Dr. William David Sansum, founder of the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, was born in 1880. He started pursuing his goal of being a doctor at Rush Medical College at the University of Chicago. Cottage Hospital’s board of trustees invited him to Santa Barbara to become the new Director of the Potter Metabolic Clinic.
While Dr. Sansum was pursuing diabetes research in the early 1920’s, other researchers were doing the same and successfully treated animals and ultimately humans with an extract they developed. They named their extract “insulin”, from the Latin for “island”, referring to the Islets of Langerhans found in the pancreas. In Santa Barbara, Dr. Sansum decided to pursue the same direction— the production of insulin from animal pancreases. Researchers everywhere were trying to develop better methods and to increase purity and strength for use in humans with limited amounts of insulin available. On May 31, 1922; after two years of research the first American patient was injected with U.S.-made insulin at the Potter Clinic.
In 1928, Dr. Sansum decided to form his own clinic group with a staff of five. Later, Dr. Sansum was encouraged to build a clinic on Pueblo Street. Dr. Sansum retired from active practice in 1942, but continued his research efforts. In 1944 he founded the Sansum Clinic Foundation. Later the Foundation’s name was changed to Sansum Medical Research Foundation and to Sansum Diabetes Research Institute.
In 1947 Dr. Sansum began work on a new vision that was thirty years ahead of his time– pancreatic cell transplantation. A year later he suffered a stroke and died. After Dr. Sansum’s death, the clinic was reorganized and purchased by six of the doctors on the staff. The research foundation, headed by Dr. Alfred Koehler, continued to work on the projects that Dr. Sansum had been involved in.
In 1966 a two-story building that still houses the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute today was built with a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Harry Morrison and others. Full-scale diabetes research began soon thereafter in the Morrison Laboratories under Dr. Donald McMillan.Although much has happened since 1920, one thing has not changed– the goal to cure diabetes, or at least to alleviate the problems caused by this devastating disease. The legacy continues today under the leadership of Ellen Goodstein, who was appointed Interim Executive Director in 2015.