Physician-Scholar and His Family Foundation Back Investigators with Fertile and Flexible Minds

John Snyder, '59, MD, and Seung Kim, MD/PhD '92

The work of three leading Stanford researchers converges in an unlikely place—the Walnut River Valley of southeast Kansas.

There, in a speck of a town called Winfield, Howard Lincoln Snyder, MD, distinguished himself as a physician and forward-thinker during the first half of the 20th century. In 1943, his son established a foundation in H. L.’s name. It since has evolved from providing lab facilities for hospitals to supporting scholarships and biomedical studies that delve into the complexities of diseases. And now H. L.’s grandson, John Snyder, ’59, MD, helps carry on its mission. He and the foundation’s research committee seek out investigators such as Stanford’s Judith Shizuru, PhD ’86, MD ’92; Karl Deisseroth, PhD ’98, MD ’00; and Seung Kim, MD/PhD ’92, with the hope of raising their chances to glean the next level of research support.

Shizuru, an associate professor of medicine, focuses on the role of blood stem cell infusions in reducing complications of bone marrow transplantation—a powerful therapy in combating cancer and other disorders. Deisseroth, associate professor of bioengineering and psychiatry, and his colleagues are developing neuroengineering tools that one day will allow circuit-level interventions for neurological and psychiatric disorders. Kim, a professor of developmental biology, hones in on pancreatic growth and function. Pancreatic islet biology, a crucial focus area for curing type 1 diabetes, has been largely based on work in mice however, the Kim lab is now making the leap to humans.

“The Snyder Foundation has been essential for supporting our explorations that are at a stage too risky for funding by traditional mechanisms,” Kim said. “For this support, my group and I are truly grateful.”

The seminal investment was a factor in Kim’s selection as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, an opportunity that allows an elite cadre representing many disciplines to continue driving discoveries.

Snyder, a retired surgeon who lives in Vail, Colorado, often visits the Stanford campus, spending time in the lab, and asking smart questions. He said he enjoys getting to know the people who possess fertile and flexible minds and a willingness to change directions.

Kim feels the same: “It is a pleasure to interact and communicate with a true physician-scholar who delights in understanding the details and implications of our work.”

As it happens, Snyder, Deisseroth, Kim, and Shizuru also share an interest in figuring out the diet preferences of trout. “I think the fly-fishing problem appeals to scientists,” Snyder said during a phone interview. “It takes a tremendous understanding of biology to solve the puzzle by investigating what the fish want to eat.”

He and the researchers sometimes fish together at places like the Truckee River, in the Sierra. They study the hatch. Select a fly. Cast. Watch as the fish calmly inspects the fly and then disappears into the depths. Cast again. No response? Change flies. As in their day jobs, accumulated knowledge and persistence eventually result in success.