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Neurosurgery Chairman Keith L. Black, MD, to Receive Top Honor From National Urban League

Renowned neurosurgeon Keith L. Black, MD, will receive the National Urban League’s highest honor on July 30 during the organization’s annual conference in Boston.

He is chairman and professor of the Department of Neurosurgery, director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, director of the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Brain Tumor Center and the Ruth and Lawrence Harvey Chair in Neuroscience at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The Legend Award, presented annually at the Whitney M. Young Awards Gala, recognizes influential leaders who have done exceptional work within the African-American community. In addition to Black, Suzanne de Passe, an entrepreneur with a storied career in the entertainment industry, and Tony Dungy, author and NFL football player and coach, will be honored.

Black, among an elite group of neurosurgeons who perform hundreds of brain tumor operations each year, joined Cedars-Sinai and founded the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute in 1997. He established the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Brain Tumor Center in 2007. In recent years, U.S. News & World Report has annually named Cedars-Sinai one of the top centers for neurosurgery in the nation.

Black became interested in science at an early age and published his first research paper at age 17, earning the Westinghouse Science Award. He and scientists, neurosurgeons and other research and treatment team members now present programs to stimulate scientific interest in today’s youth, particularly those from underserved communities, including:

  • "Brainworks," a long-running annual event, gives seventh- and eighth-grade students a chance to visit the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute and participate in fun and educational hands-on experiences.
  • In 2004, Pauletta and Denzel Washington joined Black to promote summer research scholarships funded by the Neurosurgery Department. The Pauletta and Denzel Washington Family Gifted Scholars Program in Neuroscience provides scholarships for two students – one graduate and one undergraduate – each year.
  • In 2005, the department established a residency program designed to produce neurosurgeons who are as skilled in research as they are in the operating room.
  • In 2011, a program introducing high school students to stem cells and the future of stem cell technologies was started. It includes a free educational session and an essay contest with cash awards and a chance to spend a summer volunteering in a Cedars-Sinai laboratory.

In addition to his surgical expertise, Black may best be known for his extensive work in immunotherapy and the resulting dendritic cell vaccine for malignant brain tumors now in clinical trials. He also has made significant discoveries in research on the blood-brain barrier and the blood-brain tumor barrier – finding innovative ways to increase the delivery of chemotherapy to brain tumors. More scientific accomplishments have come in diverse areas, including the study of stem cells; cancer-causing stem cells; an optical imaging surgical device; an experimental optical device to detect early stages of Alzheimer’s disease; and a "nanodrug" that has the potential to act as a transport vehicle to deliver drugs directly into tumor cells.

Research findings from the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute are translated into patient clinical trials through the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Brain Tumor Center. Famed attorney Cochran, who died of a malignant brain tumor, was a friend and patient of Black’s. With the personal and financial support of Dale Cochran, Johnnie’s widow, the Cochran Center opened in 2007. Dale Cochran is a member of The Brain Trust, a group of dedicated and influential African-American women who raise funds and awareness for Black’s research.

Black’s work has been the subject of numerous broadcast and print media stories, including a 1996 PBS program, "The New Explorers," a Time magazine cover and feature article in 1997 on heroes in medicine, and a segment on CBS Sunday Morning in 1999. He also was included in a special "new millennium" report in Newsweek Japan, identified as one of the 100 people of "imagination, talent and leadership who will bring changes to the new era."

In August 2000, Biography magazine included an article on Black, as did Discover in April 2004, a collector’s edition of Essence in 2006 ("40 of the Most Inspiring African-Americans") and Los Angeles magazine in May 2006.

Atlanta’s Morehouse College presented its Candle Award in Science & Technology to Black in February 2003. Candle Awards honor non-alumni for outstanding leadership and service to society. In January 2006, Black received a Trumpet Award for his contributions to the field of medicine. These awards are bestowed on members of the African-American community for achievements in a range of fields. This was followed in February 2010 with the BET Honors public service award.

The National Urban League is a historic civil rights organization dedicated to economic empowerment to elevate the standard of living in historically underserved urban communities. Founded in 1910 and headquartered in New York City, the group spearheads efforts of its local affiliates by developing programs, public policy research and advocacy. There are more than 100 local affiliates in 36 states and the District of Columbia, providing direct services that improve the lives of more than 2 million people nationwide.