UCSF Celebrates 150 Years of Innovations in Health and Science

Year of Events Will Include “Discovery Talks,” TEDMED and Opening of Three New Hospitals

By Kristen Bole on May 22, 2014

A trolly passes through the early Parnassus campus.

UC San Francisco has launched a yearlong celebration to mark its 150th anniversary as a health-sciences innovator and pioneer, with a history of contributions ranging from the first mail-order pharmacy (by stagecoach) to Nobel-prize winning discoveries and the birth of biotechnology.

Since its founding in 1864, UCSF’s story has included providing health care for California miners and for San Francisco residents displaced by the 1906 earthquake; graduating the first woman doctor in California; forming both the first West Coast dental school and the California Pharmaceutical Society; helping establish nursing as a professional field that is integral to medical care; and providing a model of health sciences research and education that shaped the University of California.

UCSF’s sesquicentennial celebration will include the October opening of the Global Health Sciences building at Mission Bay in San Francisco, the release of UCSF’s new 20-year Long-Range Development Plan, and the opening of three specialty hospitals to serve children, women and cancer patients at Mission Bay in February 2015.

It also will include events and lectures that are open to the public, including Discovery Talks by UCSF scientists on May 31; a TEDMED conference in September, for which UCSF is the event’s first global partner; and serving once again as the scientific host of the Bay Area Science Festival in November. Events and a timeline of contributions can be found on a web portal commemorating the people and events of UCSF’s past, present and future.

150 Years of Contributions

In a city formed by the Gold Rush, UCSF has grown with, and left an indelible mark upon, San Francisco and the State of California, with a story that echoes the social and economic milestones of the region.

“UCSF is an exhilarating community that has been marked from the start by an ambitious drive to make a difference, from its earliest links to the county hospital to pioneering work in stem cells and new therapeutics,” said UCSF Interim Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, who joined UCSF 32 years ago as a pediatrician and research fellow. “Today, our founders’ beliefs in providing health care based on the latest science in multiple fields, their sense of urgency in training the best future health leaders, and their care for the underserved, all remain cornerstones of the UCSF spirit.”

Today, UCSF is a $4 billion, internationally renowned institution exclusively focused on health. Its scientific excellence is reflected in its strong performance in competing for federal bioscience funding, for which each of its schools led the nation in their fields last year and UCSF ranked second overall. It is home to four of the top graduate schools in the fields of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, a top-ranked graduate division and renowned hospitals — UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco — which provide some of the nation's highest quality patient care.

UCSF’s roots lie in an 1852 move by an acclaimed South Carolina surgeon, Hugh Huger Toland, who joined a wagon train for California in hopes of finding a new life and perhaps reviving his dying wife. After Mary Toland’s death and several weeks of mining failures in Calaveras County, the 46-year-old Toland returned to his own field to provide much-needed medical expertise to the bourgeoning city of San Francisco.

Innovations for Public Benefit

Toland quickly established himself as the city’s senior surgeon, with a reputation for scientific precision in his care, and was named lead surgeon at the City and County Hospital, now the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (SFGH) and one of UCSF’s partner hospitals.

Having started his career as a pharmacist, Toland set up a private surgery practice on Montgomery and Merchant streets, with a retail pharmacy next door. The facility not only provided medicines to San Francisco citizens, but also served as a base for the first mail-order pharmacy, using Wells Fargo stagecoaches to carry packaged medicines, medical kits and advice to the remote mining communities where Toland began his California career.

In 1864, he founded Toland Medical College in North Beach, across the street from the county hospital, hoping for it to “spring into usefulness and become an ornament to the city and honor to the state.” In 1873, Toland and the California College of Pharmacy formally affiliated with the fledgling University of California, and were joined by a dental college in 1891.

The growing interest in integrating training among the three colleges – a model in which UCSF remains a leader today – led San Francisco Mayor Adolph Sutro to donate 13 acres of land for the Affiliated Colleges in Parnassus Heights, where they moved in 1898. There, they were perfectly positioned to care for displaced residents in the “tent city” that sprang up in Golden Gate Park after the 1906 earthquake.

Through the years, UCSF has reflected Toland’s original vision of bringing state-of-the-art scientific training and care to California. It has been a leader in building diversity in the health fields and taking a stand on social issues, such as admitting women students, helping Japanese students continue their studies during World War II, and developing the “San Francisco model” of care for patients with HIV/AIDS in the 1980s.

UCSF also has set the tone for translating federal biomedical research funding into new companies and therapeutics. It has ranked among the nation’s top institutions in research funding from the National Institutes of Health for more than two decades. These highly competitive contracts and grants play a key role in supporting UCSF’s biomedical research enterprise, leading to groundbreaking fundamental discoveries in cancer, neuroscience, stem cells and aging.

That research, in turn, has not only contributed to training some of the world’s most renowned scientists, but also has led to new fields and therapies, such as the first recombinant insulin, the Hepatitis B vaccine and protease inhibitors to treat AIDS.

Today, UCSF remains dedicated to the notion that when the best science, the best education, and the best patient care converge, great breakthroughs are achieved.

About UCSF

UC San Francisco (UCSF), now celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding, is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences, as well as a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and two top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.