10 Black Pioneers in Healthcare Technology 

As a healthcare technology company, EHR Data is building on the foundation laid by so many before us. Often, when we think of healthcare technology, we think of software and databases, robot surgeons, and enhanced lab capabilities. Throughout history, however, innovations in healthcare technology took many shapes and came from many kinds of minds. In this blog, we’re exploring some of the Black American men and women who have made significant contributions to healthcare technology.

Dewey S. C. Sanderson (b. Unknown)

Not much is known about Sanderson except that his medical inventions have improved the care of millions of people worldwide. His design for the urinalysis machine as described in a U.S. patent from 1970 is still in use today and he is also responsible for the invention of the medical compress that staunches the blood flow either from a wound or simply from a vein after the removal of a needle for blood draw, and three other U. S. medical patents.

Alice Augusta Ball (1892-1916)

A young chemist, Ball is known best for isolating ethyl ester compounds from fatty acids and developing an injectable oil extract that was used to treat leprosy until the 1940s. The oil had been used topically, subcutaneously, or orally, but with a compromised efficacy. Ball developed a method to make the oil soluble in water and, thus, injectable. At the time, hers was the only effective treatment for the debilitating disease; however, credit was stolen from her until a colleague reclaimed it after her death. Ball continued her research on chaulmoogra oil until her untimely death in 1916 at only 24. Her work on water-solubility has had far-reaching effects on medicine to this day. A short film about her life and work premiered in February 2020.

Photo Source: National Geographic

Patricia Bath (1942-2019)

Dr. Bath was an ophthalmologist, inventor, humanitarian, academic, and an early pioneer of laser cataract surgery. During her residency at a Harlem hospital, she observed that blindness was twice as common in Black patients as it was in white patients and they are eight times more likely to develop glaucoma. This inspired her to take a particular interest in fighting preventable blindness in underserved groups and populations. The first black female physician awarded medical invention patent for a laser technique for treating cataracts, at the time of her death in 2019 Dr. Bath held five patents issued between 1988 and 2003 for methods and apparatuses for the treatment of cataracts.

Photo Source: Blackpast.org

Leonidas Berry (1902-1995)

A prominent gastroenterologist, Dr. Berry became internationally recognized for co-inventing a gastric biopsy instrument that removed diseased tissue from the stomach as well as creating a clinic-based addiction treatment that became known as the “Berry Plan” in the mental health community. He was also one of the first to study the stomach linings of patients severely addicted to alcohol. His pioneering work in the medical mechanics of alcoholism has had far-reaching effects on the modern study of the nature and effects of addiction.

Photo Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

Kwabena Boahen (b. 1964)

A Stanford University bioengineering professor and pioneer of neuromorphic engineering, Boahen designed and created a silicon chip to mimic the functions of the human retina. Widely celebrated for his engineering accomplishments, Boahen sought to bridge the gap between the understanding of machine processing and the biological processor that is the human brain. This technology has broad applications including a machine-brain interface that assists the disabled persons in communication and leading more independent lives.

Photo Source: bioengineering.stanford.edu

Otis Boykin (1920-1982)

Inventor of a wire precision resistor used in a number of electronic devices, but most notably pacemaker control units, Boykin developed an electrical resistor that allowed for the specification of an exact amount of resistance. The pacemaker device utilizes electrical impulses to maintain a regular heartbeat and, thus, requires perfectly calibrated amounts of electrical current at exact times to successfully maintain a regular cardiac rhythm. His invention has saved the lives of thousands of people around the world.

Photo Source: invent.org

Alexa Irene Canady (b. 1950)

A pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Canady was the first African American woman in the US to become a neurosurgeon with expertise in hydrocephalus, cranio-facial abnormalities, congenital spine abnormalities, and tumors of the brain. A pioneer in the treatment of young patients facing life-threatening injuries and illnesses, she furthered the study and treatment of gunshot wounds, head trauma, and spine abnormalities as well as a focus on patient care with the needs of the family taken into account. Even after her retirement, Dr. Canady was called back into service when she found that there were no pediatric neurosurgeons in her area.

Photo Source: AANS Neurosurgeon

Charles R. Drew (1904-1950)

A surgeon and medical researcher in the area of blood transfusions, he developed improved techniques for blood preservation and storage. He also worked to develop large-scale blood banks early into World War II where there was desperate need, saving countless lives, and was the first to use plasma in the storage of blood for transfusions. He also worked to ensure that blood from African American donors would not be separated in storage from that of white donors, thus increasing supply and making blood banks more robust. The standards and procedures for collecting and processing plasma changed medicine forever.

Photo Source: AP Photo

Samuel Kountz (1930-1981)

A surgeon specializing in kidney transplants, Dr. Kountz was the first to perform a successful kidney transplant between two humans who weren’t biological twins. He also invented the Belzer kidney perfusion machine. The machine can preserve a human kidney for up to 50 hours after removal from a donor’s body and is now standard equipment in laboratories and hospitals around the world. Additionally, he discovered that larger doses of a steroid, methylprednisolone, could reverse the acute rejection of a transplanted kidney.

Photo Source: Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail

Jane Cooke Wright (1919-2013)

Modern cancer patients have Dr. Wright to thank for advanced chemotherapy administration techniques. In 1949, cancer treatment was still mostly experimental, considered a “last resort” treatment and, thus, dosages and best practices were not specified. Dr. Wright built on her father’s initial research into anti-cancer chemicals and began successfully testing on human leukemias and lymphatic cancers. In addition to creating a program to instruct doctors in chemotherapy, she also implemented programs to study heart disease and stroke in addition to cancer.

Photo Source: The New York Times