How It Works

Curing leprosy

Alice Ball 1892-1916


Long before Alice Ball was born, leprosy – or Hansen’s disease as it was then known – wreaked havoc on the health of people around the world, causing nerve damage and skin lesions. A bacteria called Mycobacter­ium leprae was discovered to be the culprit in 1873 by Norwegian physician Dr Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen. The first treatment for the condition was to use oil from a chaulmoogr­a nut, applied as a topical treatment, ingested or even injected. Although patients that underwent this treatment showed improvemen­ts, the long-term side effects arguably outweighed the benefits, with bruises beneath the skin and nausea replacing the symptoms of leprosy. That was until Alice Ball stepped in with a revolution­ary new method of treatment. Ball had made waves during her academic career, becoming the first African-american and the first woman to graduate with a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Hawaii. Having caught the eye of Dr Harry Hollmann, an assistant surgeon at Kalihi Hospital, a treatment centre for leprosy patients, Ball began working on a new way to isolate the active ingredient in the oil. Focusing on a method to extract the medically beneficial compounds from chaulmoogr­a as opposed to using the oil in its entirety, Ball engineered a water-soluble injection as an alternativ­e treatment, one that would be used until the 1940s. Sadly Ball died at the age of 24 before her work could be published, and so credit for her revolution­ary method was attributed to colleague and college president Arthur L. Dean, who neglected to mention Ball’s involvemen­t in the ‘Dean Method’. Justice for Ball’s exemplary work, however, came when Hollmann credited the scientific advancemen­t as the ‘Ball Method’.

 ??  ?? Chaulmoogr­a (Hydnocarpu­s wightianus) is an evergreen tree found commonly in the rainforest­s of South India
Chaulmoogr­a (Hydnocarpu­s wightianus) is an evergreen tree found commonly in the rainforest­s of South India
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