The original organization that would eventually become HMRI was established in 1952. The El Molino Avenue laboratory began as the Pasadena Foundation for Medical Research (PFMR), founded by physician George Sharp, which placed emphasis on cancer research. In 1953, the Fairmount Avenue laboratory began as the Institute of Medical Research of Huntington Memorial Hospital, founded by physician Hunter Shelden. It also housed the Pasadena Neurovascular Foundation.


Robert H. Pudenz MD developed the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) shunt system for hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is a relatively common neurological disorder in which an excessive amount of CSF accumulates within the ventricular cavities of the brain, resulting in rapid enlargement of the head. Although usually found in infants, it occurs in all age groups. Dr. Pudenz and his co-workers found that the best material to use to drain the shunt was silicone elastomer tubing, with two stainless steel ball valves to prevent backflow of CSF. “Our major contributions were demonstrating that for this type of shunt to operate properly, the end of the shunt tube had to be either in the left atrium of the heart or into a large vein such as the vena cava,” Dr. Pudenz explained. The first human ventriculoatrial shunt implantation was performed in 1955.

Dr. Shelden was responsible for a major development in preventing head injuries resulting from auto accidents. While treating hundreds of patients who came to emergency rooms with head trauma, he investigated the still primitive auto design features that were implicated in countless injuries and deaths. His results were published as the lead article of the November 5, 1955 Journal of the America Medical Association. In it, he proposed revolutionary safety features which we take for granted today – retractable seat belts, recessed steering wheel, reinforced roof, roll bars, door locks and seat backs, and passive restraints such as air bags. Because of his findings and recommendations, Congress in 1959 required all motor vehicles to meet certain safety standards.


The first scientific evidence that human lung cells exposed to smoggy air undergo changes characteristic of the early stages of cancer was reported by Dr. Donald E. Rounds and Dr. C.M. Pomerat, co-workers at the Pasadena Foundation for Medical Research. Their work supported what previously had been intuition that smog can cause lung cancer.

The Institute of Medical Research became the Huntington Institute of Applied Medical Research (HIAMR) in 1967. Its building underwent an expansion in the early 1970s.

Joining HIAMR in 1969, Dr. Richard Bing helped develop high-speed cinematography of coronary vessels and carried out studies on the chemistry of the heart after a heart attack. He would later introduce a technique for measuring cardiac blood flow using nitric oxide.


Projects included pioneering work with the biomedical research application of laser energy, and in the cell culture laboratory scientists developed a now widely used line of prostate cancer cells, including the immortal cell line, PC-3.


The El Molino (PFMR) and Fairmount (HIAMR) operations merged in 1982 as the Huntington Medical Research Institutes (HMRI). At that time research at the Pico Street location added clinical studies of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Earlier advances at Pico Street included development of methods for providing CT-scanner guidance of 3-dimensional brain stereotactic surgery systems. Comparative studies of CT versus MRI by HMRI contributed to the regulatory approval of magnetic resonance for medical imaging.


In 1990, Prentice Hall published Neural Prostheses: Fundamental Studies, edited by HMRI’s William Agnew PhD and Douglas McCreery PhD. The book reviewed the subject of neural stimulation from the perspectives of safety and efficacy. HMRI developed electrical stimulation devices to effectively connect to nerves and the brain to signal patterns for use in deafness, bladder control, and epilepsy.


The HMRI Liver Center opened its doors in 2005. HMRI perfected medical resonance spectroscopy that serves as a particularly sensitive diagnostic tool of brain tumors, dementia, stroke, encephalopathy, head trauma, infections, cancers, pediatric hypoxia, M.S., epilepsy and cardiovascular conditions.

HMRI’s new biomedical research building on South Fair Oaks Avenue was dedicated on April 12, 2018 and provides state of the art laboratory facilities for researchers in the areas of neurosciences, cardiovascular disease, and the brain/heart connection. It completes a single HMRI research and clinical campus that also includes the Pico Street MRI Center and the Liver Center.