theGrio’s 100: Dr. Keith L. Black, leading the fight against aggressive brain tumors

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Who is Dr. Keith L. Black?

Dr. Keith L. Black, 56, is a neurosurgeon and head of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He is also director of the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Brain Tumor Center.

Born and raised in Alabama and Ohio, by age 7, Black had learned how to anesthetize frogs, dissect them and identify each organ from his older brother’s biology books. He believed he was destined to become a heart surgeon, but a neuro-anatomy class at the University of Michigan changed everything.

“I became fascinated by the human brain, the essence of the spirit and the soul,” he says. “I quickly realized that my future would be devoted to brain research and the treatment of neurological disorders.”

He finished both his undergraduate and medical degrees in six years, followed by an internship in general surgery and a residency in neurological surgery, all at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Why is he on theGrio’s 100?

Brain tumors – especially the most aggressive, resistant and devastating types – became his focus, and Black has successfully removed many tumors that others shied away from. When some of the tumors he operated on returned, he then focused his research on how to get rid of brain tumors altogether.

Through his work with special vaccines, patients with malignant brain cancers are beginning to live longer lives. His team is also working on ways to get a higher amount of anti-cancer drug to reach brain tumors.

He also opened the Cochran Jr. Brain Tumor Center at Cedars-Sinai, where a multidisciplinary team of specialists provides individualized treatment in a family-involved environment with a focus on education and psychosocial support.

In addition to being a surgeon and researcher, he’s the program director of the Cedars-Sinai Neurological Surgery Residency Program where he trains the next generation of neurosurgeons. He also promotes interest in neuroscience through Brainworks, a program that engages 7th– and 8th-grade students into activities related to medicine and neuroscience research.

What’s next for Dr. Black?

Black is broadening his research to include Alzheimer’s dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders. He plans to decipher the underlying causes and find ways to combat those. He and his team have also created a device that snaps images of the retina and could aid in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.