In the 1970s, UCSF’s medical school made a series of notable advances in biological research, including the discovery of DNA cloning and the identification of the first cancer genes. Dr. Henry Bourne chronicles what he calls this “burst of discovery” in his new book, “Paths to Innovation.”

In it, he tells the personal stories of the researchers and analyzes the institutional frameworks that allowed their work to flourish.

Henry Bourne, author and professor emeritus of cellular and molecular pharmacology at UCSF

  • Sparky

    Sounds like these researchers were given the chance to put in their 10000 hours to achieve their unique achievements, but methinks it unlikely that greater corporate influence at UCSF will foster creativity as much as it would instill worries about being profitable, getting patents, and climbing the corporate ladder.

  • the prof

    Research at Universities depends mostly on NIH/NCI/foundation grants. Unfortunately, at my ‘esteemed’ university in Palo Alto, those get grants that are the best politicians; Not the best scientist, anymore. This is a fundamental change from how things used to be in the 60s.70s and this is a fndamental problem: when half truths, and wording of grant applications are carefully manipulated to mislead the reader; when those old boys who push grants to be awarded are invited, wined and dinned and money is flaunted in their face; we have walked away from the search for truth (translational research, medical research) and are just another political club. Wasting money and time, and dancing to the music while the music plays. 

  • Anne Pentilla

    I have a friend pursuing a master’s degree from San
    Francisco’s State’s biology program. 
    From what I hear, there is a high degree of competitiveness among
    teachers and students.  In the program, emphasis
    seems to be placed on the authorship and ownership of ideas. I used to think
    the humanities were filled with a bunch of prima donna, but it seems the
    situation in the sciences is even worse. Do you think the current culture within
    academia is helping or hurting science?  It
    seems to me the sciences would benefit from a more collaborative and
    cooperative, rather than authorial, approach. Another way of asking the
    question would be:  can discoveries in
    science really be owned?  Can one own a knowledge
    or idea? 

  • susan

    Science needs to be kept pure and has no place for half truths or misleading information. However, since knowledge is now seen as a commodity, and there is less money, and new research costs much more than the old lab costs, this has lead to intense competition for more and more money. Therefore, politicians-scientists who are willing to lie and speak half truths to get ahead will do so in broad day light, get the money and put up a show with bells and whistle to dazzle the poor soles at NIH/NCI that have not seen this new beast of politics in science. This is a huge disfavor for humanity. But it will be milked for all we got as long as no one blows the whistle. 

  • the Prof

    I agree with Henry Bourne, there needs to be a safety zone free of derailing by political colleagues (who want all the money to go to them at any cost, and they want to rule the department). Give the safety zone scientists 7 years and an annual review. let real science take place. Even though it is hard to keep corruption out, it can be done. 

  • Anandahkumar

    Just in today’s New York Times there is  a  great article by Jon Gertner titled True Innovation, about the Glory Days of Bell Labs, where most of what we do and use were invented. He bemoans the demise of Bell Labs, where Research for Research sake was encouraged,

  • Devorah Soncino

    So, how does translational medicine classify ancient medical wisdom , such as from the
    Talmud or Chinese medicine? It has been largely ignored by modern Western research, but those who dare to venture in these paths find out that they actually reported many curative measures 100s or even 1000s of years before our modern medicine “discovered” them. Does UCSF address and utilize these philosophies? I think if they did, this would be a very enriching way of not only “cross fertilizing” cultures but also generations.
    Devorah Soncino
    Sunnyvale, CA

    • Ayn Marx 666

      They report them, but their standards of proof are not up-to-snuff.  They had a great deal of wisdom, but no knowledge of statistics, and were deficient in factor analysis.

  • F.Hirtz

    I should Mr. Bourne’s book first, but still, listening to the broadcast, it seems to me that the analysis provided hints at-or even reveals- a deeper conundrum of all creative work that is and needs to be paid by someone else than those who do the work. How to calibrate ‘control’ (I want to know and have a say about what’s happening with MY money!) and ‘freedom’ of the creative people – in this case the universities at large (especially the public universities). In a world where speedily measurable indicators are seen as a GOOD and the (sole) legitimate value that defines who is successful or not simply leads to produce those outcomes that can be measured in this way, because people need an income to survive. WHY this value is selected over others and WHY this value is maintained over the insights of Prof. Bourne strikes me to be the fascinating question to asks American citizens. Contrast this to countries such as (e.g.) China or Brazil where the public universities are not in crisis, where the public good is not squeezed through this funnel of immediate success and usable result. One knows that things can be different, but why aren’t they?

  • east_bay_person

    My mother passed away from CJD in 2003, when she was diagnosed at Stanford she was referred to Dr. Prusiner’s group at UCSF. In addition to being  a world class research group, they gave my mother wonderful clinical care for her CJD symptoms, consulting with our local physician to help us make her comfortable as the disease progressed. We didn’t pay a dime to UCSF, their work was covered under research grants, including the DNA tests that showed it was not the inheritable form of CJD. We cooperated with some of their experiments, and they accepted the limits we set on how much they could do. I remain grateful for the care they gave my mother while pursuing their research.

  • One point I think I heard correctly is that there are more students graduating and aspiring to be scientists than there are grants available for research or positions related to that career path.  Maybe we don’t have a shortage of aspiring young scientists, unlike what the popular media portrays?  I would guess this problem is even more acute in the humanities, rather than the sciences, but it’s true for the sciences as well.  The problem may not be a lack of education, but an economy that has trouble absorbing and utilizing our educated workforce.

  • BJFrench

    Henry Bourne tells a compelling story about what has made UCSF a great institution and a great asset to San Francisco, California and beyond. 

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