AAD in San Francisco in 2015: Why the Bay Area matters to dermatology

By Patricia Engasser, MD


Patricia Engasser, MD

The 2015 AAD Annual Meeting is being held in one of the most interesting and exciting places in the world today. Living here is akin to living in Florence at the birth of the Renaissance. Wise scholars have sought to understand how the mild climate, uncrowded vistas and research universities attracted risk-takers who valued innovation over the “tried and true,” and openness over hierarchy in the transitional decade of the 1960s.

Many sites of historical significance remain. The luxurious San Francisco Clift Hotel, where in 1958 the “traitorous eight” brilliant engineers led by Robert Noyce signed dollar bills as an agreement to quit William Shockley’s laboratory and start Fairchild Semiconductor, beginning the reign of silicon. Yes, there really are garages! In Palo Alto is a garage where Hewlett and Packard started their company in 1939, and similarly Jobs and Wozniak worked in a garage in Los Altos, and Larry Page and Sergey Bren rented a Menlo Park garage in Google’s early days.

In affluent Woodside, there is the very funky Buck’s Restaurant where many a storied deal with venture capitalists went down. South of there, on Stanford land, is the fabled Xexox Parc, where Steve Jobs visited and appropriated a graphical user interface (GUI) that allowed the creation of the Macintosh.

Countless Stanford faculty and alumni have played key roles in perpetuating the innovations of the Information Age. However, it was Provost Fredrick Terman, the “Founder of Silicon Valley” who leased lands on Stanford property to companies such as Hewlett Packard, Varian, and Syntex, which enabled the initial cooperation between academia and the tech and biotech industries that fostered unprecedented innovations. Touring the Stanford campus and the university’s 8,000 acres of property, nicknamed “the Farm,” offers endless sites of landmark discoveries. Yes, Stanford has its own linear accelerator. But the innovations continue to flourish at sites like the storied design school founded by David Kelly in 2004. Travel south a short distance to the treasure trove that is the Computer History Museum. Not only does it house incredible artifacts of the Digital Age, there also is a Google self-driving automobile.

What does this geographic location matter to physicians and dermatologists? Because the Bay Area also saw the transformation of two medical schools — Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) — into world-renowned, leading research institutes.

In 1948, Henry Kaplan, MD, joined Stanford Medical School in San Francisco on Clay and Webster Streets. With Edward Ginzton, of the physics department, he created the means of delivering high-energy radiation that later led to the breakthrough treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 1958, Stanford Medical School moved to a new hospital and school on campus, and acquired an entirely new department of biochemistry with two future Nobel Laureates, Arthur Kornberg and Paul Berg. From its new location, cooperation between the medical school faculty and other members of the University took off, and the rest is history.

UCSF also was in its rocket trajectory after the first two years of medical school training transferred from the University of California, Berkeley, campus to its present location on Parnassus Avenue. This fascinating tale of the 1970s is recounted in Henry Bourne’s book Paths to Innovation: Discovering Recombinant DNA, Oncogenes, and Prions in One Medical School, Over One Decade.

UCSF and Stanford’s dermatology departments also were transformed because they attracted curious innovators and risk-takers to the area. Even the legendary Marion Sulzberger, MD, could not resist the lure of the Bay Area, establishing a research team at Letterman Army Institute of Research in San Francisco in the 1960s.

With its rich culture, innovation, and seminal research history providing a compelling backdrop for a medical education meeting, I hope you are as excited as I am to come to the AAD’s 73rd Annual Meeting in San Francisco!

Patricia Engasser, MD, is adjunct clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine and clinical professor of dermatology at UCSF School of Medicine.

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