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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Famous Jamaican Scientist

Famous Jamaican Scientists
Dreamers Among Us - Prof. Louis Grant,
1913 - 1993

1972: Prof. Louis Grant, chairman of the University Hospital Board and Professor of Microbiology, UWI, speaking at the official opening of the School of Physiotherapy.

By Dr. Rebecca Tortello
The saying "we likkle but we tallawah" can be applied to many aspects of Jamaican life, not the least of which is Jamaica's contribution to world science. This article, the first in a two-part series featuring Jamaican scientists, considers the work of Professor Louis Grant, microbiologist, one of those whose work had immense local and international impact.

PROF. LOUIS GRANT, M.D., C.H., M.P.H., DIP BACT., FAPHA, F.C. PATH, F.A.A.N. (1913-1993)
A microbiologist and pathologist, Prof. Louis Grant was affiliated with the University of the West Indies for 20 years where he achieved the highest academic honour, being named professor emeritus in microbiology. Young Louis Grant was surrounded by science from an early age ­ born in Vere, Clarendon in 1913, his father worked in a chemical laboratory at the Appleton Estate. As a student, Grant showed promise and received the Vere Trust scholarship to attend Jamaica College. He went on to Edinburgh University in Scotland and later specialised in tropical microbiology at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Prof. Grant then returned to Jamaica serving his country as a medical doctor, microbiologist and pathologist.


In the 1940s Dr. Grant dreamed of a Jamaica with less disease and he decided to focus on tuberculosis ­ a disease then plaguing the island. He asked the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF for a grant to begin an inoculation campaign amongst Jamaican children. Joined by Dr. Ronald Lampart, Dr. Grant completed a mass vaccination that is credited with helping to break the cycle of infection and halt the spread of the dreaded disease.

1964: Prof. Louis Grant speaking at a luncheon held by the Society of Medical Technologists (UWI) at the Flamingo Hotel in honour of his recent appointment to the new chair of Microbiology at UWI.

Groundbreaking Research On Three Diseases
During the decade of the 1960s, Dr. Grant became a full professor of microbiology at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Three diseases came to his attention. Two affected the island's general population and one its horse population.


In the early 1960s many Jamaicans began to fall ill with severe fevers. Some, who seemed otherwise healthy, soon died. Through intensive research Dr. Grant discovered that this disease was spread through contact with the urine of infected animals. Rats were immune to it and therefore major carriers of the virus. Dr. Grant deduced that
rats tend to urinate after eating in kitchens and this way people would consume food on which rats might have already urinated. There is no cure for viruses, the most doctors can do is make the patient comfortable while the body fights off the infection. The leptospirosis virus, if not rejected by the body immediately on contact, would then enter the blood stream, multiply and possibly lead to death. Dr. Grant quickly spread the word, cautioning against rats entering kitchens and the danger of leaving food exposed. This public education campaign helped contain the spread of the disease, outbreaks of which have since been controlled.

In the mid-1960s, reports of a disease afflicting horses on the eastern side of the island began to surface. Prof. Grant instituted quarantine on the movement of horses, donkeys and mules from that region. After much laboratory investigation he discovered that the horses were suffering from a virus known as equine encephalitis, which could not be spread to humans but could cause great damage to Jamaica's horse population. He recommended further measures for containment, thereby preventing the spread of the virus and the ruination of Jamaica's billion-dollar horse industry. He also acquired a new title ­ the horse saviour.

1968: Prof. Louis Grant, centre, vice president of Jamaica Blue Cross, addressing a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the health plan at headquarters, Hope Road. Members, clockwise, are Dr. B.A. Shoucair, Dr. M.W. Minott, Dr. Horace Penso, Dr. C.C. Jones, Mr. Barrington Yee, Mr. Sydney Anderson, Dr. B.W. Minott, Mr. Hector White, Mr. Douglas Kerr and Mr. Eric Richards.

In the late 1960s Jamaicans began to suffer from a strange fever. Dr. Grant identified it as the dengue virus and concluded after much research that it was transmitted via the aedes aegypti mosquito ­ the same mosquito that carries the deadly yellow fever virus. This led to another public education campaign and the beginning of a research effort on the study of arboviruses (viruses spread by blood-sucking insects) at UWI.

In the early 1970s Prof. Grant retired from the University of theWest Indies and moved to Canada. From 1974 to 1977 he served as the Associate Medical Officer of Health for the Niagara Regional Health Unit. From 1977 to 1984, he acted as the Medical Officer of Health for the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit. Throughout the decade he spent in Canada, Dr. Grant became an active member of the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) and the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), a community activist and an advocate for social justice. He gained increasing recognition and was eventually able to attract large measures of funding to fulfil his lifelong dream of establishing a public health clinic for low income Jamaicans. He returned to Jamaica, bringing many international scientists with him who served at reduced or no cost. His clinic, The Foundation for International Self-Help (FISH), opened in Papine in 1985.
Prof. Grant died in Jamaica in 1993, leaving behind a wife and four children and ending a career that spanned 50 years in public service. He had authored over 90 scientific publications in microbiology and public health and received the Gleaner Special Award and the Pelican Award in 1985. Prof. Grant is remembered as the father of Jamaican microbiology. In 1996, an award in the form of a $1000CD scholarship and one-year membership in OPHA was established by the OPHA in his honour. The award supports the postgraduate education of an individual enrolled in a post-graduate programme in community or public health.

Sources: Johnson, A. (2001). Great Jamaicans, Book II, Scientists. Kingston: TeeJay Ltd., Reference/quotations.htm,

1967: Dr. V.A. Cherrington, Professor pf Microbiology and head of the department of Micro biology at the University of Idaho, shakes hands with Prof. Louis Grant (centre), head of Microbiology at the University of the West Indies. Mr. W.C. Cherrington, managing director of Goodyear Jamaica Ltd., looks on.

Other World Class Jamaican Scientists
Dr. Harold M. Johnson, 1875-1974. Principal Medical Officer of health who successfully led the fight against hookworm, ringworm, and malaria in Jamaica.
Dr. Cicely Williams, 1893-1992. Identified protein deficiency disease kwashiorkor.
* Dr. William E. McCulloch, 1896-1963: Found cure for Black Water Fever and Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness)
Dr. Leigh D. Lord, 1921­ : Blood transfusion pioneer who also developed "Tia Maria", the world renowned coffee liquor.
Prof. G. Lalor, 1930 ­ : A physical chemist Prof. Lalor is known for the discovery of haematoxylin, a substance extracted from logwood and used in the diagnosis of cancer. Now retired from UWI, he served as a lecturer, creator of UWIDITE, the system of distance learning, and of Jamaica's first geo-chemical map, which uncovered many previously unidentified elements. 1974-1995: He was the Pro-Vice Chancellor of UWI 1991: Became the second principal of the Mona campus. He remains involved in various research projects.
Dr. Kenneth Richards, 1933 ­ : Developed the "Richards Procedure" which made lung transplants feasible in humans.
Dr. Paula Tennant, 1967 ­ : A biologist and botanist, she developed the transgenic Jamaican solo sunrise papaya, which has proven resistant to the Papaya Ringspot Virus in numerous field testings.

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