Black, Keith (Neurosurgeon)

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black_keith_300x300Keith Black was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. His mother, Lillian, was a teacher and his father, Robert, was the principal at a racially segregated elementary school in Auburn, Alabama; prohibited by law to integrate the student body, Black’s father instead integrated the faculty, raised standards, and brought more challenging subjects to the school. Later in his childhood, Black’s parents found new jobs and relocated the family to Shaker Heights, Ohio. Black attended Shaker Heights High School. Already interested in medicine, Black was admitted to an apprenticeship program for minority students at Case Western Reserve University, and then became a teenaged lab assistant for Frederick Cross and Richard Jones (inventors of the Cross-Jones artificial heart valve) at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cleveland. At 17, he won an award in a national science competition for research on the damage done to red blood cells in patients with heart-valve replacements.According to Black: “I was working in the lab of a heart surgeon who had developed his own artificial heart valve, and I had a concept that the heart valve might be damaging red blood cells, so I asked to do a research project using a scanning electron microscope at the time. When I was trying to basically learn the technique, I took some blood from the heart-lung bypass machine from patients undergoing heart-lung bypass, and when I incubated the red blood cells overnight, I noticed that a certain percentage of these cells change from their normal discoid shape to one that resembled a porcupine, called an econocyte. What I did was to describe the discocyte-econocyte transformation in patients undergoing heart-lung bypass, as an index of sub-lethal red blood cell damage. The importance being that the blood cells could not parachute through the small capillaries.” He attended the University of Michigan in a program that allowed him to earn both his undergraduate degree and his medical degree in 6 years. He received his M.D. degree from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1981.
After serving his internship and residency at the University of Michigan, in 1987 he moved to the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he later became head of UCLA’s Comprehensive Brain Tumor Program. In 1997, after 10 years at UCLA, he moved to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to head the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute.He was also on the faculty of the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine from 1998 to 2003. In 2007 he opened the new Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Brain Tumor Center at Cedars-Sinai, a research center named after the famous lawyer who had been Black’s patient and supporter.

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