The Founding of the Institute of Orthomolecular Medicine

The Institute of Orthomolecular Medicine, 2700 Sand Hill Rd. Menlo Park, CA.

The Institute of Orthomolecular Medicine, 2700 Sand Hill Rd. Menlo Park, CA.

[Ed Note: 2013 marks the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Linus Pauling Institute, known variously over time as the Institute of Orthomolecular Medicine and the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine.  For the next several weeks, the Pauling Blog will be celebrating LPI’s anniversary by publishing an in depth history of the organization.  This is post 1 of 8.]

In 1969 Linus Pauling was given his own laboratory at Stanford University for his work on schizophrenia, where Art Robinson, a colleague and fellow researcher, joined him. By 1972 Pauling and Robinson had decided that their Stanford facility no longer afforded the space necessary to continue their research, and in May of that year Pauling requested that the university construct a new building to house an expanded lab for him to use.

The institution hesitated in responding, as its administration was somewhat wary of Pauling at that time, given the controversy that surrounded both his scientific interests and political activism.  Pauling had recently co-authored controversial work with the Scottish physician Ewan Cameron about vitamin C and its usefulness in treating cancer, research which alienated him from much of the medical community. For its part, Stanford was very unsure about the wisdom of giving him a new lab to further that research.

Likewise, Pauling was working hard and visibly for global peace in the middle of the Cold War, activities which had long caused many people to suspect that he harbored communist sympathies. Almost as if to verify that accusation in their minds, he had been awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union in 1970. Pauling was a harsh and public critic of the war in Vietnam, President Richard Nixon, US nuclear policy, and US foreign policy, which only served to legitimize some people’s doubts about Pauling’s loyalty to the United States. And if that wasn’t enough, Pauling had also publicly protested Stanford’s firing of a tenured professor known to have leftist, anti-war leanings. Stanford took these numerous activities into consideration, and decided to deny his request.

In response, Robinson suggested that Pauling step down from the Stanford faculty and move their research off campus, which they did, relocating in early 1973 to a building that Robinson had found nearby. Their new home was at 2700 Sand Hill Rd. in Menlo Park, across the street from the Stanford Linear Accelerator building. The space was in an office building shared with Kemper Insurance, a location never designed to accommodate scientific research. Nonetheless, Pauling and Robinson adapted, figuring out how to fit their lab into a footprint of less than 20,000 square feet – an area designed to hold desks and chairs instead of wet labs.

An Institute employee working at the Sand Hill Rd. facility, 1974.

An Institute employee working at the Sand Hill Rd. facility, 1974.

Freed from their affiliation with Stanford University, Pauling, Robinson and Keene Dimick – a biochemist who agreed to help pay the rent for their new quarters – decided to form a brand new institute. On May 15, 1973, the Institute of Orthomolecular Medicine was founded as a California non-profit research corporation with the stated goal of researching biology and medicine.

(In late 1973, Pauling decided to sever all of his professional ties with Stanford, equally annoyed with the university as it seemed to be of him. However, he still retained a number of good friends amongst the faculty there, with whom he maintained close ties and corresponded frequently.)

Immediately the Institute began trying to solve a problem which would plague it for most of its existence: funding. Pauling and Robinson began by lobbying all of their friends and associates for money, trying to entice them in part by offering them largely honorific positions on the Board of Associates of their new Institute. Over thirty people agreed to help, including Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and a number of other Nobel laureates. The funds generated weren’t princely, but they were enough to get the Institute standing.

On the research end, the Institute began by continuing the program that Pauling and Robinson had been conducting at Stanford – mostly work on vitamin C and metabolic profiling. The new labs contained a large number of animal experiments, which took up a great bulk of the very limited space, as did the Volcano Source Field Ionization Mass Spectrometer, a new device that was being developed by Bill Aberth, a recent hire who had previously worked for SRI International.

Pauling wanted to help people with his research on vitamin C, and in 1974 he opened a small outpatient clinic which was run by John Francis “Frank” Catchpool, a doctor whom Pauling had met in 1959 while visiting Albert Schweitzer’s medical hospital in Africa. Unlike Schweitzer’s venture, the Institute’s clinic was immediately beset with major problems – liability was too high and funding was too low. Additionally, because vitamin C was cheaper than other medication, the clinic often found itself overwhelmed by destitute patients. The staff often ended up working for free, as people would arrive who were too poor to pay anything, but Cameron and other staff would still help out of sympathy and a desire to do good. Due to severe limitations on resources, the clinic closed in 1975, eight months after it opened.

Interior view of the Sand Hill Rd. facility, 1974.

Interior view of the Sand Hill Rd. facility, 1974.

As 1974 progressed, the Institute’s funding problems became increasingly ominous, exacerbated by the fact that Robinson was one of the only people on staff who was adept at fundraising. In July the Board decided to start addressing the problem by renaming the Institute of Orthomolecular Medicine. They came to the conclusion that the term “orthomolecular” was not only too difficult to explain to most potential donors, but that the term had been tainted by a recent barrage of attacks on vitamin C by the American Psychological Association. They also decided that having Pauling’s name attached to the Institute would help with funding, due to his international fame and respect.

On July 26, the Institute was renamed the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine (LPISM). The Board’s choice proved to be a good one, and more funding began to come in. Even still, it wasn’t enough, and for much of 1974 LPISM was kept afloat through financing from Pauling and Robinson’s personal accounts. Unsurprisingly this too proved to be insufficient and by early 1975 LPISM was in danger of succumbing to bankruptcy. Desperate, the Institute’s administrators were forced to exact pay cuts for all employees, but did so on a sliding scale designed to minimize the impact on workers with already low salaries.

It was at this point that Robinson confronted Pauling, accusing him of neglecting his work as president. Pauling had in fact been neglecting daily duties, boasting to the press at one point: “I don’t waste time on needless details.” Unfortunately, many of these details weren’t needless, and his administrative inattention was harming the Institute. Pauling asked Robinson if he thought he could do better, to which Robinson replied that he could. Pauling responded by making Robinson President and Director of LPISM. Still the financial issues became worse: Pauling donated 75% of his income to LPISM for the first half of 1975, and then 100% of his income in the second half of the year.

In the meantime, the Institute staff began experimenting on hairless mice. For a week before the tests, they would feed the mice food full of vitamins C and E. Next they began irradiating them with ultraviolet light to produce skin cancer and observed the effects of the high-vitamin diet on cancer growth. As a result of this research, Pauling developed a cocktail of vitamins, which he put into a single dose that he called the “Linus Pauling Super Pill.” The Institute considered marketing the pill to raise additional funds, but that plan fell through and the Pauling Super Pill was relegated to a formula in a filing cabinet.

The Institute found itself in a bad place by the end of 1975; saddled with massive financial problems, it was uncertain if it would survive. And amidst this struggle, fortunes were about to get both better and worse for the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine.

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A Sentimental Trip

Ava Helen Pauling, June 1981.

In the final months of 1981, Ava Helen Pauling was slowing down and making her final public appearances. She was spending as much time as possible with her husband and children, but encouraged Linus to stay busy and travel because of his difficulty dealing with emotional distress. She had been diagnosed with a form of inoperable cancer, and had decided against the use of chemotherapy.

According to his family, Linus Pauling was convinced that he would be able to save her through the use of vitamin C and other supplements. He was unable to talk about her final arrangements so preparations, including Ava’s memorial service preferences and her desire to be cremated, were discussed with her daughter Linda over a long weekend. After surgeries, a long term fight with cancer and a number of other medical complications, Ava Helen died in her home on December 7.

Following the death of his wife of nearly sixty years, Pauling was, understandably, quite lost. His children helped guide him through the funeral arrangements and Ava’s memorial service, andthough he gladly accepted their help, he was very resistant to other offers of assistance in the every day aspects of life. He stayed as busy as he could, and over the course of 1982 published three papers on the nucleus of the atom – a highly abstract program of work that afforded him some measure of escape from his grief.

He remained very lonely however, and was often lost in thought. According to those who knew him, Pauling was having trouble accepting the reality of his wife’s death. Biographer Thomas Hager wrote:

He still talked to her, holding phantom conversations as he spooned his vitamin C powder into his juice in the morning. He still looked for her, expecting to see her in the doorway, asking him to stop and take a walk, to come to lunch. He would cry and look out to sea. Then he would get back to work.

Though he was managing to get by under the circumstances, maintaining his health and taking care of himself during the following months, there remained a need for some kind of a mechanism that would allow him to deal with his grief. Just such an opportunity came in the form of his sixtieth Oregon Agricultural College class reunion. He decided to attend, and set off on what would become a long and meaningful journey.

Sixtieth anniversary reunion of the Oregon Agricultural College class of 1922.  Lucile and Linus Pauling are located second row from bottom, left.

His first stop was Dayton, Washington where he had worked for the Warren Construction Company in July 1923. He and his wife had spent a month there just after being married, and Pauling wished to revisit a number of locations that had meaning to the couple. He went to the intersection where the hotel they had stayed in once stood, and he walked around town and noted the place where Ava had outscored him on an IQ test they had taken.

The following morning he drove across the border into Oregon, visiting Arlington and then Condon, where he visited the grave of his grandfather Linus Wilson Darling for the first time. He spent the next day on the Oregon coast, seeking out former vacation and employment spots in Seaside and Tillamook, and then drove to Corvallis for a few days before attending his class reunion at Oregon State University.

The day after his reunion, Pauling spoke on the capitol steps in Salem, discussing nuclear weapons and the need for peace. He spoke later that same night, once again on peace topics, at the First Methodist Church in Portland. The next day he met with his sisters and a cousin to deliver to the director of the Oregon Historical Society the diaries that Linus Wilson Darling had kept in the late 19th century.

After lunch with his relatives he began his drive back home, stopping at a portion of highway along Grave Creek – he had spent five months in 1919 working on the highway there, sleeping in a tent near a covered bridge. At the time of his visit, the covered bridge was still in existence but the highway was partially destroyed, having been intersected by the construction of Interstate 5.

Pauling finally made it home two days before his wedding anniversary, having driven a total of 2,400 miles. It appears that the trip was just what he had needed, providing a frame of reference and partial relief from his loss. In a letter to an old friend, Pauling described his travels simply and decisively: “I went on this trip mainly to visit places where I had lived long ago.”

Linus Pauling, June 1982.

Following his return, Pauling decided to move out of the Portola Valley house that he and his wife had shared together. His youngest son Crellin moved in with his family, while Pauling bought a condominium on the Stanford University campus. He moved some of his belongings to his ranch at Big Sur, and others to Stanford. He decorated his new home with pictures of Ava and himself, framed awards, and furniture from their travels. The changes helped, but only to a degree. In September he wrote to his best friend, Lloyd Jeffress, “I am getting along pretty well, but I still feel quite lonesome. I have been working hard.”

Pauling became involved once again with his institute, and in early 1983 settled a lawsuit that had been consuming valuable time and resources. He spent half of his time at his ranch, and the other half in Palo Alto. He developed a routine, waking up before five in the morning, and reading himself to sleep at night after a full day of research and theory. Despite his loneliness, Pauling would live for another twelve years, continuing to pursue his scientific work, speak on world peace and manage his affairs.