La Jolla-based Sanford Burnham Prebys has published a book about its history and successes in medical research, hoping to share its stories widely and continue to innovate long into the future.
In “Development of a California Research Organization: Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute” (the institution’s former name), authors Nancy Beddingfield, Nina Fishman, and Dr. Eva Engvall compiled information about its founding and development.
Fishman’s parents, William and Lillian, founded Sanford Burnham Prebys in July 1976 as the La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation.
During a panel discussion at the institute streamed online April 12, Beddingfield, who held numerous positions at SBP from 1980 to 2007, including director of public affairs, said she “was a witness privileged” for its growth.
Beddingfield thought she was taking a six-month job but ended up staying 27.
She called 1980 “a magical year. … The tools of biotechnology or biochemistry were just coming online,” enabling research that helped Sanford Burnham Prebys grow.
The following years saw the institute increase its physical footprint with building additions and new equipment.
Get the La Jolla Light weekly delivered to your inbox
News, reports and sports on La Jolla, every Thursday for free
You may occasionally receive promotional content from La Jolla Light.
Beddingfield, who is not a scientist herself, said science kept her at the SBP nonetheless. “Every day there was no boredom,” she said. “I loved the company, and it’s self-selected; people who do this really like doing it.
Fishman said she realized “how my family’s culture has kind of…become central to the DNA of the institute culture.”
“Everyone who’s been here has added something to this tapestry,” Fishman said. “What my parents stood for was creating an environment where people could thrive.”
Sanford Burnham Preby professor of human genetics, José Luis Millán, who began working at the institute in 1977, said that “the guiding principle for the creation of this institution was that it was for scientists and on the science, and everything else was there to support their science”. ” without administrative burden.
Millán left SBP to pursue a doctorate. in Sweden and returned to the La Jolla Institute as the only postdoctoral student in the lab. He was told he could work on anything he wanted and if he was successful he would be promoted to faculty at Sanford Burnham Prebys.
The independence granted to him “has affected my entire career”, he said, “because that’s exactly how I run my lab”.
Millán said that the success and survival of SBP is due to the philosophy “initiated by the principal investigator” which “gives you the freedom to do in your laboratory whatever you wanted to do”. Scientists are responsible for finding funding for their projects.
“We joined [and did] what we wanted to do, each of us individually and collectively.
— Hudson Freeze, Director of the SBP Human Genetics Program and Sanford Children’s Health Research Center
Fishman said his parents wanted the scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys “to feel they can pursue their curiosity.”
Engvall, a professor emeritus who joined the institute in 1979, said the freedom to do research without interference or bureaucracy initially made him think.
“I don’t know if me or someone like me at that time could take the risk of joining,” she said. However, “it was a great experience to watch the institute grow and grow and grow,” she added.
Millán said SBP’s insistence on having state-of-the-art facilities is another “fundamental pillar” of its growth. “They did a wonderful job,” he said.
Over the nearly 46-year history of the institute, “we have united [and did] what we wanted to do, each of us individually and collectively,” said Hudson Freeze, program director of human genetics and Sanford Children’s Health Research Center.
“What we wanted to have was … an institute driven by science and generated by the scientists themselves,” he added. “And if we ever lose sight of science as a driving and motivating force, we will disintegrate.
“I think the ideas and principles that created the institute and attracted its scientists will endure more than any scientist, trustee or council.”
To purchase “Development of a California Research Organization: Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute”, visit amzn.to/37SROy2. ◆