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Alma Levant Hayden
*Alma Levant Hayden, a Black chemist, was born on this date in 1927 in Greenville, South Carolina.
She graduated from South Carolina State College with honors in 1947. Originally planning to be a nurse, she found herself so interested in chemistry that she gained a master's degree in chemistry from Howard University.
Levant joined the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases at the NIH. At that time, she married a fellow NIH research chemist, Alonzo R. Hayden, and had two children. In the mid-1950s, Hayden moved to the FDA as one of the first nonwhite people to work at the Agency. There had reportedly been a reluctance to employ Blacks there because scientific officers may have to testify in court, and there was concern about how this would be received in some parts of the U.S.
In 1963, Hayden became Chief of the Spectrophotometer Research Branch in the Division of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. In 1962, in the wake of the Thalidomide tragedy, the Kefauver Harris Amendment increased the FDA's role in ensuring drug safety. With these provisions in place, the FDA sought to identify the ingredients in Krebiozen, a controversial and expensive alternative cancer treatment. Hayden assigned students in her branch the task of seeing whether spectrometer images of Krebiozen matched any of the 20,000 alphabetically listed images on file at the FDA.
On September 3, 1963, a likely match was found in the "C"s: a common substance, creatine. It occurred in the body at a far higher level than in Krebiozen and showed no impact on animal cancer. Spectrophotometry and crystallography studies were conducted independently by three teams, including scientists from MIT. The discovery was announced at a press conference.
Hayden's report is detailed in the U.S. Congressional Record. Hayden testified at the lengthy criminal trial of the promoters of Krebiozen, Stevan Durovic, and Andrew C. Ivy. Alma Levant Hayden, one of the first African American women to gain a scientist position at a science agency in Washington, D.C., died on August 2, 1967.