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Dr. Raphael C. Lee

Dr. Raphael C. Lee was born in Sumter, South Carolina, on October 29, 1949. Graduating from high school in 1967, Lee went to the University of South Carolina, where he earned his B.A. degree in electrical engineering in 1971. Lee enrolled in Temple University School of Medicine and Drexel University College of Engineering; in 1975, earning both his M.D. and his M.A. degrees.

Lee began his career in surgery at the University of Chicago Hospitals as an assistant resident in surgery in 1975. In 1979, Lee received his Sc.D. degree in biomedical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 1981 he left the University of Chicago for Boston to do further teaching, research, and surgery. Lee held dual faculty appointments at Harvard University and M.I.T. in 1983, teaching electrical engineering, bioengineering, and surgery. In 1989, Lee returned to the University of Chicago, where within two years he had become a full professor, and eventually, professor of surgery, dermatology, organismal biology and anatomy, and molecular medicine. Lee also served as the director of molecular cell repair research at the University of Chicago.

Lee's resume includes a list of awards, recognitions, professional memberships, and publications. Lee was awarded a 1981 MacArthur Prize Fellowship, and a 1985 Searle Scholar Award, as well as being named by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago as one of the sixteen outstanding scientists in African American history. In 2018, Lee received the Pierre Galletti Award from the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, generally considered America's highest award in the field of biomedical engineering and technology, for his contributions to understanding the molecular biomechanics of traumatic injuries. Lee held a membership in the New York Academy of Science; was awarded a fellowship by the American College of Surgeons; and was a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society. Lee was also listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Notable 20th Century Scientists, and was named as one of America's 100 Brightest Young Scientists by Science Digest.

Lee specialized in the repair of scars and burns, and developed a number of treatments in the course of his research.

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St. Jude's Catholic School

Bishop England High School

University of South Carolina

Drexel University

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Temple University

St. Anne Catholic School

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South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Skiing, Sailing

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Short Description

Plastic surgeon Dr. Raphael C. Lee (1949 - ) specializes in the repair of scars and burns and is a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago.


University of Chicago

Massachusetts General Hospital

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Harvard University

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Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Raphael Lee interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Raphael Lee's favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Raphael Lee recalls his family history</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Raphael Lee talks about his parents' backgrounds</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Raphael Lee remembers his childhood communities</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Raphael Lee explains his family tradition of practicing medicine</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Raphael Lee recounts his elementary and high school careers</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Raphael Lee shares experiences from his undergraduate years</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Raphael Lee recalls his social life at University of South Carolina</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Raphael Lee gives an overview of his education at Temple University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Raphael Lee discusses his transition into faculty appointments</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Raphael Lee talks about receiving the MacArthur Fellowship</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Raphael Lee details his research findings on skin tissues</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Raphael Lee describes his work in treating electrical trauma victims</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Raphael Lee explains the differences in eletrical trauma and burn victims</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Raphael Lee talks about his current responsibilities</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Raphael Lee shares his thoughts on the public's view of plastic surgery</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Raphael Lee discusses the gratification he draws from his work</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Raphael Lee comments on mankind's evolutionary path</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Raphael Lee discusses burn treatments</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Raphael Lee talks about his preferred research strategy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Raphael Lee gives career advice</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Raphael Lee considers his legacy</a>







Raphael Lee talks about receiving the MacArthur Fellowship
Raphael Lee discusses burn treatments
In '81 [1981], you won the MacArthur Prize Fellowship?$$Yes. In 1981, the first year of the, that the MacArthur Fellows Program was in place. There was a--I was fortunate to be one of the, included in that group.$$Okay. And they used to call this the genius award, right?$$Well, the newspapers call it the genius award. I mean the spirit of it was to try and find individuals that showed unusual promise, who could actually, might do something if they had the resources that they did not have. So someone with tremendous--. There's lots of Nobel laureates and so forth, and many great scientists, there that are well funded and are working as hard as they can, and having enough resources to do whatever. So identifying those individuals in a program like this was not what the goals were. The goals were to find individuals who might do something different, and someone who's in the midst of a career change, for example. Someone who is a brilliant person, very creative in one area, well-known in one area, now wants to make a big change. Physicist is now going to become, you know, a concert pianist or something (laughs). So these were the kinds of, you know, unusual opportunities. And of course, and that's where the idea--I mean, how do you label it? What's the catch term? So, genius award, so we're all sort of branded as geniuses. And I was a student at the time and that had pluses and minuses. Because you know you get, as a resident in surgery, you have the presidents of the universities coming over to meet with you and so forth. And that generates a lot of tension. And it's easy for me to understand that now (laughs).$$Did some of the veterans feel a little bit like--?$$(Simultaneously) Well, it's some pretty sharp people you're pushing aside there, you know, on the totem pole. And--.$$(Simultaneously) You're a genius (laughs).$$Yeah. Now we're gonna find out, you know (laughs). So, there's good things about it and there's some things that are not so good about it. But I have to say I think overall, it's a good thing. It was a good thing because as a young person, you're given a lot of public recognition around your own capability. And every single day you try and prove that to yourself, but in addition, they set standards for yourself that you really want to achieve. And I can't tell you that I honestly wake up every morning and say, "I gotta prove something." I don't. That's not true. But the bottom line is that--. And I think my mother [Gean Maurice Langston] and father [Leonard Powell Lee] both all throughout my childhood were always--. And I think we probably all have heard that. I mean it's a very common thing in the South to hear, in South Carolina if you're gonna do something, do it well. You know, if you're gonna do the job, do it right or don't do it. That was the culture that I grew up in. If you're not gonna be the best, don't get involved. And that's basically my culture. And I don't think that I'm saying anything different than that.$And then the guy with some brown skin and doesn't look, you know, the usual facial features. And he's saying, "Well, you know, you can change the water structure and you can repair damage, prevent tissue death from trauma. And after a burn, you can uncook the tissue. You can unboil the egg." They--.$$(Simultaneously) Tell us about that. I don't know how technical it is. But what do you mean by that?$$Well, when you heat proteins, and we've been talking about this, and you change their structure, their nature. Basically, you know, the clear part of an egg becomes white for example because the proteins have lost their structure and they coalesce. And the light scatters differently than it did before, so it's no longer clear. It becomes, you know, boiled. Well the primary amino acid structure of those proteins hasn't changed at all. If you can predict the protein, if mean if you burn it in a flame it will, but a boiling process doesn't reach that temperature. So that, it's theoretically possible, and certainly been demonstrated with many proteins in separation that you can unboil that. You can basically renature, refold that protein. And so one of the main strategies of the research we're doing today, is to create those polymers that will change the local water structure, so that the protein--'cause it's the water binding to the protein that prevents it from going back. And the fact that the protein are all aggregated and precipitated out and there're ways to break it up. And, in fact, you know, there are natural proteins called stress proteins that do much of that kind of work. But when that system gets overwhelmed, then you might need some additional help with some polymers that might mimic those affects. And that's the thrust of our work right now, to make, to really reduce the tissue loss in a burn injury for example, and in other forms of trauma, in ways that were not thought possible before. And we've had some success. And as we look in the literature we find that forty years ago people have demonstrated that you can do similar things. But really they weren't focused on the medical problem, they were more interested in just the physical chemistry of it. But somehow it was not picked up by medical community.