koepf carriage Rivas  
Dr. George F. Koepf
Medical Foundation of Buffalo 1956 - 1962
Carriage House, 1014 Delaware Avenue
Helen Woodward Rivas
HWI's 73,000 square foot facility

Founded in 1956 as the Medical Foundation of Buffalo, the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (renamed in 1994) came into existence through the combined efforts of Dr. George F. Koepf who provided the vision and Helen Woodward Rivas who provided generous financial support. Dr. George F. Koepf was a physician and endocrinologist whose interest in research began during his second year at medical school and continued at John Hopkins University. After leaving Johns Hopkins, he returned to practice medicine in Buffalo and became a founding member of the Buffalo Medical Group. One of his patients, Helen Woodward Rivas expressed great interest in funding a medical research effort in Buffalo. Through her $3 million gift, the Medical Foundation (MFB) came into being.

The first site of MFB was a carriage house located at the corner of 1014 Delaware Avenue and W. Utica Street. In 1960, plans were in progress to expand these facilities when a fire ravaged the entire building. Although the event was devastating, most of the research records were salvaged, and a new four-story building was constructed at 73 High Street with the help of matching funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This new research facility opened in 1963.

In the late 1960's, led by Research Director, Dorita Norton and later, Dr. William Duax, research at MFB began to focus intensely on the science of crystallography. The development of improved drugs requires knowledge of the three-dimensional shapes of the biochemical substances involved in disease processes, and crystallography employs an experimental technique known as diffraction to discover vital information about molecular structure. Therefore, the MFB leadership team headed by President Koepf formulated the goal of establishing a world-class crystallographic laboratory in Buffalo. During the next decade, more than a dozen crystallographers were hired thereby achieving a critical mass with expertise in all aspects of the science. Research projects involving structural studies of steroid and thyroid hormones, prostaglandins, peptide antibiotics, and naturally occurring opiates were initiated during this period. They were among the first groups to recognize the importance of three-dimensional structure to explain biological function at the molecular level and acted as apostles to communicate these ideas to the biological and endocrine communities.

Foremost among the crystallographers who made MFB their professional home was Dr. Herbert A. Hauptman. In 1985, MFB was thrust into the international scientific limelight when Dr. Hauptman became the first mathematician to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He shared this honor with Dr. Jerome Karle of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C. This prize was awarded for outstanding achievement in the development of new mathematical methods for analyzing crystallographic diffraction data. The techniques pioneered by Hauptman and Karle have since been used by crystallographers throughout the world to study thousands of molecules whose structures were previously inaccessible.

As the principal investigator of an NIH-funded program project grant (1992-2006), Dr. Hauptman continued to build on the foundation provided by his prize-winning work. He and his colleagues devised a method called "Shake-and-Bake" that extends the range of direct methods to include much larger structures, such as proteins. To honor the distinction Dr. Hauptman brought to our organization and to recognize the kindness of our benefactor, Helen Woodward Rivas, the Foundation changed its name to the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, Inc. in 1994. This change was made not only out of respect for these two individuals, but also to emphasize the importance of the partnership that exists between science and philanthropy.

During the 1970s, HWI scientists directed their studies mostly towards relatively small molecules such as drugs and hormones containing 100 atoms or less. However, during the 1980s and 1990s, a variety of technological advances permitted crystallographers to focus their attention increasingly on the macromolecular entities (protein, DNA, RNA) that carry out most life processes and to observe the actual interactions of drugs with these larger molecules. The hormone insulin and several steroid synthesizing and metabolizing enzymes are examples of proteins studied by HWI crystallographers during these years.

In 1999, a three-year $1.5 million challenge grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation, coupled with a $750,000 award from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation and support from many others, made the establishment of a Structural Biology Center at HWI possible. All aspects of structural research from isolating the gene that codes for a protein of interest to applying the latest crystallographic methods are now possible here. Through this Center, HWI scientists were able to create new and improved crystal growth methods including the development of a novel and patented high-throughput robotic crystallization technique for expediting and optimizing the crystallization process.

As we reached the 21st Century, we continued to plan for our future. We became a founding partner of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC), created the University at Buffalo Department of Structural Biology, and added new leadership; Dr. George DeTitta was appointed Executive Director and CEO and Dr. Walter Pangborn was appointed to Executive Vice President. Through this leadership, the need to recruit new scientists became evident. With the addition of four new scientists and plans to recruit even more, HWI began exploring expansion options at our High Street facility. After reviewing many alternatives, it became clear that a new research building would be needed.

As the University at Buffalo and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute began plans to construct new facilities, HWI joined with our collaborative partners to form the Buffalo Life Sciences Complex. Located in the heart of the BNMC, HWI was able to select a site adjacent to the UB and RPCI sites for our new building. We retained Cannon Design and architect Mehrdad Yazdani to design a research and office complex that supported our collaborative and open culture. Construction of our new Structural Biology Research Center began in August 2003, through the support of New York State, the Federal Government, local foundations, community leaders, and individuals, as well as financing through KeyBank. We moved into our new facility in April 2005, and we have since recruited four additional young scientists to our facility.

On April 1, 2008, George DeTitta stepped down as CEO to return to full-time work in the lab. On July 1, 2008, Eaton E. (Ed) Lattman, formerly a Professor of Biophysics at Johns Hopkins University became HWI's new CEO. Ed's breadth of knowledge and past experience as a Dean of Research and Graduate Education at Hopkins proved to be of strategic importance in helping him lead HWI in the search for additional mechanisms to support its basic research efforts in an era when the percentage of NIH grant applications being funded or renewed was declining precipitously.  His key achievements in this area were:

  • A contract with a consortium of six major big pharma companies, the Industrial Macromolecular Crystallography Association or IMCA to manage a large x-ray diffraction facility that IMCA operates at the Argonne National Laboratory.
  • The launch of the startup company, HarkerBIO, which is wholly owned by HWI and promises important new revenues to support research at the Institute.
  • Leadership in a major NSF Science and Technology Center, “Biology with X-ray Free Electron Lasers” (BioXFEL), that promises to keep HWI at the leading edge of technology and visibility.

On December 1, 2014, Dr. Edward H. Snell was appointed CEO following eight years of service to HWI as a Senior Research Scientist.  Before joining HWI, Dr. Snell was a staff scientist in NASA’s Structural Biology Laboratory at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  Richard Aubrecht, Chairman of the HWI Board of Directors, said that “The board looks forward to Dr. Snell leading HWI to continue our nearly 60 years of developing leading science and evolving our collaborations with new partners.”


Back to Top

700 Ellicott Street Buffalo, New York 14203-1102 Tel: 716 898 8600 Fax: 716 898 8660