Hattie Alexander

Today’s spotlight is on Baltimore native (but ultimate New Yorker) Hattie Alexander. Born in 1901, she earned her MD from Johns Hopkins and then started (and finished) her research career at Columbia. Hattie studies Haemophilus influenzae meningitis - Hib, sometimes called bacterial influenza - which was a fatal disease in young children in the 1940s. She improved diagnosis and treatment of the disease, combining an improved antiserum with sulfa drugs. And later, working with her collaborator Grace Leidy, she discovered that antibiotics (streptomycin) further lowered mortality from Hib. During her work on antibiotics, Hattie noticed that strep-resistant strains of Haemophilus arose and suggested that this resistance resulted from DNA mutations that were positively selected - the first report of antibiotic-resistance. She and Grace later showed that strep resistance in H. influenzae was conferred by transformation. She was an equally effective teacher, insisting on logic and accuracy from her students, and she became the first woman president of the American Pediatric Society. Hattie died of cancer in 1968.

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