his propitious convergence of ideas and resources was hardly accidental. Leading up to it had been countless meetings, as Keck Foundation chairman Robert Day describes it, between himself and Sample and, importantly, between Day and Keck Foundation board member and USC backer Simon Ramo. In many ways, Ramos commitment along with that of his wife Virginia sealed the deal when the formidable husband-and-wife team agreed to co-chair the Keck School Board of Overseers and to spearhead the effort to raise $330 million in order to triple-match the foundations gift.
The W. M. Keck Foundation, established in 1954 by the oilman whose name it bears, has traditionally made grants in the medical sciences and technology and in engineering, with a special focus on Southern California. USC has long been a bene
ficiary of both the foundation and members of the Keck family. It already has five Keck chairs, along with such landmark facilities as the Keck Center for Photonics Research on the University Park Campus and the ambulatory care center at the USC/Norris Compre-hensive Cancer Center on the Health Sciences Campus.
Resculped for Research: The greening of East L.A. could ease the graying of America, suggested a Los Angeles Times editorial on plans to invest $1.5 billion to create a park-like world-class medical complex around the USC Health Sciences Campus.
During the bullish 90s, the foundation tripled its endowment to $1.6 billion becoming one of the nations largest charitable funds. But rather than using the extra money to make more of the same kinds of grants, the foundation resolved to continue its existing level of philanthropy while husbanding its new resources to award elephant grants that could really make a difference.
We could zero in and fund a program that never would have gotten done if we didnt do it, Day says.
An excellent candidate for an elephant grant soon presented itself or, rather was eloquently presented by aerospace pioneer Simon Ramo, a member of the Keck Foundation board since 1983.
The foundation already had under review a proposal from Brian Henderson for a new institute for neurogenetics. And originally, says Day, we were just going to fund that. But then the board began considering a more ambitious proposal, an elephant idea.
Ramo pointed out that the Los Angeles region is medical school-poor compared to such cities as Boston, New York or Chicago.
It is impossible today, says Day, to start a medical school de novo. So the group started to analyze what it would take to turn USC from a very good to a world-class medical center.
A nine-figure donation would only begin to address the task, Day emphasizes. Our gift along with the USC match will get the school to first base, he says. This is not a $110 million program.
Even the proposed to $1.5 billion total investment including the $330 million in matching funds, the rebuilding of L.A. County+USC Medical Center and the expansion of USC University Hospital would fall short. That sounds like a lot of money, Days says, but to come out with a world-class complex, hospital, teaching and all that goes into it $1.5 billion isnt going to get it done.
Day notes it may take an additional $1 billion in investments to achieve all this. So the $110-million question on every Keck board members mind was: would USC keep the momentum going five years, 10 years down the line?
For six months, Day negotiated with Sample to assure himself that USC would follow through with the Keck Foundations ambitious plans. He huddled with USC Board of Trustees chairman Malcolm Currie, and with incoming chair John Argue. I wanted to make sure that Steve Sample would stay around and work on the problem, Day says. The Keck Foundation chairman was particularly impressed with Samples handling of USCs Building on Excellence campaign, which had set a goal of $1 billion in seven and a half years and had brought in $1.5 billion after only six.
When you look at it, you see theyve made quantum leaps across the university not just at the medical school, not just in the undergraduate programs, but in all their programs, Day says. So I became satisfied that Steve really meant it, that this was one of the highest priorities for the university.
Overseer Simon Ramo put forward the same confident message: The Keck Foundation wouldnt remotely have considered making so large and important a gift if we had not carefully researched it. We become completely convinced that the leadership of USC and USCs medical school is tops, and consistent with the goal we are setting.
eck School dean Sephen J. Ryan is eager for the challenge. Its the right time in the history for Keck and USC to come together, says the 25-year veteran of the school, who is also USCs senior vice president for medical affairs.
For nine decades after its founding in 1885, USCs medical school remained a facility to educate physicians and help train residents with LAC+USC Medical Center. Only in 1975 were private patients first seen on the Health Sciences Campus. The Doheny Eye Institute provided a model, later followed by the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1983. Major growth took place with the opening of USC University Hospital in the 90s, when private patient visits swelled from 50,000 in 1991 to more than 250,000 in 1999.
Growth in research kept pace, with federally funded grants to the medical school and its partners nearly doubling from $62 million in 1991 to more than $100 million today. The growth has been accompanied by the recruitment of superior, nationally known faculty who have put USC on the map as a clinical research venue. In the schools 1993 strategic plan, Ryan, Henderson and other school planners had identified four areas for future excellence: cancer, gene therapy, transplantation and the
CHAIR, KECK SCHOOL DEPARTMENT NEUROLOGY
We have everything here. We have basic scientists. We have a body of
physician-scientists who take care of patients and continue to do science. And we have clinical researchers, the people who apply new techniques. We have all the pieces in place. All they need is to
be cultivated and expanded.
Systematically, the school has gone after and recruited the most talented faculty in each of these fields. After just six years, the results are striking:
The USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center has been built into a model of its kind, advancing the concept of translational research. Under director Peter Jones, breakthrough cancer treatments travel from bench to bedside in the time it takes to walk down the hall. The Institute for Genetic Medicine, under the leadership of biochemist Laurence H. Kedes, has turned into one of the most important research facilities in its area, adding still more influence because of the presence at USC of the Gene Therapy Laboratory, headed by the father of gene therapy, W. French Anderson.
In transplantation, heart and lung superstar Vaughn Starnes put USC on the map with his pioneering work, including the first double lobar living-related lung transplant. Meanwhile, surgeon Robert Rick Selby is a leader in replacement of the liver and other abdominal organs, as demonstrated by a spectacular first-of-its-kind bloodless liver transplant performed recently at USC University Hospital. Keck School officials say they expect to support these clinical accomplishments with a broad basic research program.
That leaves the final area, brain research which Keck School leaders envision as a wheelhorse that will pull the school up-ward into the top ranks of medical research. And theres little doubt that USC has the intellectual horse-power to perform miracles in this area.
Under Brian Hendersons direction, some 50 existing USC faculty, plus 30 more to be recruited, will be part of the effort. They share both Hendersons urgency and his conviction that their time has come.
Some researchers are motivated not just by scientific curiosity but personal passion.
My father had a stroke, says Jean Shih, a researcher in the USC School of Pharmacy whose team has identified a gen-etic system that causes patho-logically aggressive behavior. I am very sensitive to the issue of incurable disease. I have always hoped my efforts would be able to reduce some human suffering.
Shes made a good beginning. Documented in a famous study of a Dutch family, violent behavior was traced back to the absence of a single gene in males. Shih and researchers in her lab have created a line of mice lacking this gene that recognizably display this same hair-trigger aggression. Even more dramatically, they have learned to turn off the aggressive behavior by supplying the brain protein that the missing gene is supposed to produce.
This is an exciting period for our research because of these new techniques, says Shih, holder of the Boyd P. and Elsie D. Weilin Professorship. We are now in a position to answer questions that we could not answer years ago.