Numerous racial disparities exist in health care, and we have a long way to go toward providing equal and accessible care to everyone. As part of our efforts, we want to shine a light on the contributions Hispanic medical leaders have brought to the field of medicine.
Julio Palmaz – Palmaz-Schatz Stent
Julio Palmaz, MD, of Argentina, is an interventional vascular radiologist who developed an expandable balloon stent with cardiologist Dr. Richard Schatz to keep cardiac arteries open after angioplasty.
The Palmaz-Schatz Stent was granted a patent along with financial support from Johnson & Johnson. It was approved for use in humans by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1991. Dr. Palmaz was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.
Luiz Miramontes – Contraceptive Pill
Mexican chemist Luiz Miramontes (1925-2004) worked with the team who synthesized the birth control pill in 1951. He was only 26 at the time and a doctoral student working in a Mexico City lab. A molecule derived from a wild Mexican plant was key to the main active ingredient. The pill was trademarked as Norinyl by Syntex Laboratories, Inc.
Domingo Santo Liotta – Artificial Heart
Domingo Santo Liotta (1924-2022), a heart surgery pioneer born in Argentina to Italian immigrants, designed the first total artificial heart to be successfully placed in a human, a 47-year-old patient with serious heart failure, in 1969. The device enabled the patient to live for three days until a human donor heart became available.
Carlos Juan Finlay – Disease Transmission and Control
Carlos Juan Finlay (1833-1915), born in Cuba, was an epidemiologist who identified a connection between yellow fever outbreaks and mosquito population increase. Finlay proved his theory in the late 1880s while working with the U.S. Army. His research was instrumental in eradicating yellow fever from Cuba and Panama through mosquito control.
According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, Finlay’s insights enabled the completion of the Panama Canal, which suffered repeated disruptions due to outbreaks. William Gorgas, MD, who headed public health efforts there and would later serve as U.S. Surgeon General, expressed great admiration for Finlay’s thinking, calling it “the best piece of logical reasoning that can be found in medicine anywhere.”
Bernardo Alberto Houssay – Blood Sugar Research
Bernardo Alberto Houssay, MD (1887-1971), born in Argentina, researched the role of pituitary hormones and how they affect blood sugar regulation. As a result of his work, Dr. Houssay received a Nobel Prize in Medicine and recognition from such prestigious universities as Harvard, Cambridge, and Oxford.
Severo Ochoa – RNA Discoveries
Severo Ochoa (1905-1993), a biochemist and molecular biologist, was born in Spain and later immigrated to the United States, becoming a citizen.
His study of enzymes led to the discovery of an enzyme synthesizing ribonucleic acid (RNA), which broke the human genetic code. That, in turn, fostered the development of vitamin B and multivitamin supplements. In 1959, he became the first Hispanic American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work.
Caesar Milstein – Monoclonal Antibodies and Disease Treatment
Caesar Milstein (1923-2002), from Argentina, developed the technique for producing monoclonal antibodies instrumental in creating lab versions of proteins, a method in use today to inoculate humans against viruses and pathogens. He won the Nobel Prize in 1975 for his work.
Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa – Neurosurgical Advancements
Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, MD, is a Mexican-American neurosurgeon. Currently, he serves as chair of the Department of Neurologic Surgery at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Florida, where he holds the distinction of a named professorship, the William J. and Charles H. Mayo Professorship.
Dr. Q, as he is known, has conducted more than 150 scientific studies on brain cancer development with an emphasis on predicting patient prognosis and discovering new methods of delivering effective treatments for brain tumors in diverse populations.
His clinical focus includes:
- Developing minimally invasive surgical techniques with nanotechnology for neurosurgery.
- Surgical treatment of primary and metastatic brain tumors.
- Surgical management of intramedullary spinal cord tumors and lesions with spine mapping.
- Pituitary tumors and skull base tumors using transsphenoidal endonasal and minimally invasive approaches.
These are just eight of the many Hispanic clinicians and researchers who have pioneered advances in medicine throughout history. The medical community owes them and the others a debt of gratitude.
Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the achievements and contributions of Hispanic American champions who have inspired others to succeed.