2nd Apr 1908- 23rd Feb 1956
CEREBRAL HAEMORRHAGE: bleeding within the brain, caused either by physical damage from a head injury, or a stroke.
ISOTOPE: an atom which varies in mass from other atoms of the same element. For example, cobalt-59 and cobalt-60 are isotopes of the element cobalt. A cobalt-59 atom has a mass of 59 unified atomic mass units (u). A cobalt-60 atom has a mass of 60 u. Heavier isotopes are often radioactive.
RADIATION: energy and particles released from the breakdown of a nucleus. At high doses, some of these rays and particles are able to cause cancers or radiation poisoning in people directly exposed to them.
RADIATION POISONING: an illness caused by overexposure to certain types of radiation, with symptoms ranging from vomiting, headache, and diarrhoea, to internal bleeding and death. Unlike regular poisons, radioactive substances do not have to be eaten or drunk since radiation can penetrate skin, flesh, and organs, causing damage to any of these.
Dr. Cipriani was quite aware of the dangers of radiation poisoning from the improper use of radiation. Because he was so careful, his co-workers nicknamed him “Dr. No”. No employee under his supervision at the Chalk River Plant ever suffered from radiation poisoning.
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Dr André Joseph Cipriani, Trinidad and Tobago’s first major biophysicist, was best known for his pioneering work in cancer treatment. He was one of the first scientists in the world with great practical expertise in the medical applications of radiation.
Born on 2nd April, 1908 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Cipriani excelled from an early age, completing primary school and entering St. Mary’s College at 10 years old. He studied sciences and excelled in school under his father’s encouragement, winning the Stollmeyer’s Silver Medal for Science in 1925 and the Island Scholarship for Science in 1927. He enrolled at McGill University, Canada, as an electrical engineering student but his aptitude for mathematics and physics led to a change in major to those disciplines. After graduating in 1932, he completed a medical degree and specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology.
During World War II, Dr Cipriani was a medical office in the Canadian Army. He did research on various medical problems such as motion sickness and night blindness, and discovered the chemical compound from which the medicine known as Gravol was derived. He later joined the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd where he became the Director of Biology and Radiation Hazards. At the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories (CRNL), he and W V Mayneord discovered that cobalt-60 was the most promising isotope that could be used to treat cancer, pioneering its production in 1951. With further studies, he and his team at CRNL isolated the first highly active sources of cobalt-60, using methods which were later used in developing the earliest cobalt therapy machines.
Dr Cipriani was a member of the Royal Society of Canada as well as numerous Canadian and international committees. His work gained him great recognition around the world. He was a member of several committees on atomic radiation and the Canadian representative on the first United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. He assisted in the organisation and training of the Canadian army radiation detection unit. His extensive work resulted in scientific papers that were published in international journals such as the Journal of Neurophysiology and the Journal of Radiological Protection and presented at major international meetings such as the Geneva Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy.
Dr André Cipriani continued to contribute to the understanding of the safe use of radiation until his death from a cerebral haemorrhage, following a stroke, on 23rd February 1956, at the age of 48. The BBC described him as the most knowledgeable expert on radiation hazards in the world. The National Research Universal Reactor at Chalk River, Ontario remains the world’s biggest single supplier of cobalt-60, which continues to be used in cancer treatment.