September 1998

Raphael C. Lee, MD

Surgeon

Raphael C. Lee, MD

Raphael C. Lee, MD is a leader for the 21 st century. The only surgeon ever to win the prestigious MacArthur Prize Fellowship, Dr. Lee was identified by Science Digest in 1984 as one of the “One Hundred Brightest Scientists in America Under Forty.” He has carried out groundbreaking research in both surgery and biomedical engineering. Born in Sumter, South Carolina, in 1949, Lee’s interest in science began in St. Jude High School in his home town. Opportunities to pursue this interest were limited, however. “Because of segregation, l was thirteen before I could legally use the public library,” he explains. “I did read books at school but many of them were outdated gifts from other institutions and schools.” He graduated from high school in 1967. At first, he did not wish to follow in the footsteps of his father, uncles and cousins who were physicians. Lee enrolled at the recently desegregated University of South Carolina, earning a degree in electrical engineering. In his junior year, however, he became interested in lasers and their potential medical applications and decided to pursue medicine as a career. Lee combined his interests in medicine and electrical engineering by enrolling in a double degree program at Drexel University and Temple University School of Medicine, achieving an M.S. and an M.D. in 1975. Later, he was awarded a surgical internship appointment at the University of Chicago Hospitals – Chicago, where he also started his residency in surgery. The renowned Chicago surgeons, among them David Skinner, M.D., and George E. Block, M.D., greatly encouraged his interest in academic surgery and provided him with the opportunity to enhance his formal graduate education. In 1979, Dr. Lee completed his Sc. D.. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology within a two year time frame. In the next four years, he completed his surgical residency at the University of Chicago and a residency in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In November of 1981, Dr. Lee was selected among the first recipients of the MacArthur Prize Fellowship, an award given to unusually talented professionals to provide opportunity and resources for creative pursuits, which helped spur his career and establish his own research laboratory. In January of 1983, Dr. Lee began dual faculty appointments at Harvard University and MIT. Working in Boston, he discovered an unrecognized cause of tissue injury in victims of electrical shock which has led to advancing a new therapy. In addition, he found several new pharmaceutical approaches to control excessive scar formation. In 1989, Dr. Lee returned to the University of Chicago, rising to the rank of full professor in two years. Here, he developed research and clinical centers for electrical trauma victims and for patients with scar disorders and began FDA approved trials for the new treatments. Dr. Lee has won several prestigious awards, including the Searle Scholar Award in biological sciences, the James Barrett Brown Prize for the “Advancement of Knowledge in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery,” the American Electrical Power Association Award for Advancing Safety and Health,” and others.In 1989, he was selected by the Museum of Science and Industry as one of sixteen most outstanding scientists in African-American history.