History of the Sharpe-Strumia Research Foundation

About the Sharpe-Strumia Research Foundation of Bryn Mawr Hospital*:

The Foundation has been in existence since August 1944 when it was chartered as a nonprofit corporation by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and was then known as the Bryn Mawr Research Foundation. Following the death of Dr. John S. Sharpe in 1946, an amendment was filed on July 11, 1947 to change the name of The Foundation to honor Dr. Sharpe. The amendment to the Articles of Incorporation was approved August 1, 1947, and the name was changed to The John S. Sharpe Research Foundation of Bryn Mawr Hospital. The Foundation has played a modest but significant role in the development of Bryn Mawr Hospital. The purpose of The Foundation as stated in the charter is “to conduct scientific research in the medical sciences and related fields.”


The seeds for the development of The Foundation were sown in the late 1930s when a Haverford family practitioner, Dr. John S. Sharpe sought the assistance of Max M. Strumia, MD with regard to clinical research relating to lobar pneumonia. Dr. Strumia was the Director of the Department of Pathology from 1932 to 1968 and continued to work in the department until his death in January 1972.

Drs. Sharpe and Strumia worked well together, and developed a deep and lasting admiration for each other. Dr. Sharpe's interest in research was encouraged by his wife, Catharine, who survived him by many years and was ever supportive of The Foundation.

Physicians who entered the practice of medicine after World War II may wonder why Dr. Sharpe had been interested in lobar pneumonia—an entity rarely seen today. Many do not realize that prior to 1938 approximately one third of the medical beds in most hospitals were occupied during the winter months by patients suffering from pneumococcal lobar pneumonia. Mortality was very high and treatment was woefully inadequate. The only effective therapy consisted of oxygen and large doses of tender loving care.

In 1938, the first effective chemotherapeutic agents for bacterial infections became available. Prontosil (sulfanilamide attached to an inconsequential red dye) was followed by pure sulfanilamide, sulfapyridine and a host of other more effective and safer drugs. The mortality for pneumococcal pneumonia dropped precipitously. Almost all patients with pneumonia survived, and many who were treated early did not require hospitalization.

The use of oxygen and tender loving care also dropped to a certain extent. Lederle Laboratories stock also slipped downward because they lost their market for type-specific antipneumococcal serum (types 1 to xxxii). A lesser known casualty was Dr. Sharpe's clinical research. It suffered from an acute loss of patients.

Dr. Sharpe was happy to witness the near extinction of lobar pneumonia. He immediately turned his efforts to the support of Dr. Strumia in his many research projects.

In 1939, the United States Army and the National Research Council had the remarkable foresight to initiate preparations for the care of casualties in the event that the United States became involved in the conflict in Europe, which eventually became known as World War II. Included in these preparations were studies on the pathophysiology and treatment of shock associated with trauma. The studies on shock performed at The Bryn Mawr Hospital centered on methods for providing transfusion of blood and/or blood substitutes as close as possible to the area in which the combatants were injured.

Dr. Strumia soon became involved with new methods for the collection of blood, preparation of plasma, and the storage of plasma in kits which would permit transportation without refrigeration to all parts of the world.

The Army made requests and promised funds. Funds were delayed and delayed. Dr. John Reichel, Sr. and Dr. Strumia wished to purchase apparatus to dry plasma from the frozen state. Dr. Sharpe and his gracious wife cut what might have been a Gordian knot. They promptly donated the necessary money, and the project was underway months in advance of the arrival of the Army funds.

The funds from the Army, and then the Navy and the National Research Council, eventually came through. However the early start made possible by the support of Dr. and Mrs. Sharpe permitted the development of a system for the preparation of dried plasma which was adopted by the Armed Forces with very little modification. The Armed Forces actually had a small amount of dried plasma before World War II became a reality at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The speed and the efficiency with which the Plasma Program at The Bryn Mawr Hospital was completed were remarkable—particularly by today's standards. There were no applications to the Food and Drug Administration, no research protocol, and no animal studies prior to the use with patients. This may not have been all to the good, but it certainly got the job done.

Dr. Sharpe died in 1946 and the name of the organization was changed to honor his memory. It became The John S. Sharpe Research Foundation of Bryn Mawr Hospital in July 1947. The name change was intended to indicate that the two corporations were closely affiliated. The close relationship was not meant to result in loss of corporate identity of The Foundation. It still has its own Board of Directors, and is responsible for its own funds in accordance with its charter and the laws of the Commonwealth and the federal government. In the early days of The Foundation Dr. Max M. Strumia, Richard W. Ledwith, Esq. and Dr. Alton D. Blake provided most of the guidance as members of the Board of Directors. Dr. Strumia doubled as Director of Research and was the most dominant member of the Board until his death in 1972.

In 1972, the Board of Directors was increased in order to provide greater representation of the Hospital's Medical Staff, Administration, and members from outside the hospital family. The amount of support given by The Foundation has varied over the years. As mentioned, it started with funds donated by Dr. and Mrs. Sharpe. Then came World War II and federal funds flowed. When Germany and Japan surrendered, research grants dried up and the Foundation's own funds eventually became the primary source to support its studies.

Through the years, other individuals made generous contributions The Foundation became the vehicle through which sizeable amounts of money have been channeled into medical research and development. In the past, many grateful patients have made donations to physicians for research, development, and fellowships. The tax liability for such use of the funds may or may not be a problem for the donor and/or the recipient. The Foundation, chartered as a nonprofit corporation, is a perfectly legal vehicle for donation of such funds.

Projects through the years have included plasma preparation and storage, improved methods for whole blood storage, preparation of globin as a blood volume expander, arthroscopy studies, radioisotope studies of the heart, trace metal studies, and expansion of electron microscopy in the hospital laboratory. More recently projects on heart disease, cancer, as well as other areas are ongoing.

The Foundation is guided by its Board of Directors. The Board accepts applications for support on the basis of merit.

The Board is responsible for prudent use of the money under its control. It is essential that applications for funds contain a clear explanation of the project proposed, and that regular reports be submitted so the Board may document that the money is well spent.

The Foundation reorganized in the early 2000’s, (adopting the name Sharpe-Strumia Research Foundation to honor the contributions of Max Strumia) from an operating research foundation to a supporting organization for Bryn Mawr Hospital. (Instead of performing research directly, it awards grants to support the research aims of Bryn Mawr Hospital and Main Line Health). Recent Presidents have included Louis Plzak, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon; Jack L. Martin, MD, an interventional cardiologist; Albert A. Keshgegian, MD, PhD, Pathologist; and Lawrence A. Marinari, MD, Pulmonary and Critical Care.

* Adapted and updated from an unidentified historical source