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Early in this century, sleeping sickness was still ravaging Africa causing inflammation of the brain and a constant state of drowsiness in its victims. Researchers had figured out the cause of disease to be a parasite transferred to humans by the bite of the tsetse fly but no one had yet found a cure. Although it was considered unusual for women to be scientists at the time, Louise Pearce travelled by herself to the Congo to treat sleeping sickness and is now considered the one who largely cured the illness.
An outstanding physiology student, she was one of the first career medical researchers. She graduated from Stanford in 1907 and then received an M.D. from Johns Hopkins. Pearce and her partner, Wade Hampton Brown speculated that an organic compound containing arsenic--that had also been successful in cases of syphilis--might work. Then they isolated an additional compound and Pearce formulated a plan to treat the disease in humans. Her science invention did the trick and, for her efforts and bravery, Pearce was awarded $10,000 and the honor Order of the Crown of Belgium.