The future is a tough thing to predict.
Now you may be thinking, “No kidding, Mr. Obvious. If we could predict the future …”
And you’d be right. But just because something is obvious doesn’t always mean it’s not worth mentioning. Likewise, just because something is hard to predict doesn’t mean you should give up.
The future is, after all, what medical research is all about. Sometimes it’s a future of
tomorrow. Sometimes many years down the road. Or decades. Children’s Mercy has a long history of looking toward the future. And, with the announcement last week of some major gifts to help us build more space for research and the people who will bring us the future, we’re not going to stop.
Dr. Katharine Richardson, one of our founders, was a firm believer in medical research, as I explained last time. There’s more to the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. Dr. Richardson was always looking to the future, knowing research was so very important. She was unrelenting in her quest. Just months before her death in 1933, she wrote:
“Our work, yours and mine, is to hold Mercy Hospital to its very best while we live, to keep fully up with all that’s decent – to somehow, some way, get a Research Laboratory for children’s diseases – to work as though we are going to stay forever and to realize that what is best will live on in the hearts of others.”
Those who followed Dr. Richardson worked tirelessly to carry out her wishes. (I particularly like the idea of pursuing “all that’s decent.”) As Children’s Mercy evolved, so did its work in medical research. And the evolution continues. One of the great steps forward on the way toward the exciting news last week about our Children’s Research Institute, occurred in the 1990s.
As explained in “For All Children Everywhere,” the Children’s Mercy history book:
One part of Katharine Richardson’s vision that she did not live to see fulfilled was a comprehensive research program to combat childhood disease. Although research had long been a part of Children’s Mercy, hospital leaders unveiled their first comprehensive and detailed Research Vision in 1995. It began to crystallize with the hiring of Dr. Ralph Kauffman on July 1 of that year.
Children’s Mercy declared its intent to build, staff and support a top-quality pediatric research program and stressed what it would mean for children. The scientists would work in state-of-the-art laboratories. With its connection to Children’s Mercy patients and families, the research program would offer unrivaled pediatric “bench to bedside” opportunities.
Dr. Kauffman was an established researcher in clinical pharmacology and immediately began to assemble a team of respected scientists to continue that work. Much research had been done on pharmaceuticals for adults, but little on most of the medications given to children. The Clinical Pharmacology lab Dr. Kauffman established at Children’s Mercy
in 1996 was one of only seven funded by the National Institutes of Health in an effort to close that gap.
In addition to Clinical Pharmacology, the Research Vision included genetics and “core laboratories,” defined as work with the best chance to be developed quickly and taken directly to clinicians and children.
Continuing the research effort, the second of the two towers resulting from the Centennial Campaign opened in 1999, named for philanthropists Paul and Betty Henson. Henson had led the telecommunications company that became Sprint. The new tower included not only the
largest pediatric clinical pharmacology lab in North America, but also a unique Clinical Research Unit containing patient rooms and equipment to carry out a variety of research studies in a safe setting. Research was taking its place as a part of the hospital’s foundation.
That same year, the hospital launched the Discovering Tomorrow campaign to support research. By 2001, under the leadership of Dee and Fred Lyons, Discovering Tomorrow reached its goal of $34 million.
Fred Lyons was an executive at Marion Merrell Dow, successor to a pharmaceutical firm, Marion Laboratories, that had been started in Kansas City by Ewing Marion Kauffman. Kauffman, best known by most Kansas Citians of the late 20th century for founding and owning the Kansas City Royals, also created the Kauffman Foundation. The foundation, headquartered near Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, focuses on entrepreneurialism and education.
Lyons and another Marion executive, Ed Connelly, persuaded the Kauffman Foundation to endow the first of several research chairs at Children’s Mercy. Dr. Ralph Kauffman, no relation to Ewing Kauffman, became the occupant of the Marion Merrell Dow/Missouri Chair in Pediatric Medical Research. There is also a Marion chair in clinical pharmacology, and Fred and Dee Lyons personally endowed the Dee Lyons chair in pediatric genomic medicine.
The story doesn’t end there, of course. Children’s Mercy researchers have been involved in a wide variety of successful research over the years. Kidney disease. Cancer. Infectious diseases. Surgical techniques. Genomics. Heart disease. Diabetes. You get the picture.
And there is more on the horizon. Exactly where this is all going to lead is uncertain. Does that mean we stop? Does that mean we quit looking? I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said: “I did not fail, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” And then he found one that worked!
The future is unknown.
But it is bright. Hold on.