How the Woman Who Found a Leprosy Treatment Was Almost Lost to History
The daughter of daguerreotype pioneers, Alice Ball used her passion for chemistry to develop an injection that stayed in use for 20 years.
In 1916, Harry T. Hollmann, an assistant surgeon at Kalihi Hospital in Hawaii, had a problem he needed to solve.
Kalihi was among a handful of facilities in Hawaii that treated patients with Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, an ailment that can vary in intensity from barely noticeable skin lesions to terrifying disfigurements.
The bacteria that cause the skin condition had been identified in 1873, and by the early 20th century, treatments had evolved slightly thanks to chaulmoogra oil, a substance derived from the seeds of a tropical evergreen tree. When the oil was applied topically or taken orally or intravenously, Hansen’s disease patients experienced some improvement, but the results were inconsistent. There were also uncomfortable side effects, such as