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A Scientist to Remember

Evelyn Carmon Nicol was Born in Little Rock Kentucky, on June 2, 1930. She was the eighth child out of eleven children, born to Daniel Eugene Carmon, a schoolteacher and Margarite Wilson Carmon a homemaker. She was a pioneer in the fields of microbiology and immunology and one of the few African American Women to have been awarded a patent in the sciences, particularly in the field of Molecular Biology. Ms. Nicol leaves behind an incredible legacy as a scientist whose brilliant intelligence and perseverance attributed to her successful contributions to the world's scientific community in the field of immunology.

In 1949 she was studying at Tuskegee University in Alabama in the field of home economics, not because she chose this field, but because it was assigned to her. You see, her work experience during high school had been as a maid and her college advisor steered her toward that field. It only took a week before she changed her major to chemistry. She had never taken a chemistry class but it challenged her and after being prescribed a home economics education, she knew chemistry was polar opposite of what people envisioned for her. What spirit!

She graduated at the top her class with a double major, chemistry and mathematics, earning the Beta Kappa Chi and Alpha Kappa Mu honors. She began a nearly 40 year career, confronting not only racism but also sexism, in the male dominated. Ms. Nicol distinguished herself as an individual who exhibited an organized, scientific approach to research, while maintaining a high degree of motivation, innovation, initiative and professionalism. Her work contributed greatly to medical advances related to blood clot therapy, the herpes zoster virus, toxoplasmosis (considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to food borne illness in the United States) and HIV.

It seems that taking the difficult path was a theme throughout her life. After graduation in 1953 she stayed at Tuskegee working at the Carver Research Foundation as a molecular biologist and research assistant on the production of the HeLa cells, the cell line named for the cervical cancer patient they came from, Henrietta Lacks. Those cells were used for the Salk polio vaccine trials. As an aside, something I have always found immoral and unethical despite the good they did, Henrietta Lacks never knew nor consented to the use of her cells. (Recommend the book The Immortal Henrietta Lacks)

In 1955 she began work at the Cleveland City Hospital under curing edge and award winning physicians and scientists. During her time there she isolated the herpes zoster virus, using amniotic cells in tissue culture, something that had not previously been accomplished. In 1962 Nicol joined Abbott Laboratories as a research assistant.

In 1976 she began work at Abbot Laboratories as a research assistant. She authored eight publications and on January 6, 1976, the became one of the few African Americans to ever be awarded a patent in the sciences. It was believed at the time that she was the only African American to be awarded a patent in the field of Molecular Biology (U.S. Patent No. 3,930,944). This work was groundbreaking on Urokinase production methods. Thanks to her work, the ability for scientists to produce Urokinase, an enzyme used to dissolve blood clots, was increased by 100%. In addition, in the early 1980’s she developed a screening test for pregnant women, Toxoplasma Gondii, still commonly used in Europe today.

In 1985, Nicol accepted the role of Senior Scientist at Baxter Pharmaceuticals, leading the research on Hepatitis. She was soon appointed the head of the Retro Virology Division, primarily responsible for the development of the first HTLV and HIV testing kits. Under her leadership those kits were superior to any kits available at that time I the world.

Sadly, and ironically, the world lost Ms. Evelyn Nicol on May 27th 2020, just a few days shy of her 90th birthday, due to complications of the Covid 19 virus.

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