Friday, April 5, 2013

Hattie Elizabeth Alexander

Born this day in 1901: Hattie Elizabeth Alexander (1901–1968), pediatrician and microbiologist who developed a successful treatment for influenzal meningitis, a  previously fatal disease

Alexander, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, attended Goucher College as an excellent athlete but an undistinguished student. After graduating with a BA in 1923 she worked for three years as a bacteriologist for state and federal public health services in order to save money for medical school. She was accepted at Johns Hopkins University, where this formerly C student excelled. She received her MD in 1930.
Alexander interned at Baltimore’s Harriet Lane Home, specializing in pediatrics. It was there where she developed an interest in influenzal meningitis, a fatal disease. Next she joined at the Babies Hospital of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, and in 1958 became a full professor in the department of pediatarics. She remained at Columbia for the duration of her career, as physician, teacher, and researcher.
Finding a cure for meningitis was the center of her research. She developed, with the help of immunochemist Michael Heidelberger, a serum that drastically reduced the mortality rate of the disease (from 100% to 10%).  In the course of her research, she became aware that some bacilli became resistant to antibiotics. Alexander began to recognize the role of DNA.  She began studying bacterial genetics, making her one of the earliest geneticists.
Alexander was the recipient of many awards in recognition of her contributions and was the first woman president of the American Pediatric Society.

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