How Did Her Brilliance Help Cure A Horrible Disease?

Medical syringes
Via Flickr
Leslie Taylor-Grover
May 11, 2020

Leprosy is a horrible disease caused by a bacterial infection. It’s thousands of years old, and countless people across the ages have been disfigured from it.

While leprosy is pretty rare these days, this wasn’t always the case.

The disease was so insidious that sufferers were separated from the rest of society. The treatment for leprosy was chaulmoogra tree oil, painfully put under the skin or swallowed. Often patients got sicker - if they tolerated the treatment at all. 

Enter Alice Ball.

A brilliant young chemist who had toiled in isolation as one of the few Black women in her graduate programs, Ball invented an injectable chaulmoogra oil medicine. She figured out how to literally mix oil with water, making injections possible! 

The Ball Method worked wonderfully, and is still used today. Unfortunately, Ball would never know how amazing her work was.

She died from inhaling chlorine in a lab accident. Worse yet, the white scientist working with her stole her method and named it after himself. He even got a building named after him for “his work!”

But justice eventually showed up.

Six years later, another scientist gave her proper credit, and now she has a day in Hawaii named after her, an endowed scholarship in her honor, and most importantly HER PLACE IN MEDICAL HISTORY. 

Black girl magic can save lives, even in the face of incurable diseases!

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