USC Michelson Center: Inventor donates $50 million

The University of Southern California will be constructing a new building for bioscience research, thanks in part to a $50-million gift from Dr. Gary K. Michelson, a retired orthopedic surgeon and inventor of spinal implants and other medical devices.

The new, 190,000-square-foot USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience will house up to 30 labs investigating a range of biomedical topics. With groundbreaking expected later this year and completion in three years, it will be located at the southwest quadrant of the main campus south of downtown Los Angeles. Michelson’s $50 million is less than half of the total anticipated cost but was needed to move the project ahead, officials said.

USC Michelson Center for Convergent BioscienceUSC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience (Original 2014 Artist Rendering)

Michelson’s gift is unusual since the 64-year-old West Los Angeles resident did not graduate from USC and previously had little contact with the university. Much of his medical career was spent at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood. But Michelson said in a telephone interview that he met with top USC researchers on campus and became intrigued with their idea of putting together experts in various fields who might otherwise never cross paths and then focusing them on work to help detect and cure diseases.

That interdisciplinary approach “resonates with my life work,” he said. Instead of research for research’s sake, the aim will be for “research for humanity’s sake, goal oriented with results manifested in the real world,” he said.

“Dr. Michelson’s generous gift is truly visionary, as it will bridge USC’s strengths in a broad range of disciplines, including the sciences, engineering, medicine, mathematics and computer science,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias in a statement.

Gary K. Michelson, Alya Michelson, C.L. Max Nikias, Niki C. Nikias; USC Michelson Center Announcement [2014-01-13. USC] (Credit: Steve Cohn Photography)From left to right: Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson, together with then USC President C. L. Max Nikias and his wife Niki C. Nikias. (Credit: Steve Cohn Photography)

Inventor and Patent Holder

Michelson said he was set on his career path by a desire to help people like his grandmother, who suffered from a crippling spinal deformity. A graduate of Temple University and Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, he holds hundreds of patents to instruments, implants and procedures to make spinal surgeries faster, safer and less expensive.

In 2005, a Minneapolis medical device manufacturer agreed to pay Michelson and his company $1.35 billion to end a long-running dispute over rights to spinal implants and other instruments invented by the doctor.

Michelson’s philanthropy is wide ranging. He has a strong interest in animal welfare and funds research in nonsurgical sterilization of cats and dogs as a way to reduce the number of animals put to death in shelters. He also has funded the Twenty Million Minds Foundation, an education organization that seeks to help students afford and succeed in college with online textbooks and other technologies.

USC has been on a fundraising roll lately. It reports that it is now past the halfway point in its goal, announced two years ago, to raise $6 billion by 2018. Until recently, that had been the most ambitious fundraising goal in American academia. Major donations over the last year include $70 million from hip-hop star Dr. Dre and music mogul Jimmy Iovine for a new academy that will train students in the technology and business in music and other arts.

Gary K. Michelson, C.L. Max Nikias: USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience Announcement [2014-01-13. USC]

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