Our School History
Note: In December 2019, University President Anthony P. Monaco and Chair of the Board of Trustees Peter Dolan announced the decision to remove the Sackler name from all programs and facilities on the Tufts Boston health sciences campus—including the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. In announcing the decision, President Monaco said, “The School of Medicine’s values include a commitment to relieve suffering, improve quality of life, and promote integrity and social responsibility. Given the human toll of the opioid epidemic in which members of the Sackler family and their company Purdue Pharma are associated, it is clear that continuing to display the Sackler name is inconsistent with these values.” At the time of the announcement, the president also observed that in making the decision to remove the Sackler name, the university was not seeking to erase this chapter of Tufts’ history. In that spirit of continuing to acknowledge the Sackler family’s involvement with Tufts, the university has chosen to preserve the content that follows, which documents the history of the school.
Our school was established by the trustees of Tufts University on July 1, 1980 through the gifts of the late Dr. Arthur M. Sackler, Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler and Dr. Raymond R. Sackler. Their vision was matched by that of the then current president of Tufts University, Jean Mayer, who saw integration across all medical fields as crucial for advancement of health. As a result of the generosity of the Sackler brothers, six fledging graduate programs at Tufts University School of Medicine were given a home. These programs: Biochemistry, Immunology, Molecular Biology and Microbiology, Anatomy, Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, and Physiology; and their faculty of 70 provided the foundation on which our school is built. These faculty and their students were a part of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences prior to the founding of the Sackler School.
In 1985, Dr. Louis Lasagna came to Tufts to lead the Sackler School. He served as the school's dean until 2001 and was largely responsible for the growth that has seen the faculty nearly triple and the student body grow from about 40 to nearly 250. Dr. Lasagna's pioneering vision established a school in which basic, translational and clinical research are strongly valued. This spirit enriched the Sackler School, which has welcomed basic scientists, physician scientists and clinical investigators to its faculty. Under his guidance, the School formed two divisions in 1999, the Basic Science Division, home to faculty and programs focused on the basic research disciplines that underpin biomedical research, and the Clinical Research Division, home to a graduate program focused on physician trainees and others with advanced health-related degrees who are interested in this discipline. The Sackler School was the first graduate biomedical sciences school in the US to embrace a clinical research PhD training program.
Since its inception, the Sackler faculty has grown. The school was quick to include the strong research faculty at Tufts Medical Center and now has members from across the schools of Tufts University. Members are also located at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough, Maine.
The number of Sackler graduate programs has changed over the years. Neuroscience was added in 1985 and Genetics was founded in 1994. Clinical & Translational Science was added in 1999 and an MS in Pharmacology & Drug Development was added in 2013.
Some programs closed or changed their names and their focus to embrace advances in biomedical sciences. The Physiology Program spawned the Molecular and Cellular Physiology Program, a shift that strengthened program focus on the pathobiology of disease. Consistent with its strong focus on molecular pathogenesis mechanisms, the Molecular Biology and Microbiology Program became the Molecular Microbiology Program. The Anatomy Program increased its relationship to developmental biology and translational medicine, and became the Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology Program. More recently, the Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics PhD program was discontinued and the Cellular & Molecular Physiology and Biochemistry Programs merged with the Cell, Molecular & Developmental Biology Program.
In addition to program-specific changes, the Integrated Studies Program (ISP) was formed when the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Physiology, and Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology recognized the strong thread of shared fundamentals. This common admissions track provided students with a strong, integrated first year curriculum that supports discipline specific-training beginning after the first year. Indeed, the ISP proved so successful that the three participating programs merged to create a new Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology program.
Although the Sackler School graduated its first class less than 40 years ago, Sackler has established itself as a leading institution for biomedical graduate education. The high educational standards and the excellent training and research programs that are part of the school play a key role in the life of the Health Science Campus and Tufts University as a whole.