Remembering Linus Pauling: A Personal Reflection

Stephen Lawson and Linus Pauling celebrating at Pauling’s 90th birthday party, 1991

By Stephen Lawson

August 19th 1994. Linus Pauling had been ensconced at his ranch on the beautiful coast near Big Sur, California, surrounded by family, for a few weeks, near death from prostate cancer. At the time, I was the chief executive officer of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto and relished a quiet summer evening at home. The telephone rang – Linus Pauling Jr. broke the terrible but expected news that his father had died. Trying to overcome grief, I raced to the Institute to start faxing an obituary that had been prepared months earlier to important news sources – The New York Times, major networks, and other media. Almost immediately the phone lines lit up with reporters asking for more details and comments on Pauling’s life and death. I managed to provide some salient information while struggling with my own strong emotions about Pauling’s death.

Many people who met Pauling or respected and admired him even without having had any personal interaction were also grief stricken. In the following weeks, hundreds of condolences – telegrams, cards, letters, faxes, and phone calls – came to the Institute from around the world. People expressed such sorrow that the great humanitarian who had showed them such courteous kindness had died. They admired his work in science, his never-ending efforts for peace, his championing of vitamin C and other micronutrients, his courage in the face of a hostile US Congress, his patriotic work for the United States during World War II, and his devotion to and love for his wife, Ava Helen.

Pauling connected with people in a way that left many feeling love for him. Of course, he was lauded by luminaries – Francis Crick anointed Pauling the major founder of molecular biology, and Arthur Kornberg noted that Pauling, who had won two Nobel Prizes, deserved another for his discovery of the cause of sickle-cell anemia, the first disease to be characterized as a molecular disease. In 2000, the “Millennium Essay” in Nature – one of the world’s pre-eminent scientific journals – ranked Pauling with Galileo, Da Vinci, Newton, and Einstein, among others, as “one of the great thinkers and visionaries of the millennium” and noted that Pauling was responsible for the “extrapolation from physics to chemistry and the articulation of chemistry as an independent subject” and that “Chemistry, then, is utterly different from physics and biology in its dependence, at a primal level, on just one scientist” – Linus Pauling.

But in the weeks following his death, I was especially impressed by the expressions of sympathy and loss from people who had written to Pauling asking about vitamin C and health problems or other matters and received personal responses, probably often to their surprise. Pauling, who believed that scientists, as experts in their fields, have a social responsibility to explain their work to the public, took time to connect with everyone. As the author of several textbooks, one of which, General Chemistry, educated generations of scientists, and others, including No More War!, Vitamin C and the Common Cold, How to Live Longer and Feel Better, and Cancer and Vitamin C that were written for the lay public and health professionals, Pauling practiced what he strongly advocated.


I first saw Linus Pauling when I was on my way to class in the Quadrangle at Stanford University in Palo Alto. It was a tumultuous era in American history – there were strident demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, and students vigorously promoted free speech rights. As I walked to the Quad, I noticed a gaggle of students and faculty outside the office of Stanford’s president, Richard Lyman. In particular, two elderly men, one of whom was Linus Pauling, were holding signs protesting the firing of H. Bruce Franklin, a political firebrand who had been a tenured professor of English at Stanford and an expert on Herman Melville and science fiction. Stanford had had enough of the turmoil associated with Franklin’s behavior and fired him, an act that Pauling was protesting because tenure supposedly protects the expression of ideas, especially controversial ones. I wasn’t very familiar with the details about the issue, but I certainly admired Pauling’s courage, a quality that defined Pauling’s activism throughout the years. Although Pauling was on the Stanford faculty, he wasn’t teaching undergraduates at the time, so I never had the opportunity to see his celebrated performances in the classroom that had famously inspired legions of students at Caltech.

Years later, when I worked at the Linus Pauling Institute in Menlo Park, Pauling would often stop by my office to exchange greetings, ask me to write for publication, or to help out with experimental studies, which is how I became very interested in vitamin C. Still later, in Palo Alto, Pauling approached me about setting up a laboratory with his quantum chemist colleague Zelek Herman to conduct experiments aimed at producing material that he wanted to support his patent application for a novel method of fabricating superconductors. His goal was to license the invention in order to generate a revenue stream to support orthomolecular research at the Institute. Aided occasionally by Ewan Cameron, Pauling’s medical collaborator on clinical vitamin C studies, we finally succeeded in fabricating the material that Pauling had hoped we would, and Zeke and I went to Pauling’s apartment to show him the samples. It was immensely gratifying to see what joy he expressed, and at that moment I understood how he must have felt every time he made discoveries – understanding something that no one else had understood – throughout his long career.   

Pauling lived by an age-old maxim that he humorously amended: “Do unto others 20% better than you would have them do unto you in order to make up for subjective error.” Even in the face of caustic criticism, he remained courteous, usually with his humor intact, and supremely confident – a confidence stemming from his formidable memory and mastery of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, mineralogy, and other disciplines. He trusted his own intellect and urged others to do likewise – never simply accept what is said without critical examination.

Pauling had reams of papers on vitamin C that the Institute librarian had acquired at Stanford libraries. In that era, most of the original data was presented in the paper, and Pauling usually checked the statistical analysis that the authors employed, sometimes finding errors that compromised their conclusions. I attended a lecture he gave to a group of biostatisticians at Stanford in the late 1980s in which he discussed the application of the Hardin Jones principle to death rates in clinical studies. He argued that it revealed more information about subcohorts than the standard Kaplan-Meier analysis. There he was, in a room with many of the leading statisticians in the country, and none argued against his thesis. Of course, he was famously wrong about a few things, including the structure of DNA, but sometimes only because he didn’t have access to better data.

Linus Pauling made an indelible impression on everyone who met him, and for them and for those who never had that opportunity, he will continue to serve as a unparalleled model of brilliance, integrity, creativity, and courage – truly a man for the ages.

Pauling’s Final Years

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Pauling posing at lower campus, Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1917.

[An examination of the end of Linus Pauling’s life, part 1 of 4]

In 1917, at sixteen years of age, Linus Pauling wrote in his personal diary that he was beginning a personal history. “My children and grandchildren will without doubt hear of the events in my life with the same relish with which I read the scattered fragments written by my granddad,” he considered.

By the time of his death, some seventy-seven years later, Pauling had more than fulfilled this prophecy. After an extraordinarily full life filled with political activism, scientific research, and persistent controversy, Pauling’s achievements were remembered not only by his children, grandchildren and many friends, but also by an untold legion of people whom Pauling himself never met.

Passing away on August 19th 1994 at the age of 93, Pauling’s name joined those of his wife and other family members at the Oswego Pioneer Cemetery in Oregon. What follows is an account of the final three years of his life.


 

1991i.217

Linus Pauling, 1991.

In 1991, Pauling first learned of the cancer that would ultimately take his life. Having experiencing bouts of chronic intestinal pain, Pauling underwent a series of tests at Stanford Hospital that December. The diagnosis that he received was grim: he had cancer of the prostate, and the disease had spread to his rectum.

Between 1991 and 1992, Pauling underwent a series of surgeries, including the excision of a tumor by resection, a bilateral orchiectomy, and subsequent hormone treatments using a nonsteroidal antiandrogen called flutamide. During this time, Pauling also self-treated his illness with megadoses of vitamin C, a protocol that he favored not only for its perceived orthomolecular benefits, but also as a more humane form of treatment than chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Pauling’s interest in nutrition dated to at least the early 1940s, when he had faced another life-threatening disease, this time a kidney affliction called glomerulonephritis. Absent the aid of contemporary treatments like renal dialysis – which was first put into use in 1943 – Pauling’s survival hinged upon a rigid diet prescribed by Stanford Medical School nephrologist, Dr. Thomas Addis.  At the time a radical approach to the treatment of this disease, Addis’ prescription that Pauling minimize stress on his kidneys by limiting his protein and salt intake, while also increasing the amount of water that he drank, saved Pauling’s life and led to his making a full recovery. Though his famous fascination with vitamin C would not emerge until a couple of decades later, Pauling’s nephritis scare instilled in him a belief that dietary control and optimal nutrition might effectively combat a myriad of diseases. This scientific mantra continued to guide Pauling’s self-treatment of his cancer until nearly the end of his life.

Pauling also believed that using vitamin C as a treatment would, as opposed to chemotherapy, allow him to die with dignity. Were his condition terminal and his outlook essentially hopeless, Pauling felt very strongly that he should be permitted to pass on without “unnecessary suffering.” Pauling’s wife, Ava Helen, had died of cancer in December 1981. She too had refused chemotherapy and other conventional approaches for much of her illness, a time period during which Linus Pauling had helped his wife the only way he knew how: by administering a treatment involving megadoses of vitamin C. This attempt ultimately failed and, by his own admission, Pauling never really recovered from his wife’s passing.

Nonetheless, Pauling continued to lead research efforts to substantiate the value of vitamin C as a preventive for cancer and heart disease in his capacity as chairman of the board of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine (LPISM). By the time of his own diagnosis in 1991 however, the Institute was in a desperate financial situation, several hundred thousand dollars in debt and lacking the funds necessary to pay its staff.


 

lawson-lpj

In 1992, while he recovered from his surgeries and managed his illness, Pauling continued to act as chairman of the board of the LPISM. No longer able to live entirely on his own, he split his time between his son Crellin’s home in Portola Valley, California, and his beloved Deer Flat Ranch at Big Sur. When at the ranch, Pauling was cared for in an unofficial capacity by his scientific colleague, Matthias Rath. Pauling was first visited by Rath, a physician, in 1989, having met him years earlier in Germany while on a peace tour. Rath was also interested in vitamin C, and Pauling took him on as a researcher at the Institute. There, the duo collaborated on investigations concerning the influence of lipoproteins and vitamin C on cardiovascular disease.

Not long after Pauling’s cancer diagnosis, a professor at UCLA, Dr. James Enstrom, published epidemiological studies showing that 500 mg doses of vitamin C could extend life by protecting against heart disease and also various cancers. This caused a resurgence of interest in orthomolecular medicine, and it seemed that Pauling and Rath’s vision for the future of the Institute was looking brighter.

As it happened, this bit of good news proved to be too little and too late. LPISM had already begun to disintegrate financially, its staff cut by a third. The Institute’s vice president, Richard Hicks, resigned his position, and Rath, as Pauling’s protégé, was appointed in his place. Following this, the outgoing president of LPISM, Emile Zuckerlandl, was succeeded by Pauling’s eldest son, Linus Pauling Jr. Finally Pauling, his health in decline, announced his retirement as chairman of the board and was named research director, with Steve Lawson appointed as executive officer to assist in the day-to-day management of what remained of the Institute.

One day prior to his retirement as board chairman, Pauling signed a document in which he requested that Rath carry on his “life’s work.” Linus Pauling Jr. and Steve Lawson, however, had become concerned about Rath’s role at the Institute, and particularly on the issue of a patent agreement that Rath had neglected to sign. Adhering to the patent document was a requirement for every employee at the Institute, including Linus Pauling himself. When pressed on the issue, Rath opted to resign his position, and was succeeded as vice president by Stephen Maddox, a fundraiser at LPISM.

After this transition, Pauling met with Linus Jr. to discuss the Institute’s dire straits. Pauling’s youngest son, Crellin, had also became more active with the Institute as his father’s illness progressed, in part because he had been assigned the role of executor of Pauling’s will. Together, Crellin, Linus Jr., and Steve Lawson struggled to identify a path forward for LPISM. Eventually it was decided that associating the Institute with a university, and focusing its research on orthomolecular medicine as a lasting legacy to Pauling’s work, would be the most viable avenue for keeping the Institute alive. The decision to associate the organization with Oregon State University, Pauling’s undergraduate alma mater, had not been made by the time that Pauling passed away.

An Interview with Balz Frei, Director of the Linus Pauling Institute

Balz Frei

Balz Frei

Oregon State University is turning 150 years old in 2018, and already several projects are being developed to mark the occasion.  One of them is a major oral history initiative that is capturing the stories of a wide array of alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and friends of OSU.

Several months ago, the project conducted an interview with Dr. Balz Frei, who has led OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute since 1997.  A Swiss native, Frei worked under Bruce Ames at UC-Berkeley before moving on to Harvard, the Boston University School of Medicine and, ultimately, Oregon State.

Frei’s research has always focused on the processes fundamental to human health. During his time in Berkeley, Frei became interested in vitamin C and met Linus Pauling. His later work has focused on oxidative stress and the role that it plays in atherosclerosis. He has also investigated arterial function and potential dietary compounds – including vitamin C – that might help prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol.

Under Frei’s leadership, the Linus Pauling Institute has stabilized its funding base, hired several principal investigators and made substantial contributions to the published literature on subjects relating to nutrition and optimal human health.

In 2011 the Institute celebrated a major milestone with the completion of the Linus Pauling Science Center. This 105,000 square foot facility, built for $62.5 million, is the largest academic facility project in OSU history. Now housed in this new space, LPI continues to conduct research on cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, healthy aging, and cancer chemoprotection, and engages in public outreach through its Micronutrient Information Center and Healthy Youth Program.

Excerpts from Frei’s oral history interview, including his memories of meeting Pauling, his sense of Pauling’s vitamin C work, and his vision for the future of LPI, are included below the cut.

Continue reading

A Pint and Pauling

Last May SCARC faculty member Chris Petersen and Linus Pauling Institute administrator Steve Lawson teamed up for a talk titled “The Science of Nutrition: The Pauling Legacy and Current Research.”  The talk was sponsored by Science Pub Corvallis and presented to a packed house at the Old World Deli.

Petersen’s half of the evening covered Pauling’s life and work in broad strokes, while Lawson focused on Pauling’s research in orthomolecular medicine and the current emphasis on nutrition and healthy aging at the Linus Pauling Institute.  Among the specific topics covered by Lawson was the possibility that a phytochemical called xanthohumol might act as a cancer chemoprotectant.  Xanthohumol is, fittingly, found in hops, an essential component of most beers, especially in IPA-crazy Oregon.

Chris Petersen presenting at Science Pub Corvallis.  Image courtesy of Mina Carson.

Chris Petersen presenting at Science Pub Corvallis. Image courtesy of Mina Carson.

Steve Lawson discussing current research at LPI. Image courtesy of Mina Carson.

Steve Lawson discussing current research at LPI. Image courtesy of Mina Carson.

Right around the same time, and quite by coincidence, one of Corvallis’ local brewpubs, Sky High Brewing, released its Linus Pauling Peace Ale, in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Pauling having received the Nobel Peace Prize.  The brew is described as “a brilliant inquisitive beer” and is, of course, flavored with organic sweet orange.

peace-ale

As Petersen noted in his presentation, Linus Pauling was mostly a vodka man, though certainly not above drinking the occasional beer.  On the broader subject of alcohol, Pauling wrote in 1986’s How to Live Longer and Feel Better

You should develop a simple regimen about your supplementary vitamins, such that you do not forget to take them.  Also, you should develop good habits about moderate exercise, eating healthful foods that appeal to you, avoiding sucrose, not smoking, drinking large amounts of water, and drinking alcoholic liquors only in moderation, in such a way as not to be a burden to you but rather a pleasure, so that you have no trouble in continuing the regimen.

The message would seem clear then:  tipping the occasional glass is fine, but don’t forget your vitamin C!

Pauling and Martin Niemoller, not disrupting the regimen, 1958.

Pauling and Martin Niemoller, not disrupting the regimen, 1958.

LPI Looks to the Future

lpsc-beam

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

The opening of this current decade promises to be even better for the Linus Pauling Institute than was the last. The decade got off to a great start when, in 2011, Oregon State University opened the Linus Pauling Science Center to house LPI, parts of the department of chemistry, and other lab and teaching spaces.

For the Institute, the historical importance of the completion of the Linus Pauling Science Center is difficult to overstate. The building, which is the largest academic facility on the OSU campus, was a serious undertaking – it cost $62.5 million to build the four-story, 105,000 square-foot research center. The funding was acquired through donations from the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation ($20 million), the Al and Pat Reser family ($10.65 million), 2,600 private individuals (~$600,000), and a matching bond ($31.25 million) from the State of Oregon.  The facility is one of the cornerstone achievements of The Campaign for OSU, a capital campaign which seeks to raise $1 billion in funds by June 2014.

Constructing its own building on the OSU campus was a goal for LPI from the minute the Institute moved to Corvallis. Indeed, Linus Pauling Jr. remembers sketching potential plans on napkins while at meetings with OSU staff during the moving process and Institute Director Balz Frei has written that ever since LPI moved to OSU, building “a state-of-the-art research facility to house the Institute and serve as a high-profile working memorial for Linus Pauling” had been one of LPI’s highest priorities.

A portion of the crowd assembled for the LPSC opening ceremonies, October 14, 2011.

A portion of the crowd assembled for the LPSC opening ceremonies, October 14, 2011.

The Linus Pauling Science Center was opened on October 14, 2011. Over 250 people attended the ceremony, during which Linus Pauling Jr. and OSU President Edward J. Ray delivered the main speeches. In his remarks, Dr. Ray noted his belief that “preventive health care is the future of medicine,” and that LPI and the Linus Pauling Science Center are in strong positions to develop this in the twenty-first century.

A light painting by Stephen Knapp, Linus Pauling Science Center.

A light painting by Stephen Knapp, Linus Pauling Science Center.

The center was designed by the firm ZGF Architects LLP, based in Portland, Oregon. It is a unique building with large windows and ample natural light. In addition, each of its floors is home to several works of art, including several light paintings created by Massachusetts-based artist Stephen Knapp, and those who work in the facility enjoy an enviable lunch spot on a fourth floor balcony looking toward the Coast Range mountains.

The view from the "lunch room."

The view from the “lunch room.”

Its lab space, however, is the real highlight of the Linus Pauling Science Center. Unlike most facilities, LPSC’s labs consist mostly of open space, with only a few partial walls separating research areas. Administrator Steve Lawson commented on this decision, noting “We didn’t want a lab environment with a lot of walls… For us, it’s a way to keep the Institute coherent and increase the possibility of people communicating.” In further pursuit of this goal, most of the Institute’s noisier lab equipment is kept behind closed doors in dedicated spaces away from the work environment, thus rendering the laboratories a more pleasant place to think and interact.

Peering down the LPSC laboratory space.

Peering down the LPSC laboratory space.

In recent time, LPI has also begun working to expand the staff supporting its very popular Healthy Aging Program and Healthy Youth Program. As part of this initiative, the Institute hired Kathy Magnusson, an expert on aging, memory, and degenerative brain diseases, to fill the role of Primary Investigator and to work with the Healthy Aging Program. Likewise, Corvallis High School partnered with LPI to develop the Spartan Garden, which is primarily student-run and is linked with outdoor horticulture classes that teach students about growing and preparing healthy foods.

Currently LPI has scheduled the seventh Diet and Optimum Health Conference for May 15-18, 2013, and has established an ambitious research agenda. At the time of this writing, LPI has twelve laboratories working on:

  • Oxidative stress, lipoic acid, and essential metals in atherosclerosis
  • Vitamin E metabolism and biological functions
  • Oxidative and environmental stress in Lou Gehrig’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Stress response, lipoic acid, and mitochondrial dysfunction in aging
  • Cancer chemoprotection by phytochemicals in tea and vegetables
  • Transplacental cancer chemoprotection
  • Epigenetic and epigenomic mechanisms of cancer etiology
  • Zinc and antioxidants in prostate cancer and neurodegeneration
  • Novel biological functions of vitamin C
  • Antioxidants and gene expression in diabetes
  • Dietary fats and carbohydrate and lipid metabolism
  • Vitamin D and zinc in immune function

Seventeen years after moving to Oregon with a core staff of five, LPI has regenerated its roster to 63 employees. Of particular note, Steve Lawson still works there, the only individual from the California days to remain. The Institute has remained prolific, has published three books (in addition to re-releases of two Pauling books) and continues to publish dozens of articles in various scientific and medical journals every year. The Institute also circulates a biannual research newsletter, available via the mail or through its website, lpi.oregonstate.edu.

Logo for the 2013 Diet and Optimum Health Conference.

Logo for the 2013 Diet and Optimum Health Conference.

The Institute is currently working to expand its support for its corpus of graduate student laboratory researchers, who are, as Balz Frei puts it, “the heart and soul of [LPI’s] labs at OSU.” To date, plans do not include any sort of major expansion of full-time staff, with a focus instead on further developing the staff infrastructure already in place. The Institute’s plan for 2013 and onward is to strengthen its current research projects and to acquire additional funds for scholarships, endowments, research, and educational programs. Lastly, LPI also hopes to broaden its outreach and health programs, such as the Diet and Optimum Health Conference, Healthy Aging Program, Healthy Youth Program, research newsletter, and Micronutrient Information Center.

One of LPI’s core missions is to “help people everywhere achieve a healthy and productive life, full of vitality, with minimal suffering, and free of cancer and other debilitating diseases.” As of 2013, the 40th anniversary of its founding and with many years of turbulence in its past, the Linus Pauling Institute appears to be in a better position than ever before to continue working towards this goal.

The OSU Era

LPI Director Balz Frei, 2010.

LPI Director Balz Frei, 2010.

[A history of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, Part 7 of 8

Despite Linus Pauling’s death in August 1994, prospects were finally beginning to look up for the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. By early 1995, finances had improved and, crucially, LPISM had decided to move from Palo Alto, California, to the campus of Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.

Even though the reorganization of the Institute after Emile Zuckerkandl’s departure had shrunk its staff from 75 to 50, it was still determined that LPISM was too big to move to Oregon in its then-current size. For one, many of its development obligations would no longer need to be assumed by Institute staffers, as the OSU Foundation had agreed to lead fundraising efforts, and other staffing redundancies were quickly becoming apparent.

CEO Steve Lawson began to meet regularly with OSU’s Dean of Research, Dick Scanlan, the two carefully studying their staff lists, deciding who and what was most likely to succeed at OSU. Eventually it was agreed that LPISM would move to OSU with a skeleton holdover staff of five people: Steve Lawson, Conor MacEvilly (biochemist), Vadim Ivanov (cardiovascular disease researcher), Svetlana Ivanova (Ivanov’s wife and research partner), and Waheed Roomi (researcher focusing on the cytotoxic molaity of vitamin C derivatives) would come to Oregon.

LPI Staff and faculty affiliate investigators, ca. 1996. Left to right: (back row) Waheed Roomi, Barbara McVicar, Stephen Lawson, Donald Reed, George Bailey, Vadim Ivanov, Ober Tyus; (front row) Svetlana Ivanova, Rosemary Wander, Peter Cheeke, Conor MacEvilly; (not pictured) David Williams, Philip Whanger.

LPI Staff and faculty affiliate investigators, ca. 1996. Left to right: (back row) Waheed Roomi, Barbara McVicar, Stephen Lawson, Donald Reed, George Bailey, Vadim Ivanov, Ober Tyus; (front row) Svetlana Ivanova, Rosemary Wander, Peter Cheeke, Conor MacEvilly; (not pictured) David Williams, Philip Whanger.

In preparing for the move, Lawson worked closely with Scanlan and OSU president Dr. John Byrne to hammer out the specifics of how to integrate LPISM into OSU. In 1995 Linus Pauling Jr., Lawson, and incoming OSU president Paul Risser all signed a Memorandum of Understanding that laid out how everything would be transferred to OSU, and how LPISM would be legally dissolved as a separate entity. OSU promised to provide the Institute with administrative and laboratory space on the fifth floor of Weniger Hall, which had just been renovated. The university also pledged additional funding for salary lines, and to work toward eventually housing LPISM in its own building should it someday outgrow Weniger Hall.

The big move was made in July 1996. LPISM was able to bring with it an endowment of $1.5 million, which the state of Oregon agreed to match. As they moved, the remaining staffers purged much of their material: Lawson estimated that they filled two full-sized dumpsters per week immediately before, during, and after the move.

Upon arrival, the Linus Pauling Institute was created as a separate entity from LPISM, which continued to exist as a shell company for several years afterward. LPISM needed to continue to live as many bequests had been specifically made out to LPISM, and there was the issue of standing lawsuits from Matthias Rath and another former staffer who was suing LPISM for wrongful termination. Due to these legal reasons, and despite the fact that, by 1996, it had ceased to exist on anything but paper, LPISM was not finally dissolved until the mid-2000s.


Maret Traber, one of the world's leading experts on vitamin E.

Maret Traber, one of the world’s leading experts on vitamin E.

Once settled in Corvallis, the Institute’s fortunes continued to improve. For one, the financial problems which had plagued the Institute for all of its life basically vanished. Regular influxes of donations coupled with residence at OSU saved a fortune for LPI, which no longer had to pay rent or keep a fundraising staff on its payroll.

Next, after a long and thorough search, Balz Frei was hired as director of LPI in the summer of 1997, a position that he holds to this day. The Institute spent the rest of the late 1990s setting up its research agenda and recruiting new faculty. In 1998 LPI hired Tory Hagen, Maret Traber, and Rod Dashwood, all acclaimed scientists whom Lawson described as the “research backbone of the Institute.” (presently all three hold endowed professorships) Shortly afterward David Williams was hired from within OSU as another principal investigator; he ended up holding numerous positions at LPI and was very important to its success in the following years.

In 2000 LPI launched one of its most successful projects: the Micronutrient Information Center, which has proven to be a highly popular and dynamic outreach program. The resource, which continues to expand, provides information on dietary intake and encouragement for healthy living. While it still advises vitamin C doses much higher than that recommended by the FDA, the numbers involved are far from Pauling’s recommended megadoses of the 1970s and ’80s.

lpi-conference-2003

The year 2001 was another big one for the Institute, in part because of their hosting the first Diet and Optimum Health Conference that winter. As part of the conference, they presented the first Linus Pauling Institute Prize for Health Research to Dr. Bruce Ames, along with a $50,000 award. In the span of a decade, the Institute had gone from being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to being able to award a biennial prize of $50,000 – tangible evidence of a truly remarkable turnaround. That year LPI also hired Joe Beckman, who opened up a new area of research for LPI through his focus on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The ensuing decade was refreshingly free of drama – certainly so by past LPISM standards – and saw unprecedented growth. In 2002 the general expansion of LPI’s research support staff continued and in 2003 the second Diet and Optimum Health Conference was held with the signature prize going to Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University. The third, fourth, and fifth conferences were held in 2005, 2007, and 2009 with Drs. Paul Talalay, Mark Levine, and Michael Holick winning the awards at each event.  In 2011 the prize went to OSU alum Dr. Connie Weaver; this year the biennial conference is scheduled to take place in May, and another LPI Prize will be announced then.


Jane Higdon.

Jane Higdon, 1958-2006.

In an otherwise near-spotless decade of growth and good news, one tragic occurrence did befall the Linus Pauling Institute. On May 31, 2006, Jane Higdon, a prolific writer, well-known researcher, creator of the Micronutrient Information Center, and six-year veteran of LPI, was hit and killed by a logging truck while bicycling near her home in Eugene. In her honor, the Jane Higdon Foundation was established, the trucking company involved in the accident donated $1 million to bicycle safety programs, and LPI set up the Jane V. Higdon Memorial Fund. The Higdon Foundation’s goal is to create “scholarships and grants to encourage and empower girls and young women to pursue healthy and active lifestyles and academic excellence” and also to promote bicycle safety in Oregon’s Lane County. The Memorial Fund is largely dedicated to supporting the Micronutrient Information Center.

Buoyed by the success of its past outreach efforts, LPI decided to expand its education programs to include young people as well, launching the Healthy Youth Program in 2009. The Program is aimed at elementary- and middle school-age students, and promotes healthy lifestyles and nutrition.

At the same time, LPI responded to the “Physicians’ Health Study II on Vitamin C and E and the Risk for Heart Disease and Cancer.” Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study claimed that vitamins C and E were useless in treating cardiovascular disease. LPI retorted that the research directly contradicted numerous other contemporary studies, that it failed to accurately measure vitamins in the bloodstream, and that a ten-year study isn’t adequate time to gauge the effect of vitamins on cardiovascular disease.  LPI’s public response was emblematic of its participation in public debate; presently the Institute is looked upon as a respected and valuable contributor to many conversations concerning, as Linus Pauling would have put it, “how to live longer and feel better.”

For the first time in its existence, things were going very smoothly for LPI. As the first decade of the new millennium came to a close, the future looked even brighter, a welcome change from the past.  Exciting news was not long at hand.

The End of One Era and the Beginning of Another

Welcome message from then OSU President Paul Risser, 1996.

Welcome message from then OSU President Paul Risser, 1996.

[A history of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, Part 6 of 8]

The beginning of the 1990s proved to be a typically chaotic time for the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. Those early years saw the spectacularly fast rise and fall of the collaboration between Matthias Rath and Linus Pauling, ever increasing levels of debt and, in the nick of time, a major bequest which quite possibly saved the Institute from financial oblivion. As tumultuous as the situation had been, it was about to become more so.

In 1993 Steve Lawson’s title was changed from Executive Officer to Chief Executive Officer, though his duties effectively remained the same. At the request of Pauling, one of Lawson’s first actions as was to legally dissolve the Linus Pauling Heart Foundation. He dismissed all of the Heart Foundation’s employees and transferred the entity’s assets to LPISM. At the same time, the Palo Alto zoning law changes of which the Institute had been warned went through – the Institute finally needed to devise a solid idea of where they were going to move.

In the meantime, Lawson, looking to alleviate LPISM’s perpetual financial problems, began negotiating with the Elizabeth Arden beauty company on a deal that he hoped would greatly enhance the Institute’s well-being. Arden and its parent company, Unilever, were seeking research support and eventual endorsement from LPISM for an upcoming line of skin care products, which were infused with vitamin C.  Lawson was interested in both the financial and advertising benefit that might come from this deal, as the Institute badly needed to increase its exposure to a younger and wealthier audience.

The conversation was proceeding smoothly until Arden installed a new president, under whose watch the launch of the new products was mismanaged. This person only remained president for a short period, but the damage had been done. As a result, the deal between LPISM and Elizabeth Arden proved dramatically less prosperous than Lawson had originally hoped.

The Arden deal scrapped, the Institute’s administration encountered more bad news when they received notice that Matthias Rath was suing LPISM, alleging interference with his business practices. Following his departure from the Institute, Rath had encountered difficulty finding financial support for his vitamin C work, as some people assumed that he was trying to claim credit for Pauling’s research. One magazine in particular had published an extensive article on Pauling’s interest in vitamin C and cardiovascular disease and hadn’t even mentioned Rath.  LPISM asserted that Pauling had acknowledged Rath’s contributions in his interviews and that the Institute had no control over what various media outlets published. The lawsuit proceeded nonetheless.


The year 1994 got off to a very bad start. Pauling’s health began to deteriorate markedly and he was forced to undergo treatment for his resurgent cancer, which had spread to his liver. At the same time, the lawsuit with Rath began to intensify while Pauling spent more and more time away from the office, choosing instead the tranquility of his ranch at Big Sur. By the summer, Rath’s lawyers were visiting Pauling’s bedside to try and hash out an agreement. For the Institute, most of the year was spent dealing with these two major issues, though it did arrange to host a conference in September.

Finally, on August 19, 1994, Pauling died at his ranch. The institute that he created and which bore his name instantly felt an intense drain on its morale. Lawson recalled employees sobbing in their work spaces and noted that many staffers felt directionless, unsure what would become of LPISM without its namesake. Ironically, the organization’s financial problems were a bit relieved by this turn of events, as a flood of memorial donations soon came in.

From this moment of darkness, the situation pretty quickly started to improve. The Institute went through with the scheduled September conference, titled “The Therapeutic Potential of Biological Antioxidants.” Many people attended – more than were expected – and the audience was thrilled with the content presented, responding very enthusiastically. In turn, more donations and support began to flow into the Institute’s coffers.

Steve Harakeh, Aleksandra Niedzwiecki and Steve Lawson at LPI's September 1994 conference.

Steve Harakeh, Aleksandra Niedzwiecki and Steve Lawson at LPI’s September 1994 conference.

At the same time, the Institute received notification that another estate of consequence – the Finney estate – had been left to LPISM. This new revenue source, combined with the Swadener gift, allowed LPISM to effectively pay off its debts and even establish a small endowment to support moving the Institute. Coincidentally and almost simultaneously, a large number of bequeaths and other donations began pouring in, largely from donors cultivated years before by Richard Hicks.

The financial situation suddenly and vastly improved, Lawson and Linus Pauling Jr. began seriously hunting for a new location for LPISM. They began contacting universities all over the U.S., with decidedly mixed results. Frustrated, the Institute’s board even briefly considered closing down LPISM in favor of establishing a memorial chair at Caltech or Stanford.

However, Oregon State University eventually came forward and requested that LPISM relocate to Corvallis. In stating its case, the university stressed its historical connection with Pauling, as OSU was his alma mater and home to his papers, which were housed in the university library’s Special Collections. OSU’s argument also pointed out that its existing chemistry, health, and biomedical programs perfectly complemented LPISM and its research. Linus Jr. and Lawson agreed, and decided to move the Institute to the heart of the mid-Willamette Valley.

moving

In retrospect, the death of Pauling and the decision to move to OSU might now be viewed as equivalent to the death and rebirth of the Institute itself. By the mid-1990s, a new home established and its finances in better shape, the Institute’s future looked brighter than it had in quite some time, despite the passing of its beloved founder.