AlphaGroup Celebrates Black History MonthFebruary 14, 2022
February is Black History Month, a time to remember and honor both the struggles and triumphs of Black Americans throughout our country’s history. Too often, the achievements of Black individuals are overlooked, devalued, or ignored. This Black History Month, we would like to take the time to recognize just a few of the extraordinary Black researchers who have contributed to the advancement of science and medicine. Their breakthroughs changed the field of medicine, and collectively, their work has saved millions of lives. Join us in learning about and celebrating these incredible scientists and their groundbreaking achievements.
Jane C. Wright (1919–2013)
If you or anyone you know have undergone chemotherapy treatment for cancer, you most likely have Dr. Jane C. Wright to thank. Considered the “Godmother of Chemotherapy,” Wright’s work at the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Center became the foundation for all of modern chemotherapy treatment. In the late 1940s, at a time when chemotherapy was considered a last resort for cancer treatment, Wright spearheaded research investigating the potential of chemical agents to fight tumors. In her seminal work of 1951, Wright demonstrated that the drug methotrexate is an effective treatment for breast cancer—the first successful treatment of solid tumors with chemical therapy. Today, methotrexate remains one of the most important chemotherapeutic agents used to fight numerous forms of cancer. Wright also went on to pioneer multi-drug combination therapies, as well as the technique of testing anticancer drugs in human tissue cultures. Her work forever changed the landscape of cancer treatment and has saved millions of lives.1–3
Emmett Chappelle (1925–2019)
Biologist and biochemist Emmett Chappelle was a true luminary—literally. Working at NASA in the 1960s, Chappelle discovered that the bioluminescent chemicals luciferase and luciferin, when combined in the presence of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), produce light. Recognizing that all living cells contain ATP, Chappelle used his discovery to develop the ATP fluorescent assay, a technique for detecting living cells that is still widely used today. The applications of this assay range from detecting bacterial infections in humans to testing the effectiveness antimicrobial drugs to looking for extraterrestrial life. Chappelle’s assay is an indispensable tool for biological, pharmacological, and medical research, and has contributed to countless scientific breakthroughs since its development.4–5
Patricia Bath (1942–2019)
Dr. Patricia Bath spent her career breaking barriers—she was the first Black woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology, the first female faculty member of UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute, and the first Black woman to receive a medical patent. But her influence extends far beyond these milestones. As an intern, Bath documented a significantly higher rate of blindness among Black patients than white patients. Recognizing this disparity inspired her to found an entirely new medical discipline—community ophthalmology. This field combines clinical ophthalmology, community medicine, and public health, using primary eye care to prevent ocular disease and blindness. Today, community ophthalmology is practiced in underserved communities throughout the country and in developing nations around the world. In 1986, Bath again advanced the entire field of ophthalmology by inventing laser cataract surgery. Her device—the Laserphaco Probe—was patented in 1988, making Bath the first Black woman ever to receive a medical patent; it has since been used to treat millions of patients worldwide. Bath’s incredible work preventing and reversing blindness proves her role in medical history as a true visionary.6–8
Charles Drew (1904–1950)
In pioneering some of the most important innovations in blood storage to date, Dr. Charles Drew became known as the “Father of the Blood Bank.” Drew’s doctoral research focused on the preservation of plasma, the protein- and electrolyte-rich fluid remaining when blood cells are removed from blood. Drew recognized that plasma can be stored for much longer than whole blood, and therefore can be “banked.” Drew’s expertise was of immediate importance with the outbreak of World War II, when he was called upon to direct the Blood for Britain project, which shipped more than 5,000 liters of much-needed plasma overseas to treat the wounded in Britain. Soon afterwards, Drew began working on the American Red Cross’s own blood banking program. However, the Red Cross at first refused to accept blood donations from Black Americans; the organization eventually relented, but demanded that the blood be segregated and only used to treat other Blacks. Insulted by this racist and unscientific policy, Drew resigned in 1941. Nevertheless, his wartime efforts saved thousands of American and British lives, and his pioneering research remains a key foundation of modern blood banking. He spent the remainder of his career educating the next generation of Black surgeons at Howard University and campaigning against the exclusion of Black physicians from local and national medical societies.9–11
As we reflect on these remarkable scientists, we must also consider the discrimination and racism they faced in order to accomplish everything that they did. We also need to recognize that although we have come a long way, racism is far from eliminated. We must continue to educate ourselves, to fight for racial justice, and to work toward a future of equity and freedom for all.
AlphaGroup is a team of PhD scientists, MDs, PharmDs, nurses, designers, and communications and innovation experts. Our collective genius delivers the highest-quality scientific, medical affairs, and outcomes communication services anywhere in the world. The company thrives on three pillars of success—Precision, Integrity, and Passion. Our goal is to cultivate a culture of quality, caring, cutting-edge thinking, and service across a team, reinventing the medical and scientific communications industry standard globally.