Intended for healthcare professionals


Helen Ranney

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 12 May 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2533
  1. Geoff Watts

    One of the first to identify a genetic factor in sickle cell anaemia

    Helen Ranney’s career was shaped by her response to two different but closely linked challenges—one scientific and self imposed, and the other social, a consequence of her sex. The scientific challenge was to contribute to a better understanding of the nature and inheritance of sickle cell disease, which affects millions of people worldwide; the social challenge was to succeed in a medical and scientific environment where women were vastly under-represented but already constituting a presence seen by some diehards as a violation of the natural order. In both enterprises she was successful, and her landmark research showed sickle cell disease results from inherited defects in the structure of haemoglobin.

    Born on a dairy farm in New York state, she acquired the practical problem solving outlook of her father and combined it with her teacher mother’s veneration for learning. Although her initial intention had been to study law, she opted instead for medicine on the grounds that doctors also attempt to fix what they study. She applied to Columbia University, but was unsuccessful. Professor Kenneth Kaushansky, chair of the department of medicine in the University of California in San …

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