Florence B. Seibert

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Florence B. Seibert
Florence Barbara Seibert (1897-1991).jpg
Born October 6, 1897
Easton, Pennsylvania
Died August 23, 1991(1991-08-23) (aged 93)
St. Petersburg, Florida[1]
Nationality American
Fields Biochemistry
Institutions University of Pennsylvania
Alma mater Goucher College
Yale University
Doctoral advisor Lafayette Mendel
Known for Isolating a pure form of tuberculin
Notable awards Garvan–Olin Medal (1942)

Florence Barbara Seibert (October 6, 1897 – August 23, 1991)[2] was an American biochemist. She is best known for identifying the active agent in the antigen tuberculin as a protein, and subsequently for isolating a pure form of tuberculin, purified protein derivative (PPD), enabling the development and use of a reliable TB test. Seibert is a member of the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame.

Early life and education

Seibert was born on October 6, 1897, in Easton, Pennsylvania, to George Peter Seibert and Barbara (Memmert) Seibert.[3] At age three, Florence contracted polio.[4] She had to wear leg braces[5] and walked with a limp throughout her life.[6] As a teenager, Seibert is reported to have read biographies of famous scientists which inspired her interest in science.

Seibert did her undergraduate work at Goucher College in Baltimore,[5] graduating in 1918.[3] She and one of her chemistry teachers, Jessie E. Minor, did war-time work at the Chemistry Laboratory of the Hammersley Paper Mill in Garfield, New Jersey.[3]

Seibert earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Yale University in 1923.[3] At Yale she studied the intravenous injection of milk proteins under the direction of Lafayette Mendel.[7] She developed a method to prevent these proteins from being contaminated with bacteria.

Professional achievements and awards

In 1923 Seibert worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago. She was financed by the Porter Fellowship of the American Philosophical Society, an award that was competitive for both men and women. She went on to work part-time at the Ricketts Laboratory at the University of Chicago, and part-time at the Sprague Memorial Institute in Chicago.[8]

In 1924, she received the University of Chicago’s Howard Taylor Ricketts Prize for work she began at Yale and continued in Chicago.[8] At Yale she reported a curious finding: intravenous injections often caused fever in patients. Dr. Seibert determined that the fevers were caused by toxins produced by the bacteria. The toxins were able to contaminate the distilled water when spray from the boiling water in the distillation flask reached the receiving flask.[8] Seibert invented a new spray-catching trap to prevent contamination during the distillation process.[9] She published her pyrogen-free process in the American Journal of Physiology. It was subsequently adopted by the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and various pharmaceutical firms.[10] She was further recognized in 1962 with the John Elliot Memorial Award from the American Association of Blood Banks for her work on pyrogens.[3]

Seibert served as an instructor in pathology from 1924-28 at the University of Chicago and was hired as an assistant professor in biochemistry in 1928. In 1927, her younger sister Mabel moved to Chicago to live and work with her, employed variously as her secretary and her research assistant.[3]

During this time, she met Esmond R. Long, who was working on tuberculosis. In 1932 she agreed to relocate, with Long, to the Henry Phipps Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. He became professor of pathology and director of laboratories at the Phipps Institute, while she accepted a position as an assistant professor in biochemistry. Their goal was the development of a reliable test for the identification of tuberculosis. The previous tuberculin derivative, Koch's substance, had produced false negative results in tuberculosis tests since the 1890s because of impurities in the material.[9]

With Long's supervision and funding, Seibert identified the active agent in tuberculin as a protein. Seibert spent a number of years developing methods for separating and purifying the protein from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, obtaining purified protein derivative (PPD) and enabling the creation of a reliable test for tuberculosis.[9][11]

Her first publication on the purification of tuberculin appeared in 1934.[6] Some sources credit her with successfully isolating the tuberculosis protein molecule during 1937–38,[12] when she visited the University of Uppsala, Sweden, as a Guggenheim fellow to work with Nobel-prize winning protein scientist Theodor Svedberg.[5] She developed methods for purifying a crystalline tuberculin derivative using filters of porous clay and nitric-acid treated cotton.[9]

In the 1940s, Seibert's purified protein derivative (PPD) became a national[10] and international standard for tuberculin tests.[11]

She remained at the Henry Phipps Institute at the University of Pennsylvania from 1932 to 1959. She was an assistant professor from 1932-1937, an associate professor from 1937-1955, a full professor of biochemistry from 1955-1959, and professor emeritus as of her official retirement in 1959.[3]

She and her sister Mabel then moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where Florence continued to research the possible relationships between bacteria and types of cancers, working with Mound Park Hospital[3] and with the Bay Pines V.A. Research Center.[10] She continued to publish scientific papers until 1977. Theories relating bacteria to cancer continue to be controversial.[13]

Siebert received the Trudeau Medal from the National Tuberculosis Association in 1938, the Francis P. Garvan Medal from the American Chemical Society in 1942,[14] and an induction to the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1990.[3] A historic marker was placed in her honor in Easton in 1993.[10]

In 1968 she published her autobiography, Pebbles on the Hill of a Scientist. She died at the Palm Springs Nursing Home in St. Petersburg, Florida on August 23, 1991.[1]

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Dr. Florence B. Seibert, Inventor Of Standard TB Test, Dies at 93". The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  2. "Florence B. Seibert". Social Security Death Index. New England Historic Genealogical Society. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 "Florence B. Seibert". Encyclopedia of World Biography. The Gale Group Inc. 2004. 
  4. Yost, Edna (1943). American Women of Science. Philadelphia and New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Ogilvie, Marilyn; Harvey, Joy (2000). The biographical dictionary of women in science. New York: Routledge. p. 1173. ISBN 0-415-92038-8. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Florence Seibert, American Biochemist, 1897–1991". Chemistry Explained. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  7. "Florence Barbara Seibert papers, 1920-1977". American Philosophical Society. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Yount, Lisa (2008). A to Z of women in science and math. New York: Facts On File. pp. 265–266. ISBN 978-0816066957. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 "Esmond R. Long and Florence B. Seibert". Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 "Search Tips advanced search magbottom Dr. Florence Seibert Historical Marker". Explore PA History. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Dacso, C. C. (1990). "Chapter 47: Skin Testing for Tuberculosis". In Walker, H. K.; Hall, W. D.; Hurst, J.W. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations (3rd ed.). Boston: Butterworths. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  12. Windsor, Laura Lynn (2002). Women in medicine : an encyclopedia. Oxford: ABC-Clio. pp. 184–185. ISBN 978-1576073926. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  13. Cantwell, Jr., Alan (1998). "Are Killer Microbes Causing Breast Cancer?". New Dawn. 48. 
  14. "Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 27 April 2011.