Highlighting the work of Freeman Bradley, of UCSF’s Research Development Department and the Black Caucus

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By Shannon Foley, Archives & Special Collections Intern

Brought to Light wants to bring attention to remarkable former UCSF faculty member Freeman Bradley. His significant contributions to the medical community and the Black community at UCSF deserve to be recognized. Bradley grew up in Alabama, and after high school, he continued his education at Howard University in Washington D.C., where he received his bachelor’s degree in Biology. After his graduation, Bradley moved to Maryland and started working at the National Institute of Health, where he remained for four years before starting his career at UCSF. His position was with the Cardiovascular Research Institute, where he conducted research about respiratory changes associated with various anesthesias.

During his time at UCSF, Freeman Bradley worked as a technician to Dr. John Severinghaus and and Bradley’s contributions were fundamental to Severinghaus’s groundbreaking work. From 1957 to 1958, Dr. Severinghaus and Mr. Bradley combined technology created by Richard Stow and Leland Clark to create the first blood gas analysis system. Shortly after the first system was created, they were commercialized and proved revolutionary in health care. In Dr. Severinghaus’s written account of his research and the evolution of the invention of the blood gas analysis system, he emphasizes how his and Mr. Bradley’s invention changed medicine. By the 1960s they blood gas analysis systems were widely available, and and these tests provided essential information about a patient’s illness.. These systems are still used today, and in 1985 Dr. Severinghaus donated the first apparatus he and Mr. Bradley worked on at the Smithsonian Museum. In 1977 after his research with Dr. Severinghaus, Mr. Bradley was appointed Director of Development and Research. In this position, he helped progress the technology and development of medical tools. One of the other advancements he made at his time at UCSF was in the transportation technology of newborn babies or neonates. His contributions to medical advancements do not go unnoticed. 

Image taken from SYNAPSE – THE UCSF STUDENT NEWSPAPER, VOLUME 27, NUMBER 19, 24 FEBRUARY 1983, https://synapse.library.ucsf.edu/?a=d&d=ucsf19830224-01.1.3.

Freeman Bradley was not only an incredible asset to advancing medical research, but he also was an active member in UCSF’s Black Caucus. The Black Caucus is a club at UCSF whose mission statement is “The Black Caucus is a forum open to all Black-identified individuals and allies on this campus. Here they may openly express themselves regarding matters of race as they affect life on the campus and in the community. The Black Caucus serves as an instrument for the formation of a Black consensus on those racial matters that affect every person on this campus. This consensus will then be presented to the Administration for appropriate action.” One of the founding members and President of the Black Caucus, David Johnson, worked to create this community where Black members of UCSF could have their needs and concerns met. During Freeman Bradley’s time at UCSF and as an active member of the Black Caucus and used his calm temperament to make sure issues could be addressed and changes made. Mr. Bradley is quoted saying that even though he was criticized for staying diplomatic, he knew that it was the way to be more successful in the long run. In a 1983 interview of Mr. Bradley printed by Synapse, he shared his concerns with the lack of Black role models for youths in the sciences. He believes that minorities would be more likely to become a part of the medical field with more role models. Freeman Bradley is the perfect example of a role model to the youth and can be seen as an inspiration to all.

Works Cited:

“David Johnson, Freeman Bradley – Black Caucus Leaders.” Synapse, Volume 27, Number 19, 24 February 1983, synapse.library.ucsf.edu/?a=d&d=ucsf19830224-01.1.3, accessed April 21, 2021.

Severinghaus, John W. “The Invention and Development of Blood Gas Analysis Apparatus.” Anesthesiology, vol. 97, no. 1, 2002, pp. 253–256., doi:10.1097/00000542-200207000-00031, accessed April 21, 2021.

Arthur E. Guedel Anesthesia Collection

UCSF Archives and Special Collections is pleased to announce that the Arthur E. Guedel Anesthesia Collection is now processed. The collection’s finding aid is available publicly on the Online Archive of California. Collection processing made possible through support from the Arthur E. Guedel Memorial Anesthesia Center Board of Trustees.

Arthur E Guedel, M.D., was an anesthesiologist and clinical professor of anesthesia at the University of Southern California. The collection documents Dr. Guedel’s long career as an anesthesiologist. The collection includes a variety of material related to his research and his professional service. The collection also includes material from Dr. A.E. Bennett, Dr. William Neff, Dr. Leonard Ramsay Thompson, and Dr. Richard C. Gill’s Ecuadorian curare expedition. The collection also includes material from the Guedel Memorial Anesthesia Center and includes administration files, photographs, and correspondence.

Material in this collection relates to Guedel’s work and others in the anesthesia field, including files regarding anesthesia, anesthesia machines and equipment, ether, chloroform, curare, and other related topics. Material includes correspondence, reports and publications, files related to conferences and meetings, photographs, audiovisual recordings, artifacts, computer media, and other material.

You can view the collection finding aid on the Online Archive of California. If you would like to visit the UCSF Archives and Special Collections and work with the complete physical collection, please make an appointment with us.

The Flying Death and Other Adventures in Anesthesia

It is amazing to think that curare, a poison sometimes known as “The Flying Death” and used on the tips of darts and arrows by indigenous people of South America, could prove to be an important stepping stone in the path to modern anesthesia. But then again, curare is not a simple poison, but actually a powerful muscle relaxant; after injection, an animal that has been shot with a curare-tipped dart can actually be kept alive through artificial respiration. More importantly to the native tribes—as they would not have needed to resuscitate their dinners—curare brings about paralysis and asphyxiation when injected (either by dart, arrow, or needle), but is not poisonous if ingested.

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A native tribesman demonstrating his prowess with a blowgun typically used with curare darts. Clip taken from Richard Gill’s film “White Water and Black Magic”.

Curare was first brought to the United States by Richard Gill, an American living in Ecuador, in 1938. Gill had become interested in the medicinal uses of curare after falling off his horse and developing neurological symptoms including spasticity. After being told about curare by his neurologist, Gill sought out and befriended a tribe who used the arrow poison. The indigenous people then showed him how to procure and use it, and Gill eventually returned to the US with approximately 25 pounds of curare paste.

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Richard Gill sitting with a native tribesman while watching another tribesman cook down curare. Clip also taken from “White Water and Black Magic”.

Medical experiments with curare began as early as the 19th century, but its use in anesthesia didn’t start until the mid-20th century, after Gill had introduced it in the US. One of its first uses was to prevent bone fractures brought about by spasms during electro-convulsive therapy. Since it is such a powerful muscle relaxant, curare proved helpful for tracheal intubation, and in keeping the patients’ muscles relaxed during operative procedures. It also lessened the need for the use of deep general anesthesia during highly invasive operations, like abdominal or thoracic surgeries.

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1943 cartoon by Clark Haas depicting Richard Gill visiting native peoples to obtain more curare. Arthur Guedel collection, MSS 2016-03.

Despite its usefulness in relaxing patients, curare has no analgesic (painkilling) or anesthetic qualities. This was proven in the 1940s, after curare was given to some infants and children as the sole anesthetic agent during operative procedures. The patients who were old enough to communicate complained that they had felt everything during the surgery but were unable to move or cry out about the excruciating pain they were feeling. Upon hear this, anesthesiologist Dr. Scott Smith volunteered to take the drug in order to test whether curare did have any pain-relieving qualities. He became paralyzed but reported that the reduction of painful sensations was not impacted. Like the young patients before him, Smith had felt everything, but had not been able to move to stop it.