Forgotten Super Heroes of Science and Medicine: Choh Hao Li

The Society of American Archivists’ Science, Technology and Health Care roundtable recently launched a project to highlight “underrepresented and diverse persons and groups in collections of the history of science, technology and health care.” The section is calling this endeavor the “Forgotten Super Heroes of Science and Medicine.” UCSF Archives & Special Collections will be contributing to this project by periodically posting to the blog regarding these heroes. This is our first installment.

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Biochemist Choh Hao Li was among the first to synthesize the human growth hormone and later discovered beta-endorphin. Born in 1913 in Guangzhou, China, Li graduated from the University of Nanjing before moving to the US to attend graduate school at UC Berkeley in 1935. Upon earning his Ph. D. in Organic Chemistry in 1938, Li began working on the UC Berkeley campus at the Institute of Experimental Biology with Herbert McLean Evans. In 1950, Li became the first director of the newly created Hormone Research Laboratory. He moved with the laboratory to UCSF in 1967, where Li worked until his retirement in 1983. As an emeritus professor at UCSF, Li then established the Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology, where he remained director until his death in 1987.

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Dr. Li spent most of his career studying the functions of the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain and controls many of the body’s functions.  At the Institute of Experimental Biology, Li first began his attempts to isolate and identify the anterior pituitary hormones; he was eventually able to isolate and purify six of the eight known hormones secreted. It wasn’t until the early 1970s, when heading the Hormone Research Laboratory, that Li was able to actually synthesize human growth hormone. Later that decade, Li discovered beta-endorphin, a neuropeptide that acts as a pain killer. Before his retirement, Li was also able to synthesize insulin-like growth factor 1, a protein that mediates the effects of growth hormone. During his lifetime, Li published over 1100 scientific articles, was given many awards, including the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, and was nominated at least twice for the Nobel Prize.

The Choh Hao Li papers are open for research at UCSF Archives & Special Collections: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf738nb543/

Upcoming Lecture: “Vaccination and Society Since the Sixties”

Date: Friday, September 30, 2016
Time: 12 pm – 1:15 pm
Lecturer: Elena Conis, PhD (UC Berkeley & UCSF)
Location: Lange Room, 5th Floor, UCSF Library – Parnassus
530 Parnassus Ave, SF, CA 94143

This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.
REGISTRATION REQUIRED: tiny.ucsf.edu/vaccination930

Join UCSF Archives & Special Collections for an afternoon talk with author Elena Conis as she discusses her book Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization. A limited number of books will be available for purchase.

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W. McD. Hammon with triplets participating in a polio study at the Hooper Foundation (UCSF)

The past fifty years have witnessed an enormous upsurge in vaccine use in the United States: American children now receive more vaccines than any previous generation, and laws requiring their immunization against a litany of diseases are standard. And yet, while vaccination rates have soared and cases of preventable infections have plummeted, an increasingly vocal cross-section of Americans have questioned the safety and necessity of vaccines. In this talk, Elena Conis explores the emergence of widespread acceptance – and rejection – of vaccines from the 1960s to the present, finding the origins of today’s vaccination controversies in historical debates over topics ranging from national security to body piercing to the role of women in contemporary society. Vaccine acceptance, she argues, has never been simply a scientific matter, but one profoundly shaped by our politics, economics, and culture.

Elena Conis, PhD

Elena Conis, PhD

Elena Conis is a writer and historian of medicine, public health, and the environment. She is a member of the faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley and an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine at UCSF. Previously, she was a history professor and the Mellon Fellow in Health and Humanities at Emory University; the Cain Fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation; and an award-winning health columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Her first book, Vaccine Nation, won the Arthur J. Viseltear Award from the American Public Health Association and was named a Choice magazine outstanding title and a pick of the week by the journal Nature. She is currently working on a book on the history of the pesticide DDT. She holds a PhD in the history of health sciences from UCSF, masters degrees in journalism and public health from Berkeley, and a bachelors degree in biology from Columbia University.

About the UCSF Archives & Special Collections Lecture Series
UCSF Archives & Special Collections launched this lecture series to introduce a wider community to treasures and collections from its holdings, to provide an opportunity for researchers to discuss how they use this material, and to celebrate clinicians, scientists, and health care professionals who donated their papers to the archives.

Ortho-Fusor for Modern Visual Training

We’ve been cataloging additions to our Historical Medical Artifact Collection recently. It’s always fun diving into the over 1,000 objects in the collection. This treasure is the Ortho-Fusor, a Bausch & Lomb product for “Modern Visual Training.”

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Ortho-Fusor, 1941. Artifact Collection, item 1157.

The Ortho-Fusor, dated 1941, includes Polaroid 3D glasses, a reference manual, and a spiral-bound booklet with vectograph images and exercises. A vectograph is a type of stereoscopic image composed of two superimposed, polarized pictures that produce a 3D effect when viewed through polarizing spectacles. Think of it like going to a 3D movie, except you are viewing stills.

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Ortho-Fusor booklet, 1941. Artifact Collection, item 1157.

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Ortho-Fusor booklet, 1941. Artifact Collection, item 1157.

The Ortho-Fusor exercises, which involve refocusing your eyes on various points in the image, were designed for “re-educating and training visual skills” for the “modern need.”  As noted in the reference manual, “the world of modern occupations has drawn many more thousands of us into factories, offices, libraries, schools, shops, and laboratories. Here for hours at a time we perform sustained and precise tasks with our eyes, frequently at very close distances…The precise teamwork of the eyes is a matter of coordination and habit.” The reference manual encourages 30 minutes of use a day, in five to ten minute intervals.

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Ortho-Fusor Reference Manual, 1941. Artifact Collection, item 1157.

Ophthalmologists and optometrists, let us know what you think of these visual exercises and the Ortho-Fusor’s medical claims!