Brainy Quote of the Day

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Alice Ball...

Alice Ball - see link below

Topics: African Americans, Civil Rights, Diaspora, Diversity, Diversity in Science, History, Women in Science

This is Alice Ball, the pharmaceutical chemist who in 1919 developed a medical treatment for Leprosy and gave hope to millions. Her drug was the premier treatment for Leprosy until the 1940’s when antibiotics were developed. Before Alice, Leprosy was considered a hopeless disease. In the US people found to have Leprosy were forcibly removed from their homes and detained indefinitely in remote colonies. Alice’s treatment allowed hundreds of detainees to at last be paroled from the detention centres and go home to their families.

Born in 1892, Alice is the granddaughter of Iconic photographer JP Ball. She graduated from the University of Washington and the University of Hawaii with degrees in pharmacy and pharmaceutical chemistry. Her master’s thesis was titled The Chemical Constituents of Piper Methysticum and involved extracting active ingredients from kava root. Her chemistry work here was so impressive that she was enlisted by US Public Health Officer Dr Harry Hollmann to work her magic with chaulmoogra oil.

For centuries, Indian and Chinese health practitioners have been using chaulmoogra oil to treat leprosy but with limited success. The oil could be applied topically however that would mean it wouldn’t penetrate deep enough into the body; at best, it provided sufferers with some relief. Oil is not soluble in water therefore injecting was extremely difficult near impossible. Patients described the oil injections as ‘burning like fire through the skin’.

This is where Alice comes in. She was enlisted to use her unique skills and techniques to extract the active ingredients from chaulmoogra oil. She isolated the chaulmoogric acid and hydnocarpic acid contained in the oil and created the first water soluble injectable treatment for leprosy. At aged 24 she had managed to do something that had “thwarted researchers for years”.

Meet Alice Ball – The pharmaceutical Chemist who developed the first effective treatment for Leprosy, Women Rock Science on Tumblr

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