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Influential Black Biomedical Researchers

In honor of Black History Month, the Pritzker Institute acknowledges the historical contributions of Black researchers who have made fundamental contributions to the biomedical science and engineering field. 

Raphael Carl Lee: Raphael Carl Lee is the Paul and Allene Russell Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago. In 1981 at the age of 32, Lee received a MacArthur Fellowship for his work advancing reconstructive surgery for patients with scar formation including reversing cellular damage caused by electric shocks. In 2018 he received the highest award in biomedical engineering in the United States, the Pierre Galletti Award from the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering. (Sources: University of Chicago Medicine, MacArthur Foundation, The History Makers)

Patricia Bath: Patricia Bath was an ophthalmologist and inventor who innovated practices for treating blindness. She patented several inventions for cataract removal, the most notable being the Laserphaco Probe, a device that used a laser to surgically remove cataracts in a minimally invasive procedure. Bath’s inventions and procedures restored sight to patients. She also founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. (Sources: National Institute of Health, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Otis Boykin: Otis Boykin was an inventor and engineer who developed a high-precision resistor, a component of electrical circuits that decreases the flow of electrical current. His resistor has been used to make many electronic devices cheaper and more reliable. Among the devices that benefited most from Boykin’s invention were medical devices that required precise and dependable control of electrical flow, such as the pacemaker. Boykin attended Illinois Tech from 1945 to 1947. (Sources: Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Bessie Blount Griffin: Bessie Blount Griffin was one of the earliest inventors in the field of physical therapy. While teaching injured veterans how to function with their new disabilities, Griffin began creating assistive devices to help her patients regain independence, such as the ability to feed themselves. (Sources: BlackPast.org, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Louis Tompkins Wright: Louis Tompkins Wright was a surgeon and lifelong activist. He received his medical degree from Harvard University Medical School in 1915. Wright spent 30 years as a surgeon at Harlem Hospital, improving the standard of care. He wrote for the NAACP magazine, challenging the idea that biological factors made the African-American community predisposed to infectious diseases. (Sources: BlackPast.org)

Daniel Hale Williams: Daniel Hale Williams was a pioneering surgeon in Chicago. He advocated for America’s first interracial hospital and nursing school, Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, which opened in 1891. Williams performed the first successful heart surgery in 1893, a bold undertaking in a time that discouraged surgical interventions for heart problems. (Sources: Columbia University, Encyclopedia Britannica)

Leonidas Berry: Leonidas Berry was a distinguished gastroenterologist who taught and practiced medicine in Chicago. He made groundbreaking discoveries in his field including detailed studies of the effects of alcohol on the stomach, and this work led him to the invention of the scope for removing diseased stomach tissue. He was a founding member of the Chicago Council for Biomedical Careers. (Sources: Chicago Public Library)

Mary Eliza Mahoney: Mary Eliza Mahoney was an activist and the first African-American licensed nurse. After facing consistent and significant discrimination and racial prejudice in her profession, Mahoney co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses with the goal of breaking down barriers. In 1920 Mahoney was one of the first women in Boston who registered to vote.  (Sources: National Women’s History Museum)