Roland B. Scott, 93, a Washington pediatrician who founded Howard University's Center for Sickle Cell Disease and received international acclaim for researching the painful genetic blood disorder that predominantly affects blacks, died Dec. 10 at Washington Adventist Hospital. He had congestive heart failure.
Dr. Scott was chairman of pediatrics at Howard from 1949 to 1973 and also had a private pediatric practice in the city. By the 1950s, with a growing reputation for his sickle cell research, he was among the first black doctors granted privileges at such facilities as Children's and Providence hospitals, according to press reports at the time. The Washington Post noted then that several hospitals had an "unwritten ban against Negro physicians."
Dr. Scott started the Center for Sickle Cell Disease in 1972 with a grant from the National Institutes of Health and remained director until his retirement in 1990.
The Howard center was possible only after he and other prominent doctors and activists lobbied Congress for passage of the Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act of 1971, which gave comprehensive federal funding to research centers nationwide, center director Oswaldo Castro said.
For years, Howard's center was one of the top recipients of federal funding -- upward of $1 million annually -- but that fell off by the late 1980s, causing staffing reductions and a cutback in research from which the center has not recuperated, Castro said.
In 1995, Ebony magazine called Dr. Scott the "preeminent authority" on sickle cell anemia. Over the years, he received several prominent medical awards noting his achievements in describing complications arising from the disease.
Although Western research into sickle cell anemia began at the beginning of the 20th century, it remained a largely unexplored field because it affected a small percentage of a minority population.
"Sickle cell was not a popular subject because of about 350 years of white brainwashing," Dr. Scott told The Post in 1972. "Black people were taught to look down on practically everything that was part of their heritage."
He later said that his most important contribution regarding the disease was showing blacks that they are not the only ones with the disease: It also arises among people in Mediterranean, South American and Arabian countries.
The disease now affects about 70,000 to 90,000 blacks in the United States and about 2,000 or 3,000 in the Washington area, Castro said. In the most severe cases, the median life expectancy for a man with sickle cell is 42 years; for a woman, 48.
Castro said patients can be cured through bone marrow transplantation -- but only if the patient is under age 16 and if there is a sibling whose tissue is compatible and does not have the disease. In some cases, a parent can lend bone marrow.
Roland Boyd Scott, whose mother was a nurse, was born in Houston and completed high school in Kansas City, Mo. He received a bachelor's degree from Howard University, and he was a 1934 graduate of its medical school.
He did his pediatric residency at Provident Hospital in Chicago and stayed on as a fellow in pediatrics at the University of Chicago and Chicago Municipal Hospital for Contagious Diseases from 1936 to 1939.
One of his teachers at Howard persuaded him to return to Washington, and he joined the staff in 1939 to work on allergic disorders in children.
He moved into sickle cell research after noticing many children being admitted to the hospital with symptoms that are now associated with the disease.
He told the American Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology that he had great difficulty convincing parents that their children had a hereditary disease. He said the parents associated genetic disorders with mental illness and mental retardation.
He began writing extensively about sickle cell anemia, with more than 300 scientific articles on a range of topics -- from how the disease affects the nervous system to ways to treat it.
He said his biggest problem over the years was persuading the government to fund studies. He previously relied on small grants from black fraternal organizations.
He was dismayed to see federal funding starting to waver by the late 1970s. "Interest in sickle cell, like other major diseases, is like the latest hairstyles, fashions and dances -- it goes in cycles," he said.
He received the American Academy of Pediatrics's Jacobi Award for significant contributions in child health and pediatrics education and was named a "pioneer in sickle cell research and care" by the Advisory Board of the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.
His wife, Sarah Rosetta Weaver Scott, whom he married in 1935, died in 1969.
Survivors include three children, Roland Scott Jr. of Sandia Park, N.M., Venice Carlenius of Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Irene Scott of Washington; and two grandchildren.