Inherited disease expert Dr. James Bowman, who challenged the ethics of genetic screening and is the father of presidential aide Valerie Jarrett, has died at age 88, the University of Chicago said on Thursday.
Bowman, an internationally recognized African-American pathologist and expert on inherited blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia, died on Wednesday from cancer, the school said.
"Jim Bowman was one of the early pioneers in the clinical applications of molecular genetics. He did important work on a common enzyme deficiency and on donated blood and was a great source of information for all of us on inherited diseases," said Alvin Tarlov, former chairman of medicine at the University of Chicago. Bowman joined the faculty in 1962.
Bowman gained attention in 1972 when he argued against laws mandating genetic screening for sickle cell -- a disease that strikes blacks -- as "inaccurate, misleading, politically motivated propaganda which has left mothers frantic."
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1923, Bowman experienced segregation first-hand and later would mentor many minority scholars seeking academic careers.
"In those days there was complete segregation. One could only go to theaters, movies, restaurants in the black neighborhood," Bowman said in an interview.
His father wanted him to follow him into dentistry but Bowman earned degrees in medicine from Howard University under an Army-paid program. Yet he was barred from entering as an officer because he was black.
After completing a stint as chief of pathology at an Army hospital in Denver, he moved overseas to a new hospital in Shiraz, Iran, in 1955 where he saw diseases such as smallpox, brucellosis and rabies for the first time.
His daughter Valerie was born in Iran in 1956.
One common inherited disease in Iran was favism, leading Bowman to several discoveries about enzyme deficiencies.
He is survived by his wife Barbara, the president of the Erikson Institute for early childhood education. His daughter Valerie Jarrett is a senior aide to President Barack Obama.