The little known Black scientist who pioneered sickle cell research

Stephen Nartey December 09, 2022
William Warrick Cardozo, first African-American scientist/Photo credit:Who We Are

William Warrick Cardozo is celebrated as the first African-American scientist to have made a breakthrough in research into the sickle cell anemia condition. He was born on April 6, 1905, in Washington, D.C. to Francis Cardozo, Jr.

He grew up in a family of well-enlightened personalities. His dad was a high school principal and his grandfather, Francis Cardozo, was a well-noted D.C. area politician and educator, according to BlackPast. Cardozo had his basic education at the public schools of the District of Columbia and then furthered at the Hampton Institute of Virginia. He then proceeded to Ohio State University.

It was at the Ohio State University he obtained his A.B. and M.D. degrees from 1929 to 1933. He was awarded a two-year fellowship to take his scholarly research on pediatrics at the Children’s Memorial Hospital and Provident Hospital in, Chicago, Illinois.

This was where his interest in sickle cell anemia research took off. He published his groundbreaking research titled “Immunologic Studies in Sickle Cell Anemia” in the archives of internal medicine. Cardozo’s work is what opened the understanding that sickle cell anemia was to a large extent inherited and connected to one’s genes. Also, it established that one can have a sickle cell but would not be anemic, and the disease was not a death sentence. His work revealed that there was no successful treatment for the disease, BlackPast reported. His findings are still relevant today. He also found out that sickle cell affected Black people more but it did not always end up in anemia or death.

Cardozo later went into private practice in Washington, D.C. in 1937. He was employed the same year as a part-time instructor in pediatrics at Howard University College of Medicine and Freedmen’s Hospital. He continued to shine in his field as he was promoted to clinical assistant professor and clinical associate professor of pediatrics.

Aside from his groundbreaking work on sickle cell anemia, Cardozo studied and published another work on children with gastrointestinal disorders, Hodgkin’s disease, and the early growth and development of children of African descent. His research opened the floodgates for the study of sickle cell and the improvement of treatment for the condition.

Cardozo did not spend all his time focused on research; he was also engaged in philanthropic work. He directed part of his work at enhancing knowledge of disorders that affected children, particularly, Black children.

He was a public school medical inspector, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a member of the National Medical Association. He also volunteered at the Ionia R. Whipper Home for Unwed Mothers, the only facility that tended to African-American women in D.C.

He was not a man interested in honorary titles, but, in a legacy that impacted generations and beyond. Cardozo died in Washington, D.C. on August 11, 1962, after suffering a heart attack. But, death did not place a dark cloud on his accomplishments.

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