Jane C. Wright

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Jane C. Wright
Jane Cooke Wright.jpg
Born(1919-11-20)November 20, 1919
DiedFebruary 19, 2013(2013-02-19) (aged 93)
EducationSmith College
New York Medical College
Known forDevelopment of chemotherapies; Co-founder of the American Society of Clinical Oncology
Scientific career
InstitutionsHarlem Hospital Cancer Research Center
New York University
New York Medical College

Jane Cooke Wright (also known as "Jane Jones") (November 20, 1919 – February 19, 2013) was a pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon noted for her contributions to chemotherapy. In particular, Wright is credited with developing the technique of using human tissue culture rather than laboratory mice to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells. She also pioneered the use of the drug methotrexate to treat breast cancer and skin cancer (mycosis fungoids).

Early life and education[edit]

Wright was born in Manhattan to Corinne Cooke, a public school teacher, and Louis T. Wright, a graduate of Meharry Medical College and one of the first African American graduates from Harvard Medical School.[1] Her father, Louis Tompkins Wright, was from a medical family. He was the child of Dr. Ceah Ketcham Wright, a physician graduated from Bencake Medical College, and stepson of William Fletcher Penn, the first African-American graduate of Yale Medical College.[2] Wright's uncle, Harold Dadford West, was also a physician, ultimately president of Meharry Medical College.[3] In becoming physicians, Jane Wright and her sister Barbara Wright Pierce both followed in their father's and grandfathers' footsteps, overcoming both gender and racial bias to succeed in a largely white male profession.[2]

Wright's family had a strong history of academic achievement in medicine. The first medical member of the Wright family was Dr. Ceah Ketcham Wright. Ceah was first born into slavery, and after the Civil War, Ceah earned his medical degree at Meharry Medical College. Jane's stepfather, Dr. William Fletcher Penn was the first African American to graduate from Yale Medical College. Lastly, Jane's father, Dr. Louis T. Wright, from whom she took her greatest inspiration, was among the first black students to earn an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and the first African American doctor at a public hospital in New York City. During his 30 years working at the Harlem Hospital, he founded and directed the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Foundation.[4]

Jane attended Smith College, originally wanting to pursue a degree in art, however, her father suggested to change her studies to pre-medical studies. After her studies at Smith College, Jane earned a full scholarship to study medicine at New York Medical College. She graduated as a part of an accelerated three-year program at the top of her class in 1945 with the honors award. After graduating from medical school, Dr. Wright earned an internship at Bellevue Hospital during 1945 and 1946. In 1947, she married David D. Jones, Jr, an attorney, and she completed her surgical residency at Harlem Hospital in 1948, where her father was.[citation needed]

As a child, Wright attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, then the "Ethical Culture" school and the "Fieldston School",[1] from which she graduated in 1938.[2] During her time at the Fieldston School, Wright was very involved. She served as the school's yearbook art editor and was named the captain of the swim team. Her favorite subjects to study were math and science.[5] After attending the Fieldston School, Wright received a scholarship to Smith College, where she furthered her studies and continued to be very involved. Here, she swam on the varsity swim team and found a passion for the German language, where she lived in the school's German house for a while.[5] She graduated with an art degree from Smith College in 1942.[6] Once her time here was finished, she received yet another a scholarship to the New York Medical College, where she was required to graduate in only three years due to World War II.[5] She received her medical degree with honors in 1945.[5] She then immediately accepted an internship at Bellevue Hospital.[5]

Professional career[edit]

After medical school, she did residencies at Bellevue Hospital (1945–46) and Harlem Hospital (1947–48), completing her tenure at Harlem Hospital as chief resident.[7] In 1949 she joined her father in research at the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Center, which he had founded,[7] succeeding him as director when he died in 1952.[2] In 1955 she accepted a research appointment at New York University Bellevue Medical Center, as Associate Professor of Surgical Research and Director of Cancer Research.[7]

In 1949, Dr. Wright joined her father at the Cancer Research Foundation at Harlem Hospital. During her time at the research institute, she and her father sparked an interest in chemotherapeutic agents. They were interested in making chemotherapy more accessible for everyone. In the 1940s chemotherapy was a new development, so it was not a well-known or well-practiced source for treatment because it was still in its experimental stage of drug development. Chemotherapy was considered the “last resort” and the drugs available and dosage was not very well defined. Both Jane and her father wanted to make chemotherapy a more accessible method of cancer treatment. They were the first groups to report the use of nitrogen mustard agents and folic acid antagonists as cancer treatments. The Folic acid antagonist can block folic acid in the body, which is required for cells to produce certain types of amino acids. By inhibiting the folic acids, cells are unable to make new strands of DNA/RNA or produce proteins to drive mitosis. Because cancer cells are highly proliferative compared to the other class in the human body, it is crucial to stop mitosis from happening. The folic acid antagonists that were tested were probably the most important discovery because the antifolates are highly potent against a vast array of solid tumors, including several types of leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, lymphosarcoma, melanoma, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. Methotrexate is still one of the main chemotherapy drugs used today to treat many types of cancer, and it has been a basis for all modern chemotherapy.[8]

Wright's research work involved studying the effects of various drugs on tumors. In 1951 with the help of her team she was the first to identify methotrexate, one of the foundational chemotherapy drugs, as an effective tool against cancerous tumors.[2][9] Wright's early work brought chemotherapy out of the realm of an untested, experimental hypothetical treatment, into the realm of tested, proven effective cancer therapeutics—thus literally saving millions of lives.[2] Her work with this form of chemotherapy proved to be the stepping stone for combination therapy as well as the individual adjustments due to patient toxicity. In their initial research they took each patient’s tumor which was then evaluated and then grown again in tissue culture. These tumors were then treated with the same drug that was used in the treatment of the patient before the tumor was extracted. The clinical criteria needed for the evaluation of the chemotherapeutic agents to work is seen in Figure 1.

Clinical Criteria for Evaluation of Chemotherapeutic agents.

In the end they determined that there was indeed a correlation between the chemotherapeutic agent given to the patient and those grown in tissue cultures. From this she was able to develop the drug methotrexate in order to fight those tumors. Wright and her father introduced nitrogen mustard agents, similar to the mustard gas compounds used in World War I, that were successful in treating the cancerous cells of leukemia patients. Wright later pioneered combinatorial work in chemotherapeutics, focusing not simply on administering multiple drugs, but sequential and dosage variations to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and minimize side effects.[2] She was successful in identifying treatments for both breast and skin cancer, developing a chemotherapy protocol that increased skin cancer patient lifespans up to ten years.[2] She also developed a non-surgical method, using a catheter system, to deliver potent drugs to tumors located deep within the body such as the liver and spleen. She published more than 100 papers on cancer chemotherapeutics during her career and served on the editorial board of the Journal of the National Medical Association.[10]

During her career, Cooke also collaborated with cell biologist and physiologist Jewel Plummer Cobb, another noted African American woman scientist.[3]

In addition to research and clinical work, Wright was professionally active. In 1964, she was the only woman among seven physicians who helped to found the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and in 1971, she was the first woman elected president of the New York Cancer Society. Wright was appointed associate dean and head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department at New York Medical College in 1967, apparently the highest-ranked African American physician at a prominent medical college at the time, and certainly the highest-ranked African American woman physician.[7] She was appointed to the National Cancer Advisory Board (also known as the National Cancer Advisory Council) by US President Lyndon Johnson, serving from 1966 to 1970.[7][11] and the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke (1964–65).[11] Wright was also internationally active, leading delegations of oncologists to China and the Soviet Union, and countries in Africa and Eastern Europe.[7] She worked in Ghana in 1957 and in Kenya in 1961, treating cancer patients.[2] From 1973 to 1984 she served as vice president of the African Research and Medical Foundation.[2]

Wright was the recipient of many awards, including the honorary Doctor of Medical Sciences degree from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania.[10]

Wright retired in 1985 and was appointed emerita professor at New York Medical College in 1987. In describing her pioneering research in chemotherapy, she told reporter Fern Eckman, "There's lots of fun in exploring the unknown. There's no greater thrill than in having an experiment turn out in such a way that you make a positive contribution."[12]

Personal life[edit]

Wright was a very determined woman from the start. In 1980, the famous Rubik's cube came out, and she immediately bought one and learned how to solve it. She was passionate about puzzles and learning how to solve them, including puzzles found in medicine (specifically the treatment of cancer).[13] She realized that she lived in a world where men dominated the medical field, but she did not care - she was eager to make contributions to medicine, specifically to the treatment of cancer, and did not let her gender hold her back. Additionally, she lived during a time where black pride was a huge movement, and being an African American woman, used this movement to her full advantage.[14] However, this did not mean she was boastful or self-centered. She was said to be very modest and tender with her patients, while still being very motivated and fearless. She was also known to pick up her fellow physicians' slack.[13] In other words, if one physician did not take the time to look into other treatments that may benefit their patient more, Wright did, even if they were not her patient.

On July 27, 1947, Wright married David D. Jones and the couple had two daughters: Jane Wright Jones and Alison Jones. Her husband was an attorney and became founder of anti-poverty and job training organizations for young African Americans. Unfortunately, in 1976, Mr. Jones died of heart failure. Wright's daughters also grew up to work in the medical field, one becoming a psychiatrist and the other a clinical psychologist.[13] This further contributes to Wright being apart of a medical dynasty.[15]

In addition to her love of the sciences, Jane was had other hobbies she enjoyed such as art and swimming. In fact, before Wright took up studying medicine, she was majoring in art.[14] Upon receiving the Merit Award from Mademoiselle in 1952, she stated, "My plans for the future are to continue seeking a cure for cancer, to be a good mother to my children, and a good wife to my husband."[12]

Once Wright retired from her work in 1987, she spent the rest of her life partaking in things she enjoyed, such as sailing, watercoloring, and reading mysteries.[5] Wright died on February 19, 2013, in Guttenberg, New Jersey, at 93 years old.[15] Her two daughters and her sister survive her.[15]

Selected publications[edit]

Notable research papers
  • J. C. Wright, J. P. Cobb, S. L. Gumport, F. M. Golomb, and D. Safadi, "Investigation of the Relationship Between Clinical and Tissue Response to Chemotherapeutic Agents on Human Cancer", New England Journal of Medicine 257 (1957): 1207-1211.
  • J. C. Wright, J. I. Plummer, R. S. Coidan, and L. T. Wright, "The in Vivo and in Vitro Effects of Chemotherapeutic Agents on Human Neoplastic Diseases", The Harlem Hospital Bulletin 6 (1953): 58-63.
Selected review articles




  1. ^ a b Bruce Weber, "Jane Wright, Oncology Pioneer, Dies at 93", The New York Times (obituary), March 2, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Jane Cooke Wright", Encyclopedia of World Biography (2008)
  3. ^ a b Wini Warren, "Jane Cooke Wright", Black Women Scientists in the United States (Indiana University Press, 2000), p.40.
  4. ^ Kentake, Meserette (July 23, 2015). "Louis T. Wright: "Mr Harlem Hospital"". Kentake Page. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Wright, Jane Cooke." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 28, Gale, 2008, pp. 383-385. Gale eBooks, link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX2506300181/GVRL?u=norm94900&sid=GVRL&xid=e12c38c2. Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.
  6. ^ Wini Warren notes that "[Wright's] family was so prominent that when she graduated from Smith College in 1942, her picture appeared on the cover of The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP." Warren, Black Women Scientists in the United States, p. 278, citing The Crisis, August 1942 issue.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Dr. Jane Cooke Wright", Changing the Face of Medicine, National Library of Medicine (last visited March 3, 2013).
  8. ^ "Treatment of Solid Tumor Cancers with the Chemotherapy Drug Methotrexate". National Cancer Institute. 2014-04-30. Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  9. ^ Forster, Victoria; Wayne, Elizabeth (November 15, 2018). "Dr. Jane C. Wright and the Making of Modern Oncology". The New Inquiry. Lady Science. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  10. ^ a b Leonard., Bernstein (1996). Multicultural women of science : three centuries of contributions : with hands-on activities and exercises for the school year. Winkler, Alan., Zierdt-Warshaw, Linda. Maywood, NJ.: Peoples Pub. Group. ISBN 9781562567026. OCLC 34735963.
  11. ^ a b c d "Jane C. Wright Papers, 1920–2006" Archived 2014-03-29 at the Wayback Machine, Smith College, Sophia Smith Collection (last visited March 3, 2013).
  12. ^ a b Chung, King-Thom (1943). Women Pioneers of Medical Research. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 157. ISBN 9780786429271.
  13. ^ a b c Swain, Sandra M. “A Passion for Solving the Puzzle of Cancer: Jane Cooke Wright, M.D., 1919‐2013.” The Oncologist (Dayton, Ohio), vol. 18, no. 6, 2013, pp. 646–648., doi:10.1634/theoncologist.2013-0139.
  14. ^ a b Newman, Laura. “Jane Cooke Wright.” BMJ (Online), vol. 346, no. may10 1, 2013, pp. f2902–f2902., doi:10.1136/bmj.f2902.
  15. ^ a b c Jane cooke wright. (2013). The Lancet, 381(9875), 1354. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60874-0.
  16. ^ "Young Woman of the Year", The Crisis (Jan. 1953), p.5.

Further reading[edit]

Exhibitions and profiles
  • Diann Jordan, Sisters in Science: Conversations With Black Women Scientists (2006), p. 33
Encyclopedias and reference books
  • Robert C. Hayden, "Jane Cooke Wright", Black Women in America: Profiles (MacMillan Library Reference USA, New York), p. 321.
  • Edward Sidney Jenkins, Patricia Stohr-Hunt, and Exyie C. Ryder, To Fathom More: African American Scientists and Inventors (University Press of America, 1996).
  • Benjamin F. Sheaer, Notable Women in the Life Sciences (Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut), pp. 405–407.
  • "Jane Cooke Wright", Encyclopedia of World Biography (2008)
  • Notable Scientists: From 1900 to the Present (Gale, 2001)
  • Press, 2000), p. 276 et seq.
Children's books
Papers and archives