold water paints, and to size textiles. During World War II, Julian used a soy protein to produce AeroFoam, which suffocates gasoline and oil fires.

Percy Julian was noted most for his synthesis of cortisone from soy beans, used in treating rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. His synthesis reduced the price of cortisone. Percy Julian was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990.

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