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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 12, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 21
Johns Hopkins Surgeons Honored in Museum Exhibition

By Kim Hoppe
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons tells the stories of four pioneers who exemplify excellence in their fields and who believe in continuing the journey of excellence through the education and mentoring of young African-Americans pursuing medical careers. The exhibit also features other academic surgeons from around the country, including five from Johns Hopkins, who follow in the tradition of sharing their knowledge and passing the torch to younger surgeons.

The exhibition opened simultaneously on Feb. 1 at the National Library of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore. It will run through May 31, with a traveling exhibit taking to the road this summer. A Web version is also available, on the National Library of Medicine's Web site at:

The four pioneers are Alexa I. Canady, the first African-American woman pediatric neurosurgeon; Leffall D. LaSalle Jr., a cancer surgeon and the first African-American president of the American College of Surgeons and the American Cancer Society; Claude H. Organ Jr., a general surgeon and the first African-American to chair a department of surgery at a predominantly white medical school; and Rosalyn P. Scott, the first African-American woman cardiothoracic surgeon.

Of the 13 other men and women profiled, five are from Johns Hopkins: Malcolm Brock, Benjamin S. Carson Sr., Edward E. Cornwell III, Claudia Thomas and Levi Watkins.

Malcolm Brock, an associate professor of surgery and oncology at the Kimmel Cancer Center, is studying new biomarkers to detect lung and esophageal cancers and predict their response to therapy. He is using cancer's molecular code to reveal signatures of the disease not detected through a microscope. In a process called methylation, DNA letters are tagged with small methyl groups that may interfere with protein production. Abnormal levels of methylation are linked to many cancers and are found in DNA that leaks out from tumors, and areas of cancer spread. Methylation patterns, he says, could predict the behavior of lung and esophageal cancers and flag those most likely to recur. In surgery, this knowledge helps him determine if he has removed the entire tumor. Brock, who was born in Bermuda and studied and trained at Johns Hopkins, also is exploring the rising incidence of lung cancer in HIV patients and whether their tumors have unique profiles. A Rhodes Scholar, he has received several National Institutes of Health research awards and has been honored by the Thoracic Surgery Foundation for research excellence.

Benjamin S. Carson Sr. has been director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center since 1984. Both the first African-American and the youngest person to hold this position, he also holds appointments in Neurosurgery, Oncology, Pediatrics and Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in the School of Medicine. His clinical and research interests include congenital spinal deformities, brain tumors, craniofacial reconstruction and human dwarfism. He is renowned for his expertise in performing cerebral hemispherectomy surgery, a procedure in which half the brain is removed to help control intractable seizures. Carson has participated in the separation of five sets of twins joined at the head, including the adult conjoined twins Laleh and Ladan Bijani in 2003.

Edward E. Cornwell III is a professor of surgery at the School of Medicine and chief of adult trauma surgery at the hospital. Cornwell's pioneering research in the care of critically ill and injured patients has changed the way some trauma centers treat patients with gunshot wounds. His experience and research in this field have led him to become one of medicine's pre-eminent lecturers on trauma care and violence prevention, especially with regard to youth violence. Through his outreach project, "Hype vs. Reality," he strives to educate the nation's youth about the false images and messages the media presents in glamorizing a culture of violence. Cornwell, who recently served as president of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons, has received numerous awards and citations for his research and teaching in trauma and critical care, as well as for his efforts in education, outreach and violence prevention.

Claudia Thomas completed her orthopedic residency at Yale in 1980 and became the first African-American female orthopedic surgeon in the country. After completing a fellowship in shock trauma at the University of Maryland, Thomas was named an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins. She trained orthopedic residents at the Baltimore City Hospitals for a number of years and in 1985 moved to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, where she worked in a government hospital and developed a private practice. She later returned to Johns Hopkins as an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and in 2004 joined two former mentees in a private practice in central Florida.

Levi Watkins is associate dean for postdoctoral programs and professor of cardiac surgery at the School of Medicine and was the first African-American to achieve these posts. While growing up in Alabama, Watkins was exposed to widespread prejudice and to the early civil rights movement, both of which would have lasting effects. He became the first black student admitted to Vanderbilt University Medical School and came to Johns Hopkins for his surgical residency in 1970. Four years after he joined the admissions committee of the Medical School in 1979, minority representation had increased 400 percent. His interest in worldwide human rights led him to initiate the annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration at Johns Hopkins in 1982, a tradition that continues to this day.

Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons is a collaborative effort between the National Library of Medicine, the largest medical library in the world, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, the largest African-American museum on the East Coast and the second largest in the country.

The exhibition is not intended to be encyclopedic but rather to provide a glimpse into the contributions that African-American academic surgeons have made to medicine and medical education.


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