Three African-Americans and their Revolutionary Impacts

As Black History Month is coming to an end, we want to once again celebrate African Americans for their immense contributions to our world. This article will mainly focus on three astounding human beings that have produced breakthrough inventions that have changed healthcare. 

Dr. Patricia Bath –  Laserphaco Probe

Dr. Patricia Era Bath (1942 – 2019), an ophthalmologist (a specialist in eye disorders and diseases) and laser scientist, produced a breakthrough invention that changed ophthalmology. Starting from a young age itself, at the age of 16, while participating in a summer program at Yeshiva University, New York, she formulated a mathematical equation to predict cancer cell growth. One of her mentors, Dr. Robert O. Bernard, presented her findings at an international conference held in Washington, D.C. in 1960. 

She was such a scholar that she completed high school in just two and a half years and later attended Howard Medical school in Washington, D.C. From then, her accomplishments were topping each other. She became the first African American resident at New York University. In 1975, Bath became the first African American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center and the first woman faculty member at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute. In 1976, she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness (AIPB), an organization that aims to “protect, preserve, and restore the gift of sight” for all people, regardless of race, gender, age, or income level. 

1981 was a significant year of her life when she developed the Laserphaco Probe to eliminate cataracts. Cataracts are when clouding appears in front of the lens, disabling sight. Eventually, cataracts can lead to blindness. The Laserphaco Probe is a surgical tool that uses a laser to vaporize cataracts via a 1-millimeter insertion into a patient’s eye. After using the Laserphaco Probe to remove a cataract, the patient’s lens can be removed, and a replacement lens can be inserted. Previously, removing cataracts was a difficult, risky, and time-consuming procedure. However, this invention made the surgical procedure more accurate and easier. This invention quickly gained popularity and was used all over the world. 

In 1983, Bath was named chair of the Ophthalmology Residency Training Program, which she also co-founded, at UCLA. Bath was the first woman in the country to hold such a position. In 2019, she passed away due to cancer. Her legacy lives forever in the field of ophthalmology. 

Dr. Leonidas Barry –  Eder-Berry biopsy gastroscopy

Dr. Leonidas Barry (1902-1995), born in Woodsdale, North Carolina, became the first African American gastroenterologist (specialist concerned with disorders and diseases that affect the stomach). Moreover, he called himself a “multi-dimensional doctor,” being a physician, inventor, church leader, civil rights activist, and even historian. 

Dr. Barry’s contribution to the field of gastroenterology is the Eder-Berry biopsy gastroscopy, the first direct-vision suction instrument used for taking tissue samples during a gastroscopic examination. It was distinctive as it operated through suction and offered precise visualization. It was especially beneficial to detect conditions like gastritis, granulomatous lesions, and sarcoidosis. All these conditions are related to inflammations and are very difficult to diagnose back in their time. 

Dr. Berry expanded his contribution by sharing his knowledge with fellow passionate students by mentoring them. Over the course of 17 years, he has trained more than 175 gastroscopes from all over the world. Furthermore, from 1965 to 1966, he served as president of the NMA, an organization developed for Black physicians as they were not permitted to join the American Medical Association (AMA) due to their race. In essence, this invention changed the field of endoscopy forever. 

Alice Augusta Ball – injectable oil extract

Alice Augusta Ball (1892-1916) was born in Seattle to a photographer and a lawyer. Her family already has experience with experimenting and inventing. Her grandfather, James P. Ball Sr, a well-known photographer, was amongst the first to practice daguerreotype photography, a process of printing photographs onto metal plates. From her initial stages, she excelled at school and became the first African American and the first woman to graduate with an M.S. degree in chemistry in 1915.

As a laboratory researcher at the age of 23, Ball worked extensively to develop a successful treatment for those suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy). She produced the first injectable oil extract with oil from the chaulmoogra tree. Though Chinese and Indian medications used this oil, it was not used much, as its usage came with risk. Dr. Ball successfully isolated ethyl ester compounds from fatty acids in the oil, permitting her to manipulate the oil into a water-soluble injectable form. This was known as the “Ball Method.”

Unfortunately, Ball didn’t get a chance to publish her findings. Sometime after her discovery, she became ill. In the fall of 1916, she returned home to Seattle, where she died on December 31, 1916, at the age of 24. It is commendable how accomplished she was during her brief lifetime. Nevertheless, this leprosy treatment remained the most effective method for more than two decades once discovered. 

It’s important to note that though we’ve only described the lives of three African American geniuses, there are several others that we should all acknowledge and be grateful for as they’ve played monumental roles in developing our current healthcare advancements. 

Works Cited

Community Blog – ‘In MedTech History’ – Women Who Changed the World: Patricia Bath, MD. (2022). Retrieved 24 February 2022, from

Defining Healthcare Problems – Houston Healthcare Initiative. (2020). Retrieved 24 February 2022, from

Patricia Bath | Lemelson. (2022). Retrieved 24 February 2022, from

Now, C. (2018). Inventor & Mentor: Dr. Leonidas H. Berry and the Gastroscope. Retrieved 25 February 2022, from

Now, C. (2018). Inventor & Mentor: Dr. Leonidas H. Berry and the Gastroscope. Retrieved 25 February 2022, from

Now, C. (2018). Inventor & Mentor: Dr. Leonidas H. Berry and the Gastroscope. Retrieved 25 February 2022, from

We salute these African American GI trailblazers. (2021). Retrieved 25 February 2022, from

Alice Ball. (2022). Retrieved 25 February 2022, from

Kirsh, D. (2018). 17 Black innovators who made medtech better – Page 7 of 16 – Medical Design and Outsourcing. Retrieved 25 February 2022, from