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Healthcare Heroes: A Look Back at a Pioneer in Cancer Research

February 23, 2021 | Blog, Doctors & Healthcare Providers

In honor of Black History Month, Spring Hills will like to pay tribute to all the amazing African American healthcare workers and pioneers. One such pioneer stands out, Dr. Jane Wright and her father Dr. Louis Wright.  Their dedication to cancer research helped to create the chemotherapy treatment that is used today. Dr. Jane Wright and her father Dr. Louis Wright dedicated their lives to others and completely changed the medical industry. Because of their hard work and studies, we have the modern version of chemotherapy today. The way we treat cancer and allow people to be in remission has a great deal to do with the studies of both of these remarkable people and we couldn’t be more thankful and proud of their accomplishments. Black History Month is about honoring African Americans that have contributed to our society in large and small ways. At Spring Hills we are especially happy to commemorate and celebrate those who have triumphed in the healthcare industry.

Background

Jane Wright was born in New York City in 1919. She was the oldest of 2 sisters to parents Corrine Cooke Wright, and Louis Tompkins Wright. Her father Louis Wright was from a well known medical family. He was the son of Dr. Ceah Ketcham Wright a physician who graduated from Bencake Medical College, he died when he was 4 and his mom was remarried to William Fletcher Penn who was the first African American to graduate from Yale. Because of his family’s dedication to medicine he also continued the legacy and attended Clark University in Atlanta then went on to Harvard where he graduated in 1915 as one of the first African Americans to graduate from Harvard. In 1919 he was the first African American doctor appointed to a staff position at a municipal hospital in New York and in 1929 he became New York City’s first African American police surgeon. With Jane’s father and grandfather as inspiration, Jane and her sister Barbra were set on becoming physicians and overcoming gender and racial basis of that era.

Education & Early Career

Jane originally went to Smith College where she was studying for an art degree, however her father suggested otherwise and persuaded her to change her studies to pre-med. After Smith college Jane studies earned her a full scholarship to New York Medical College. She graduated top of her class in a 3 year accelerated degree program in 1945 with an honors award. Post college Jane interned at Bellevue Hospital for 9 months serving as an assistant resident in internal medicine. She found love in 1947 and married her husband David D. Jones Jr. who was a Harvard Law School graduate and became an attorney. While falling in love between the years of 1947 and 1948 Jane was also earning her surgical residency at Harlem Hospital where her father worked. After a 6 month leave for her first child she returned to Harlem Hospital to complete her training as chief resident. In 1949 Jane was hired as a staff physician with the New York City Public Schools while continuing as a visiting physician at the Harlem Hospital. After another 6 months she left the schools to work with her father who was the founder and director of the Cancer Research Foundation at Harlem Hospital.

Career

Both Jane and her father Louis interest in the field of medicine mostly related to chemotherapeutic agents and were set to make chemotherapy accessible to everyone. In the 1940’s chemo was still experimental so it wasn’t as well known or practiced often. Chemotherapy was considered the last resort. In order to make chemotherapy a more well used treatment for cancer Dr. Louis Wright had redirected the focus of the foundation research to investigating anti-cancer chemicals. The two were a team, while Dr. Louis worked in the lab, his daughter would perform the patients’ trials. In 1949 Dr. Louis and Dr. Jane Wright began testing a new chemical on human leukemias and cancers of the lymphatic system and thanks to them several of their patients went into remission.

Dr. Jane Wrights research mainly involved studying the effects of certain drugs on tumors. In 1951 Jane and her team were able to identify Methotrexate which is one of the foundations of chemotherapy drugs as an effective tool against tumors. Methotrexate is known to be the basis of modern chemotherapy and is still used today. This could be seen as one of Jane’s greatest achievements as it completely changed the way people viewed chemotherapy and her early work has been used to save millions of lives. Dr. Jane Wright also was successful in identifying treatments in both breast and skin cancer by developing a chemotherapy that increased skin cancer patients life span up to 10 years. Following Dr. Louis Wright’s death in 1952 Jane was appointed head of the Cancer Research Foundation at the age of 33.

1955 is when Dr. Wright’s career started to take flight. Dr. Wright became  an associate professor of surgical research at New York University and director of cancer chemotherapy research at New York University Medical Center and its affiliated Bellevue and University hospitals. In 1964, President Lydon B. Johnson appointed Dr. Wright to the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke. Based on the Commission’s report, national network treatment centers were established for heart disease, cancer and stroke. In 1967 she was titled professor of surgery, head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department, and Associate Dean at New York Medical College where she graduated. This was a time where women physicians were not common, especially African American women. Dr. Wright was the highest ranked African American woman at a nationally recognized medical institution.

Achievements

Other than her astonishing achievements in the medical field, Dr. Wright published more than 100 papers on cancer chemotherapies and served on the editorial board of the Journal of the National Medical Association. In 1964 she was the only woman among who helped to found the American Society of Clinical Oncology and in 1971 she became the first woman president of the New York Cancer Society. Dr. Wright was also a world traveler, leading delegations of oncologists to China, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

 

Today’s modern day healthcare heroes are constantly making strides to improve the future of healthcare and make an impactful mark in the world like Dr. Wright. With the Covid-19 Pandemic, it is hard to remember that there are other terminal illnesses affecting the lives of people everyday. Doctors, nurses, scientists, and researchers are continuing to work hard on a daily basis to advance the future and technology of medicine. We salute all of our associates and the entire healthcare industry for their dedication to helping people live longer, happier lives.

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