Percy Lavon Julian
Born Apr 11 1899 - Died Apr 19 1975
Preparation of Cortisone
Patent Number(s) 2,752,339
Percy Lavon Julian synthesized physostigmine for treatment of glaucoma and cortisone for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
His synthesis of cortisone reduced the price of cortisone from hundreds of dollars per drop for natural cortisone to a few cents per gram.
Born in Montgomery, Alabama, the grandson of a former slave, Julian had limited schooling because Montgomery provided no public education for blacks after the eighth grade. He entered DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, as a 'sub-freshman' and, though ill-prepared, graduated in 1920 as class valedictorian with Phi Beta Kappa honors.
Advised against pursuing a graduate education because of his race, Julian went to Fisk University to teach chemistry. In 1923, with an Austin Fellowship in Chemistry, he earned a master's degree from Harvard University.
After teaching at West Virginia State College and Howard University, Julian received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Vienna in 1931. He returned to DePauw University, where his international reputation was established in 1935 by synthesizing physostigmine, a drug treatment for glaucoma, from the calabar bean.
Despite scientific acclaim, DePauw University denied him a professorship because of his race. During the next 17 years, Julian was director of research at the Glidden Company, a paint and varnish manufacturer. He developed a commercial process for isolating and preparing soya bean protein, which could be used to coat and size paper, to create cold water paints, and to size textiles. During World War II Julian used soya protein to produce 'AeroFoam'-a substance that suffocates gasoline and oil fires. His other inventions included a fire-extinguishing foam for gasoline and oil fires.
Julian went on to synthesize the female and male hormones, progesterone and testosterone, by extracting sterols from soybean oil. He was noted most for his synthesis of cortisone, used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.