March 22, 2010

Hopkins History: The price tag of federal research support at SoM

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has been receiving federal support for research for many decades. Faculty and deans of the school, and university presidents and trustees, have been interested in this source of financial support just as long.

On Dec. 9, 1936, President Isaiah Bowman informed the trustees about three federally supported projects at the School of Medicine.

He described a joint enterprise of the departments of Pediatrics and Obstetrics. Amos U. Christie, a pediatrician, was interested in issues related to premature infants and had sought support from the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Labor for “an intensive study of metabolism.” The grant, amounting to approximately $7,000, would help provide for Christie’s salary as well as that of his assistant, Marian I. Hedwin. They would be paid directly by the Labor Department.

About the same time, Edwards A. Park, Department of Pediatrics, wanted to investigate “X-ray changes in the bones of children with rickets.” Again, the Children’s Bureau was the source of support. The funds provided for the salary of a technician, Deborah Jackson, at $2,000 a year, and the salary of a medical artist “not to exceed $1,600 a year, and a small amount of laboratory equipment.”

A division called the Pediatric Cardiac Clinic was financed in part by the trustees of the Harriet Lane Home. It also received funding from the Office of Child Hygiene of the U.S. Public Health Service. Bowman reported that the total amount of support for the Cardiac Clinic from the Public Health Service in 1936–37 would be about $5,000. “Of this sum,” he said, “$3,200 is paid to Dr. Helen B. Taussig, physician in charge, and about $540 to Dr. Hecht, a part-time physician.

Bowman’s report is now in the Hamburger Archives of the Eisenhower Library.

A few historical footnotes on some of the researchers involved:

Christie left Johns Hopkins and, in 1943, became chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University. He focused much of his research on histoplasmosis, which is caused by a fungus and clinically simulates tuberculosis. While an undergraduate at the University of Washington, he had played football for the Huskies in the 1924 Rose Bowl (tied Navy, 14-14).

Park joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1912 and left in 1921 to found the Department of Pediatrics at Yale University. He returned to Johns Hopkins in 1927 to become professor of pediatrics and pediatrician in chief of the Harriet Lane Home. He retired in 1946 after creating the divisions of Cardiology, Endocrinology, Neurology and Psychiatry in the Department of Pediatrics.

Taussig, who received her medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1927, is known as the founder of pediatric cardiology for her innovative work on “blue baby” syndrome. In 1944, she and Johns Hopkins surgeon Alfred Blalock and surgical technician Vivien Thomas developed an operation to correct the congenital heart defect that causes the syndrome. She was the recipient of many awards, including the Lasker Award and the Medal of Freedom presented by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.