Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is dedicated to discovering the fundamental molecular causes of disease and devising the innovative therapies of tomorrow. Sanford-Burnham takes a unique, collaborative approach to medical research and has established major research programs in cancer, neurodegeneration, diabetes, and infectious, inflammatory, and childhood diseases. The Institute is especially known for its world-class capabilities in stem cell research and drug discovery technologies.

Sanford-Burnham is a U.S.-based, non-profit public benefit corporation, with operations in San Diego (La Jolla) and Orlando (Lake Nona) in Florida.


  • Sanford-Burnham ranks #3 worldwide among all research organizations in citations per publication in the fields of biology and biochemistry for the most recent decade for which data are available.
  • Sanford-Burnham ranks #3 in the nation among all laboratory-based life sciences research organizations in NIH grant funding.
  • In 2012, Sanford-Burnham researchers published 366 peer-reviewed scientific papers.
  • For every dollar of philanthropic support, the Institute has generated about $8 dollars of grant funding, thus effectively leveraging gifts 8:1. That’s the most efficient research operation among the Institute’s peer group of leading independent biomedical research institutes in the U.S.
Quickjump at a Glance


Tumor Initiation and Maintenance

The Tumor Initiation and Maintenance Program seeks to identify the cells that give rise to tumors and the signals that allow these cells to expand uncontrollably. Several members of the program focus on Stem Cells and Development, studying the stem cells that generate the brain, the mammary glands, the muscles and the skin, and how mutations transform these cells into cancer cells. Another major theme is Cell Growth Signaling, which includes investigation of the growth factors that cause cells to proliferate, and the proteins within cells that allow them to respond to these factors. Finally, several researchers in the program study RNA Biology, analyzing the ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules that play key roles in regulating cell division, differentiation and survival.

Cell Death and Survival Networks

The focus of the Cell Death and Survival Networks Program is to study how cancer cells reprogram their metabolism and protein homeostasis to survive nutrient stress conditions associated to tumor progression and how they might use autophagy to prevent various forms of cell death, including apoptosis and necrosis. We address these fundamental biological questions at the organismal level, utilizing relevant models of human cancer, and at a cellular and detailed structural level. This interdisciplinary approach, together with our capability of drug discovery, positions our program at the leading edge of translating basic discoveries into better medicines.

Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis

The Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program aims to understand the molecular basis of how cells interact with each other and with the molecules in their environment, and how these processes promote tumor growth and metastasis. We also explore how the immune system is altered to promote tumor growth, and how tumor cells stimulate the production of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) to gain access to nutrients and metastasize. This is the starting point for the identification of strategies to modify the tumor microenvironment to inhibit tumor growth and metastasis.

Degenerative Diseases

The Degenerative Diseases Program is focused to understand how the cell discriminates functional from nonfunctional proteins to target the latter for degradation. The answers to these questions will lead to novel therapeutics for many diseases associated with aging. We study intrinsic cellular mechanisms that recognize misfolded/damaged proteins and target their degradation. Importantly, our findings have demonstrated the damaging impact of oxidative/nitrositative stress on protein structure and function in disease pathogenesis, for example the neurodegenerative diseases of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and their impact on neural synaptic structure and signaling. Finally, defective protein folding and/or degradation are now implicated in many diseases ranging from cancer to metabolic and inflammatory response syndromes.

Immunity and Pathogenesis

The Immunity and Pathogenesis Program is broadly defined by the focus on cellular and molecular mechanisms of the host immune system, versus the mechanisms that viruses and other pathogens employ to evade immune recognition. Current efforts include approaches to characterize host microenvironments and signaling pathways impacted by viral pathogens; neuroinflammation; mucosal immunology and the microbiota; immune regulation by members of the TNF superfamily; functional discrimination of CD4+ T cell subsets and understanding the molecular determinants of B cell differentiation.

Human Genetics

The Human Genetics Program wants to understand how inherited conditions cause disease. Often these conditions have existed for thousands of years and families have struggled with how to manage their loved ones illness. Parents face family planning decisions and where to turn for answers to many questions. Technological breakthroughs in Human Genetics offer an unprecedented opportunity to provide solid information and guidance.

Development, Aging and Regeneration

The Development, Aging and Regeneration Program aims to understand these processes in model organisms and ultimately in humans. We are interested in elucidating the secrets and delineating the mechanisms of how embryos and organs form, and how they deteriorate with age or disease, with the goal of identifying potential ways to reverse or ameliorate the debilitating insults of age or disease in humans.

Bioinformatics and Structural Biology

The Bioinformatics and Structural Biology Program.

Cardiovascular Pathobiology

The Cardiovascular Pathobiology Program emphasizes the study of heart failure, heart attack, hardening of the arteries, stroke, and poor circulation – in sum, the disease biology responsible for the number one cause of morbidity and mortality in our society.

Metabolic Disease

The Metabolic Disease Program is focused on metabolic diseases that primarily affect the metabolic syndrome, which refers to metabolic complications that influence development of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type II diabetes. Metabolic Syndrome develops when the body’s normal process of sensing dietary nutrients for utilization of energy and storage are fundamentally perturbed through genetic, epigenetic or environmental mechanisms.

Genomic Control of Metabolism

The focus of the Genomic Control of Metabolism Program is to dissect and understand the genomic and epigenetic regulatory mechanisms responsible for proper metabolic control to maintain homeostasis. We primarily study diseases in adipose tissue, liver, muscle and immune cells. Particular emphasis is put on defining the role of key transcriptional regulatory proteins and nuclear hormone receptors in metabolic processes at the cellular level, in animal models, and in human disease. Another theme of our research is the systems level analysis of metabolic processes using integrated experimental and bioinformatics approaches.


NCI-Designated Cancer Center

The Sanford-Burnham NCI-Designated Cancer Center one of only seven National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated basic research cancer centers in the country, is leading the effort to eradicate this disease. To that end, it is striving to make personalized cancer medicine a reality through its exceptional translational research.

Neuroscience and Aging Research Center

The Neuroscience and Aging Research Center mission is to translate discoveries from basic molecular research and apply a systems approach to generate breakthrough therapies for devastating neurologic and cardiac diseases.

Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center

The Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center mission is to map the molecular intricacies of the immune system and pathogen cells and apply this knowledge to generate new therapeutics for autoimmune diseases, infection and cancer.

Sanford Children’s Health Research Center

The mission of the Sanford Children’s Health Research Center is to generate translational discoveries about such childhood diseases as diabetes, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, hypophosphatasia (bone disorders), and congenital disorders of glycosylation.

Diabetes and Obesity Research Center

The Diabetes and Obesity Research Center mission is to perform multi-disciplinary translational research on the metabolic origins of type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related diseases that will help identify new modes of prevention and treatment.

Emerging Center

Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine

The mission of the Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine is to pioneer advances in molecular stem cell research and accelerate the clinical application of new findings.

Technology Center

Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics

The Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics screens chemical compounds by the millions to find the few that could potentially be developed into new medicines. All of the results from the Prebys Center's activities are placed into a public database called PubChem, made available to all researchers, in both the public and private sector, for their use in studying biology and disease.


Translational Research Institute

The mission of the Translational Research Institute is expected to hasten the discovery and development of new approaches to diagnose, prevent, and treat diabetes, obesity and their cardiovascular complications. One key aim is to produce unique insights into the sub-classifications of diabetes, thus promoting the advent of personalized disease therapies.

Impact Through Translational Research

Research by Sanford-Burnham scientists has contributed to tangible medical benefits.

  • 3 FDA approved drugs for treatment of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  • 2 drugs for treatment of cancer and 1 device for tissue repair in Phase III clinical trials.
  • 3 drugs in Phase II clinical trials for various cancers along with 1 for a rare bone disorder.
  • 3 drugs in Phase I clinical trials for treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and cancer.

Facts and Figures

  • Faculty (full time): 83
  • Faculty (adjunct): 51
  • Scientific staff: 730
  • Total staff: 1,067 (approx.)
  • Centers: 5
  • La Jolla and Lake Nona Campuses: 671,798 sq. feet
  • Annual operating budget: $152 million
  • Peer-reviewed scientific publications in 2013: 355
  • Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization

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