Happy Black History Month! Jane Cooke Wright, MD
Today marks the beginning of Black History Month, 2019. This month, CRCHD staff will be blogging about influential black doctors, scientists, and medical innovators, as well as rising stars from our portfolio. If you would like to nominate someone to be honored, please email CUREsupplements (at) NIH (dot) gov
Today we will honor Jane Cooke Wright, a pioneer in cancer chemotherapy and cofounder of the American Society of Clinical Oncology!
Jane was born on November 20, 1919 to a family of black doctors. Her grandfather, was Ceah Ketcham Wright, who was born a slave but went on to attend Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN and became a physician. His son, Jane's father, was Louis Tompkins Wright, who graduated from Harvard Medical School and became one of the first black surgeons in the United States! Both of Louis's daughters, Jane and her sister Barbara Wright Pierce, overcame both racial and gender barriers to become MDs.
Jane graduated from New York Medical College in 1945 and began her career at Bellevue Hospital and later Harlem Hospital where she was chief resident. Soon after, Jane and her father began to conduct research on chemotherapy, which was in its infancy at the time. Jane became the head of the Cancer Research Foundation at Harlem Hospital in 1952, an associate professor of surgical research at New York University and director of cancer chemotherapy research at NYU Medical Center in 1955, a member of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke in 1964, and the first female president of the New York Cancer Society in 1971.
Jane was among the first researchers to grow tumor specimens in vitro to test potential chemotherapeutic agents. She was a champion of clinical research at a time when most cancer researchers were spending their time in the lab. Dr. Wright was also an advocate of global cancer research, conducting studies in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and other locations.
Professor James Holland, a medical oncologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, described Wright as “Cheerful, open, humorous, constructive, and very easy to work with. I can't recall her ever having made a snide remark about anyone... ...She was a woman in a man's world, and gently set about to change it, was creative, very well regarded, not bashful. She was looking for predictive activity for chemotherapeutic efficacy in vitro at a time when no one had good predictive tests”
Former ASCO president Sandra Swain described Jane as "very strong. For any woman to achieve what did was rare. I am in awe of her."
Jane said of her own research: "There's lots of fun in exploring the unknown. There's no greater thrill than in having an experiment turn out in such a way that you make a positive contribution."
A problem solver even in her down time, Jane was an avid Rubik's cube enthusiast. She died on February 9, 2013 at the age of 93.