LPISM in the 1980s

Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine staff portrait, 1989.

Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine staff portrait, 1989.

[A history of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, Part 4 of 8]

In the spring of 1980, amidst a swirl of funding difficulties and legal actions, Emile Zuckerkandl was named President and Director of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. He quickly began working to expand LPISM into a more wide-ranging organization with a particular focus on cellular research. His leadership style was very different from the Institute’s previous presidents, but the staff liked him and generally supported his initiatives.

By this point, born of need, Linus Pauling’s relationship with the Institute began to assume a somewhat Faustian character. Pauling was contacted by, and began regularly meeting with, a man named Ryoichi Sasakawa to discuss future collaboration plans and possible donations. Sasakawa was a world-renowned philanthropist and famous businessman who had single handedly introduced and popularized motorboat racing in Japan. Sasakawa was also very controversial. An avowed fascist, he was an admirer of Benito Mussolini and a political strongman who had been charged with war crimes for his activities in support of the Japanese government during World War II.  He was also very wealthy and Pauling’s connection to Sasakawa would grow over time.

The summer and early fall of 1980 were largely preoccupied with the Art Robinson suits and fundraising. In August LPISM finally received some good news: the National Science Foundation had awarded the Institute a grant of $40,000 a year for two years to support research on the structure of molecules and complex ions containing transition metals. This provided a much needed financial boost, as finances were suffering greatly from the Mayo trials and the ongoing legal wrangling with Robinson.

The year ended somewhat stressfully when, in December, LPISM was forced to move from Menlo Park to 440 Page Mill Rd. in Palo Alto. The landlord of their building in Menlo Park had evicted all of his tenants while he was making structural repairs to the facility. Once completed, he decided not to welcome LPISM back, instead inviting more profitable companies to take their spot. The new building in Palo Alto was dramatically bigger and less expensive; it was also quite a bit shabbier, in part because it was made out of cinderblocks.  Employee Alan Sheets was able to help save the Institute a lot of money during the transition, as his father was a professional mover. As such, the Sheets family helped LPISM move itself instead of hiring the process out to a company.

Extracted from the LPISM Newsletter, Winter 1980.

Extracted from the LPISM Newsletter, Winter 1980.

The dawn of 1981 brought with it major financial relief for LPISM. After eight failed tries over eight long years, the National Cancer Institute finally agreed to fund a component of LPISM’s program – a two-year grant for $204,000 to research the effects of vitamin C on breast cancer in mice. At about the same time, Sasakawa’s company, the Japanese Shipbuilding Foundation, pledged $5 million to the Institute over the following ten years. As part of the deal, LPISM began working with Sasakawa to create the Sasakawa Aging Research Center, which was set up as a satellite facility on Porter Drive. Later in the 1980s, the building at Porter Drive suffered a major roof leak which destroyed thousands of pages of research and documentation. Thomas Hager, one of Pauling’s biographers, notes that LPISM successfully sued the landlord for neglecting to maintain the building.

Despite this influx of new cash, the close of 1981 proved to be an awful time for Linus Pauling and LPISM. In August, Ava Helen Pauling’s recurrent stomach cancer was declared inoperable and on December 7, after struggling with cancer for five years and three months, Ava Helen died. Linus Pauling was absolutely devastated, and the LPISM staff was greatly saddened by the loss as well. Pauling understandably did not cope well with the passing of the woman who was his wife for nearly 60 years, and he effectively ceased to be involved in LPISM except in the most cursory of ways, choosing instead to spend much of his time alone at his ranch in Big Sur, California.

The year that followed was, unsurprisingly, a tough one. Pauling remained in mourning and didn’t really contribute to LPISM, the Robinson suits dragged on, and the Institute’s fundraisers still struggled to cope with the fallout from the Mayo Trials. The NCI and Sasakawa donations helped to keep operations running, as did some of the revenue from Pauling and Cameron’s book, Cancer and Vitamin C. In the summer of 1982, Pauling took a trip throughout the Pacific Northwest where he visited many of his and Ava Helen’s favorite spots, as well as the cemetery where his maternal grandfather Linus Wilson Darling rested. The trip brought him closure and by the fall he became active at the Institute again.

In February 1983, the lawsuits with Arthur Robinson finally ended, with LPISM paying an out of court settlement of $575,000. The Institute adamantly maintained no wrong doing, instead acknowledging the fiscal prudence of settling as opposed to prolonging the court battle, which was nearly five years old by that point.

Their legal problems resolved, LPISM fundraisers redoubled their efforts to regain their financial momentum, as the lawsuits had drained them of resources. Past fundraising techniques were unable to generate much steam, so Rick Hicks began cultivating relationships with individual, extremely wealthy donors, notably Armand Hammer, Ryoichi Sasakawa and Danny Kaye. As a part of this strategy, LPISM began annually awarding individuals – typically major donors – the Linus Pauling Medal for Humanitarianism. Sasakawa was its first recipient.

In November 1983, LPISM researchers announced that they had discovered a new type of chemical bond that mimicked the bond believed to exist between bulk metals. This was a fairly important discovery, and also helped restore some measure of favorable public opinion as people saw the good work that LPISM was doing. The announcement also reminded folks that LPISM wasn’t just about vitamin C research. The next year, in 1984, Pauling received the extremely prestigious Joseph Priestley Medal from the American Chemical Society for his lifetime of work and dedication in the field of chemistry.

However, the controversy over vitamin C was never far from the Institute and more arrived in a hurry when, on January 2, 1985, the Mayo Clinic released the results of its second set of trials. The Institute was given no warning of the release or chance to read the results in advance. This infuriated Pauling who saw it as an obvious insult levied by the study’s principal investigator, Charles Moertel.

Pauling Note to Self, January 14, 1985.

Pauling Note to Self, January 14, 1985.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Moertel announced that the study had reaffirmed his earlier assertion that vitamin C was useless in cancer treatment. Upon reading the report though, Pauling deduced that Moertel hadn’t actually examined Ewan Cameron’s papers, the very studies he was supposed to be replicating. Among other deviations, the amount of vitamin C used in the Mayo trials was lower than in Cameron’s studies, the amount of time that patients had been given vitamin C was shorter and patients were given vitamin C orally instead of intravenously. Both Pauling and Cameron publicly branded the Mayo report as “fraudulent” and angrily decried the false assertion that Moertel had closely replicated their work.

Many journals and newspapers refused to publish Pauling and Cameron’s rebuttals, or published them months after they were submitted such that the responses were no longer relevant. As a result, LPISM suffered still more financial hardships as public opinion once again swung away from the Institute and many people stopped donating. The direct-mail appeals that had been so successful in years past were only bringing in 25% of what they had a few months previously.

By 1986 LPISM was struggling with funding and also public awareness – the second Mayo Clinic trial seemed to have largely sealed public opinion on vitamin C research. But Pauling was still convinced that vitamin C had more merit than was being considered, and in support of this cause he published How to Live Longer and Feel Better. The book was well-received by critics and sold well.

For the Institute, its successes were manifold, as it provided a morale boost to LPISM staff, brought in sorely needed funds and dramatically raised awareness of the organization and its activities. Shortly afterward, Cameron and fellow LPISM employee Fred Stitt found themselves swamped with phone calls and letters to the Institute about health questions and recommendations. They quickly developed a standardized health information packet which they would mail out to people making more generic inquiries.


Nonetheless, as always, controversy was hovering over the Institute like a thunderhead. In 1987 Institute staffer Raxit Jariwalla began to research the effect of vitamin C on HIV/AIDS treatment. After a short period of time, Pauling became interested in the research and eventually Cameron did as well. Pauling began advocating increased usage of vitamin C in treating what seemed to be an incurable disease; the response was immediate and dramatic. Local donations increased, as the Bay Area was particularly sensitive to the hazards posed by HIV/AIDS. However, at the very same time, other sources of funding dropped as numerous groups and individuals pulled their support, stating that HIV/AIDS was a “moral disease.”

Through it all, the Institute continued to follow Zuckerkandl’s lead in expanding its research into areas outside the realm of orthomolecular medicine. In 1987 researchers began extensive work on protein profiling and the effect of phytic acid in cancer prevention, a program that was more or less entirely supported by a philanthropist based in New York.

The Institute also began working on superconductivity in 1988.  In particular, Pauling hoped to develop a room-temperature superconductor which he could then market as a stable revenue source for the Institute. Zuckerkandl, Steve Lawson, Pauling and even Cameron began working on this project, which utilized a material made out of borosilicate glass and tin. The process involved using a blowtorch and an inverted bicycle with its tires taken off the wheels. Pauling would often come down to the labs and help with the physical research and experimentation – it was the last research project he actively participated in. The process worked and the material was developed according to Pauling’s specifications. He received a patent for it early in 1989, and immediately began trying to market it, though ultimately without success.

The decade of the 1980s drew to a close on a mixed note for LPISM. The organization was, as always, struggling with controversy and financial problems. However, research was progressing well, popular support was increasing, and Pauling had come to terms with the death of his wife. The decade had seen its ups and downs, and what lay ahead would be no different.

Ryoichi Sasakawa

Ryoichi Sasakawa, his translator, Linus and Ava Helen Pauling, in Japan, 1980.

Ryoichi Sasakawa was among the most controversial of Linus Pauling’s many acquaintances.  To this day, opinions on Sasakawa tend to polarize: a politician, successful businessman and generous philanthropist, he was also considered by many to be a war criminal.  Many Japanese also referred to him as “kuromaku,” a shadowy force behind the visible power of a nation, because he had a hand in selecting two prime ministers and, as a result of his immense wealth, was a strongly influential player within Japanese politics. Sasakawa was also an avowed anti-communist and erstwhile admirer of Benito Mussolini.

Sasakawa himself admitted that he was a kuromaku – he thought them to be useful in a society where laws were ambiguous and law enforcement was weak. This impulse toward power was, however, couched in the rhetoric of equality – rhetoric that was backed up by vast amounts of charitable giving.  Especially in his later years, Sasakawa publicly espoused the notion that “the world is one family; all mankind are brothers and sisters,” an idea that guided him in his charity work.  Bringing peace to the masses became a stated life goal, and as a rich and powerful kuromaku, Sasakawa saw himself as well-equipped to redistribute resources to the poor and needy of the world.

Ryoichi Sasakawa was born in 1899 to a sake brewer and grew up in a Buddhist household. As a young man he was fascinated by airplanes to the point where he ran away from home to learn to fly and was eventually drafted as a pilot into the Japanese Air Force. He was discharged early from the service, having incurred a shoulder injury while working on an airplane. His military career ended, he returned to his hometown and founded the Konnichi Shimbun newspaper.

Coming from a respected family, having experience in the Air Force and professing a zeal for making things right in the world, Sasakawa became the Councilor of his village at the age of twenty-two. Quickly, he reformed the village council and eradicated a major drinking problem that was tainting the leadership of the village.

At the same time that he was dabbling in politics and the press, Sasakawa began accumulating his fortune by investing in the rice exchange. As his wealth began to grow, a business rival grew jealous and had Sasakawa arrested for “charges unknown.” In anticipation of such an event, Sasakawa had effectively sheltered his money before his arrest and emerged from the incident unscathed.

Not after long Sasakawa was released from prison, World War II engulfed the Pacific.  Already a successful regional leader, Sasakawa decided to involve himself further in the realm of national politics. Rather quickly, Sasakawa and Isoroku Yamamoto – the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II and, over time, a friend of Sasakawa’s – came to be known as the the rightist leaders of the time. Both favored the ideals of fascism.

While Sasakawa and Yamamoto both spoke out against the outbreak of war, the two men were also strong patriots. As a result, the duo did all that they could to contribute to the success of Japan and its war effort. Notably, in 1932, Sasakawa became the leader of the nationalistic Volunteer Air Corps and “muscled in on a lucrative supply trade for the armed forces,” during the era of the Manchukuo government. These “supply trades” included traffic in both military goods and opium. In justifying his actions, Sasakawa stated, “once at war you must go all the way.”

Sasakawa was a strong advocate for Yamamoto, and because the United States viewed Yamamoto as a warmonger “bent on personally leading the Japanese forces into Washington,” the U.S. also put Sasakawa on its watch list.  With the defeat of Japan in 1945, Sasakawa’s support of Yamamoto, coupled with his extreme nationalism and his having been a “prime move[r] in developing Japan’s totalitarianism and aggression,” earned him the label of war criminal. Sasakawa was ordered by Douglas MacArthur’s General Headquarters to face the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, and did so with pride and cheering supporters. During his time in prison he became an icon for a segment of the Japanese public.

Sasakawa greeting card, 1980.

As punishment for his war activities, Sasakawa was sentenced to be hanged.  In 1948, however, he was released from prison for unknown reasons – the CIA is rumored to have played a role in his being freed.  By his own account, during his time in prison, Sasakawa made a vow that, if he survived his ordeal, he would dedicate his life to preventing war and seeking world peace. After his release he vowed to stay out of the politics for the remainder of his life. He wrote a resolution so as to further confirm this promise to himself and others. The opening paragraph of this resolution is as follows:

The most horrible sin on earth is killing, with war being the paramount example. Despite the dedicated efforts of numerous people in the cause to end all wars, human history has shown us nothing but a repetition of wars. We cannot possibly account for all the victims of wars to date, but the number would be unimaginable. The only way to allow the souls of the war dead to rest in peace is to bring about everlasting world peace and rid the earth forever of the horror of war, building a heaven on earth where all people can live in harmony as brothers and sisters. There is no doubt in my mind that anyone dedicated to this worthy cause is abiding by the will of Heaven and will enjoy eternal life. May God protect and lead us in our efforts to achieve an early realization of our goal.

While in prison Sasakawa also developed an interest in powerboat racing through reading magazines, and once released from prison he introduced motorboat racing and gambling to Japan, eventually founding the Japan Ship Promotion Company. He was able to accumulate trillions of yen annually as a result of the success of this new venture. He was also able to exploit legislative loopholes that aided him in preserving his fortune.

Bust of Sasakawa installed at the World Health Organization headquarters, undated.

Before he died in 1995, Sasakawa stepped up his efforts to help others in need and to “brighten his tarnished image,” especially by promoting good health. Over time Sasakawa’s Nippon Foundation, also known as the Japanese Shipbuilding Foundation, devoted substantial sums to a wide variety of health-related projects. Working with the United Nations, the World Health Organization and a host of other groups, the Foundation allocated tens of millions of dollars toward efforts to cure smallpox and leprosy, to control parasites and hunger in impoverished nations, to study population control worldwide and to provide disaster relief.

Sasakawa also worked with U.S. President Jimmy Carter to promote amicable relations among the world’s people through a project called The Friendship Force. He likewise created the B & G Foundation, which built exercise facilities in hopes of fostering sound minds and healthy bodies for young people. For his efforts he was, in 1975, awarded the presidency of the Japanese Science Society and, in 1980, given the Golden Heart Presidential Award by the President of the Philippines for his fight against leprosy.

Jimmy Carter, Ryoichi Sasakawa and Linus Pauling, 1986.

It was in this light that Sasakawa also chose to support Linus Pauling and his research on vitamin C. Having heard of Pauling’s work on the common cold, the flu and cancer, Sasakawa traveled to the U.S. in June 1980 to meet Pauling in person. While there, the two men discussed the possibility of initiating a program of research the focus of which would be fighting leprosy with vitamin C. Pauling suggested contacts elsewhere who might be able to pursue this line of work, though research of that type was not something that the Institute was equipped to support.

The meeting planted the seeds of a relationship and over the next decade, the two men corresponded frequently and visiting one another on several occasions.  In short order, Sasakawa became a generous supporter of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. Beginning in 1981, the Japanese Shipbuilding Foundation pledged five million dollars over ten years to support the Institute’s research, primarily on vitamin C and cancer. The Institute also parlayed the Foundation’s support to establish the Sasakawa Aging Research Center, which used fruit flies to test theories of antioxidant protection against stress and in support of extending life span.

It is unclear just how aware Pauling was of Sasakawa’s past and reputation in Japan.  What is clear, however, is that Sasakawa’s funds were crucial to the Institute’s ability to remain financially viable during some very difficult years in the 1980s.  In acknowledgement of Sasakawa’s support, the Institute bestowed upon Sasakawa the 1983 Linus Pauling Medal for Humanitarianism, an award that was usually given to important financial backers.  More importantly, on at least six occasions in the 1980s, Linus Pauling nominated Ryoichi Sasakawa for the Nobel Peace Prize.  While Pauling often nominated multiple individuals for the award in a given year, and while his nominations in support of Sasakawa tended to be relatively brief, his formal support of Sasakawa for the award is an important detail for those seeking to understand the contours of the two men’s relationship.