Women in STEM

Defying both racial and gender boundaries, Jane Cooke Wright was an African American pioneering cancer researcher, who changed the fate of oncology. In 1947, Jane Cooke Wright was also known as Jane Jones was married to David D. Jones Jr., a Harvard Law School Graduate. They had two daughters, Jane and Addison Jones. Dr. Jane Cooke Wright was born on the 30th of November, 1919, and died at the age of 93, on the 16th of February, 2013.

Inspired by her family members, Dr. Jane C. Wright followed her father’s footstep, Louis Tompkins Wright, and earned a full academic scholarship to study medicine at New York Medical College in 1942. In 1945, she then earned the medical degree with honors and was the third in her year of 95 students, and the only female in her class. Following graduation, Jane interned at Bellevue Hospital from 1945 to 1946, as an assistant resident in internal medicine for nine months and by 1948, she became chief resident at Harlem Hospital.

In 1949 was Jane Wright accepted a staff physician post in New York City Public Schools, while continuing to work at the Harlem Hospital. But, later on, she found herself dissatisfied with the career and wanted to archive more, so, she changed her position to join her father, who founder and director of the Cancer Research Centre at Harlem Hospital. Together they conducted research into chemotherapy drugs which was an idealistic treatment that was largely experimental and untested. They began experimenting together with chemical agents on leukemia in mice. Jane and her father were working with other researchers, the team began testing new anticancer drugs, on human leukemias and lymphomas, which motivate Dr. Wright into the untested potential of chemotherapy agents. The team then went on to conduct experimental work on antimetabolites, a new drug group at the time, and its effects on the nuclei of cancer cells.

In 1951, after many months of research Wright was among the researchers who identified the successful use of an antimetabolite drug, methotrexate, for solid tumors and discovery that They discovered that this treatment can increase patients’ lifespan by up to 10 years.

Wright became director of the Cancer Research Center following her father’s death in 1952. And continued improving the antibiotic by maximizing the effectiveness and minimize the side effect.  

In 1955, she became an associate professor of surgical research at New York University Medical Center. She focused her work on the relationship between tissue cultures’ responses and patients’ responses to anti-cancer drugs, making her one of the first researchers to test chemotherapeutic agents on humans.

One of the many challenges in the research was that Jane realized by injecting anti-agents for cancer, healthy tissues to be exposed to toxic chemicals and was actually purposefully aimed at tumor tissues and can destruct the capacity on all cells. Therefore in 1964, participating in a team at the New York University School of Medicine, Jane developed a method, that directly injects anti-agent into the main blood vessel supplying the tumor using a perfusion technique allowing the agents to reach areas previously difficult areas to access, including the spleen and kidneys. In this same year, Dr. Wright was the only woman of seven physicians to found the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), as an emphasis of the importance of  medical profession involved in cancer care and research, informant for the public of high-quality cancer care The annual ASCO meeting is now one of the largest informative events in the oncology community, including educational workshops, research presentations, and scientific meetings.

She was later on appointed as the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, where she built a national network of treatment centers for these diseases between cancer research associations.

In 1967 Jane left New York University to take up her new positions as Professor of Surgery, Director of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department and Associate Dean of New York Medical College, and became the first African American woman to be appointed to such a high position at a nationally recognized medical institution.

In 2006 an award was created in her honour, the AACR (American Association for Cancer Research)- Minorities in Cancer Research Jane Cooke Wright Lectureship.16 This prize is awarded to an outstanding scientist who has made commendable contributions to the field of cancer research, inspiring further advancements of minority investigators in cancer research through leadership and by example.

Jane Wright passed away on 19 February 2013 in her home at Guttenberg, New Jersey.


Works Cited

Wright, Jane Cooke (1919- ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed, www.blackpast.org/aah/wright-jane-cooke-1919.

“About Jane Cooke Wright.” American Association for Cancer Research, www.aacr.org/Research/Awards/Pages/jane-cooke-wright.aspx#.WmF1A6iWbIU.

“Changing the Face of Medicine | Jane Cooke Wright.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 3 June 2015, cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_336.html.

“Contributions.” Jane Cooke Wright, janecookewright.weebly.com/contributions.html.

“Wright, Jane Cooke.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, Encyclopedia.com, www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wright-jane-cooke.