Oregon Health & Science University today announced the creation of an endowed faculty chair in basic science in association with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute that will advance its efforts to develop new molecularly targeted cancer therapies. The chair — which will help OHSU recruit a nationally known cancer researcher — was made possible by a $2.5 million multigenerational gift from Columbia Sportswear’s Boyle family: President and CEO Tim Boyle, his wife, Mary, and his mother, Chairman of the Board Gert Boyle.
The family gift is in memory of Gert Boyle’s late sister, Hildegard Lamfrom, Ph.D., for whom the chair will be named. Lamfrom died in 1984 at age 62, following a remarkable career in molecular biology marked by scientific achievement, superstar collaborators and legions of younger scientists buoyed by her mentorship. One of those beneficiaries was a promising undergraduate chemist at the University of California San Diego named Brian Druker, who today is director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.
Druker’s story underscores the powerful ripple effect of strong scientific mentoring. Lamfrom’s mentoring helped convince Druker to broaden his focus from pure laboratory science to patient care. From this development followed the career experiences that led to his development of the breakthrough anticancer compound Gleevec. This medicine has saved hundreds of thousands of patients from chronic myeloid leukemia and other cancers, and has earned Druker the 2009 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, widely regarded as the American equivalent to the Nobel Prize.
“As someone who was held in such high regard by the top scientists of her time, Hildegard made an incredible impact on my life and career,” said Druker. “I am so pleased that OHSU will be helping to preserve her legacy.”
Originally from Germany, Hildegard Lamfrom immigrated to the United States at the height of Nazi rule along with her parents and two younger sisters. Her parents settled in Portland, where they soon launched the apparel company that would grow into Columbia Sportswear. The teenage Lamfrom daughters attended Grant High School, perfected their English and readily acclimated to life in their adoptive country.
Gifted in math and science, Hildegard went on to earn her bachelor’s at Reed College, a master’s at Oregon State University, and a doctorate at what is now Case Western Reserve in Ohio. She launched her 40-plus-year scientific career at the very dawn of the field of molecular biology, when exciting work was taking place at places like California Institute of Technology and Britain’s Medical Research Council Laboratory in Cambridge. Remaining a “free agent” rather than settling into a permanent, tenure-track position, Lamfrom traveled to these and other prestigious institutions around the globe to work for, collaborate with or mentor some of the biggest names in 20th century science: Linus Pauling, Richard Feynman, James Watson, Francis Crick and a half dozen of their fellow Nobel laureates.
She was best known for her late 1950s-early 1960s work in protein synthesis, which was cited by Watson in his 1962 Nobel acceptance lecture. Her career also included productive stints at southern California’s City of Hope and Cedars of Lebanon hospitals, the Salk Institute, the University of Oregon, UC San Diego and Harvard. Overseas, she joined pioneering research teams at laboratories in Cambridge, Copenhagen, Paris and Ahmedabad, India. Preeminent research leaders sought her out because they valued her authoritative insights on scientific problems, her innovative and tenacious approach to day-to-day bench science, and her facility for mentoring younger staff members.
“Hildegard was a selfless contributor to many significant teams tackling the most vexing genetic puzzles known to science,” said Tim Boyle on behalf of his family. “She ultimately succumbed to cancer, which she believed someday would be curable. She would have wanted to be remembered as providing fanatically dedicated support to basic science, focused on the most significant health issues in the world.”
“We are so proud and pleased that the Boyle family saw fit to honor Hildegard’s legacy here at OHSU,” said OHSU President Joseph Robertson, M.D., M.B.A. “Her spirit is everywhere you look on this campus, everywhere you see someone investing their absolute all into a personal quest for knowledge. The future of science depends on our ability to instill that spirit in every OHSU scientist and student. That’s why I am so grateful to the Boyles for the opportunity to preserve Dr. Lamfrom’s legacy here at OHSU.”
Mark A. Richardson, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the OHSU School of Medicine, said the Boyles’ gift will provide a perpetual source of funding to attract talented scientists in fields corresponding to Lamfrom’s research interests. “OHSU is already in a dialog with top candidates from across the nation whose work has the potential to take cancer research — and scientific mentorship — to new heights at the university,” Richardson said. “I can’t overstate how important the resources of an endowed chair are to our ability to bring the best to OHSU. Thank you to the Boyles for this inspired gift and what it makes possible in our community, and in the global fight against cancer.”
The OHSU Foundation is a separate 501(c)(3) organization that exists to secure private philanthropic support for Oregon Health & Science University. The foundation raises funds from individuals, companies, foundations and organizations, and invests and manages gifts in accordance with donors’ wishes.