Florence B. Seibert
Stricken by polio at the age of three, Dr. Florence Seibert turned to academics because she couldn’t go out and dance and play like other children. Planning to be a doctor she took a job in a chemistry lab at a paper mill after earning her undergraduate degree.
Realizing she liked chemical research more than medicine she changed her plan and earned a doctorate in biochemistry from Yale University in 1923. During her time at Yale she observed that patients receiving intravenous injections would often suffer from fevers so she began investigating the cause. What she determined was during the process for distilling the water used to create the IV injections some of the toxins from the contaminated water were making their way into the clean water. She created a spray-catching trap for the still that kept this contamination from happening, making these treatments much safer for the patients.
She was hired by the University of Pennsylvania where her main research focus was on improving the current methods of testing for tuberculosis. The skin test used at the time relied on the body’s reaction to a small amount of tuberculin placed under the skin and if the immune system had seen this toxin before it would react with antibodies and create small welts around the injection site. The problem with the test being used was the number of false positives due to contamination and lack of standardization of the testing materials.
Working with a colleague she had discovered the active agent in tuberculin was a protein and Siebert set out to find a way to separate this protein and purify it. Publishing her first paper on tuberculin in 1934, she spent almost a decade of experimentation in creation of a technique to make a purified tuberculin protein, now known as purified protein derivative or PPD. Adopted in 1941 by the United States, Seibert’s test became the worldwide standard in 1952 and it still in use today.
For her contributions to science and medicine she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990.
Written by Angela Goad