Scope and Content
Title: Choh Hao Li Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1937-1987
Collection number: MSS 88-9
Li, Choh Hao
Extent: Number of containters: 51 cartons, 5 boxes
feet: approx. 65
University of California, San Francisco. Library. Archives and Special Collections.
San Francisco, California 94143-0840
Shelf location: For current information on the location of
these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Since some of the materials in the Li papers contain medical information on named
individuals all users of the collection must sign a confidentiality agreement, stating
that they will not use the names of any individual in association with medical
information. Carton 46-53 have further restrictions on use, consult with Special
Collections staff on availabilty.
[Identification of item], Choh Hao Li Papers, MSS 88-9, Archives & Special
Collections, UCSF Library & CKM
Born April 21, 1913 in Canton China, Choh Hao Li received a B.S. (Chemistry) from the
University of Nanking and taught there for two years before coming to U.C. Berkeley in
1935. After receiving his Ph.D. in Physio-organic Chemistry from Berkeley in 1938 he went
to work as a Research Assistant in Herbert McLean Evan's Experimental Biology Laboratory
advancing to lecturer and then through Assistant and Associate Professor. In 1950 he was
made full professor and became the first director of the newly created Hormone Research
Laboratory (HRL). Li moved with the HRL to the University of California San Francisco
campus in 1967. He officially retired in 1983, but as emeritus professor, from 1983 until
his death in 1987, he headed the Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology.
During his career, Li received at least 25 scientific awards and 10 honorary degrees, and
published 1,100 scientific articles with over 300 collaborators. He also chaired numerous
symposia, served on local, national, and international advisory boards and edited several
scientific journals and books.
A pioneer in the field of bio-chemistry, Li devoted his professional life to unlocking
the secrets of the pituitary gland. He was either the first, or one of the first, to
identify and/or purify eight of the nine hormones of the anterior pituitary. The
identification, purification and later synthesis of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) or
somatatropin, and the identification of beta-endorphin were his two most widely
recognized achievements, but he also worked on ACTH (corticotrophin), the gonadotropins
--leuteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), thyrotropin,
prolactin, melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH), and lipotropin. His last accomplishment
was the identification and purification of insulin-like growth factor I. While not a
clinician or directly involved in clinical research, Li's discoveries had direct clinical
impact, especially in the areas of growth and fertility.
One of 11 children of a Cantonese industrialist, Li grew up in a family that stressed
education. All of his siblings attended college, many going on to advanced study, and at
least three spending some time in the United States. His elder brother Choh-Ming Li,
received a doctorate in Economics from U.C. Berkeley and later became the Vice-Chancellor
of the Chinese University in Hong Kong and was considered for a UN education post.
Another brother, Choh-Luh, was a neurosurgeon at the National Institute for Health (NIH),
in Bethesda, Maryland, and a third brother, Choh Hsien, was director of
Minneapolis-Honeywell Corporation's research division. Li met his future wife, Shen Hwai
Lu (Annie), in 1931 at the University of Nanking. They married in 1938, after he had
received his doctorate and convinced her to pursue graduate studies in the United States.
She received her masters in Agricultural Economics from U.C. Berkeley when their eldest
child was two. Mrs. Li reported that C.H. discussed the titles, introductions and
conclusions of his papers with her, allowing her to make suggestions and briefed her on
the daily happenings at the laboratory. He worked 6 or 7 days a week until he was in his
in his mid-fifties and she convinced him to cut back to 5 days so that they could spend
their weekends in the country. They had three children all of whom received professional
degrees. Their son, Wei-i, became a doctor, and daughters Anne-si and Eva , a
veterinarian and an environmental designer.
Choh Hao Li became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1955.
Li graduated from Pui Ying High School in Canton in 1929, at sixteen years of age, and
went on the University of Nanking where he received his bachelors degree in 1933. After
teaching two years at Nanking (1933-35) he applied for admission to graduate schools in
the United States. The University of California at Berkeley where his older brother
Choh-Ming was attending was his first choice. However he did receive immediate acceptance
into the U.C. program, because the Dean, Gilbert Newton Lewis was skeptical of Li's
Chinese undergraduate degree. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor did accept him. On
his way East to Ann Arbor Li stopped at Berkeley to visit his brother and make one last
try at admittance. Li showed Dean Lewis his first scientific paper in English, recently
published in the
Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS). The
paper's senior researcher, Ward V. Evans of Northwestern University, was known and
respected by Lewis, and subsequently Li was admitted to the program on six months
probation. Three years later, in 1938, Li received his doctorate degree.
Anti-Asian sentiment was strong during the Depression, making jobs and housing difficult
to find for a young Chinese man. Biologist Herbert Evans took an interest in the young
chemist and offered him a tiny work space in the Basement of his Experimental Biology
Laboratory (EBLl) in the Life Sciencees Building at Berkeley. At the EBL, Evans was
beginning to explore the workings of the pituitary galnd and Li's chemistry background
was essential for the success of the research. However, this cooperation between
Chemistry and Biology was new and his biologist lab-mates reportedly did not know what to
make of Li and left him to his own devices. It was during these early years with Dr.
Evans that Li developed the techniques necessary to isolate hormones from the brain and
identify their chemical structure. This research paved the way for a series of
discoveries which greatly increased scientific knowledge and had a profound effect on the
understanding and treatment of a variety of diseases and conditions.
Li's first success came in 1940 when he isolated luteinizing hormone, the first hormone
from the anterior pituitary, which along with follicle stimulating hormone, is important
in sexual development and fertility. With his isolation of bovine growth hormone (1944)
Li began to receive notice. During this period he advanced from Research Associate (1938)
to Lecturer in Chemical Morphology (1942), becoming Assistant Professor of Experimental
Biology in 1944. Li became an Associate Professor in 1947 the same year he received the
CIBA Award in Endocrinology. In 1948 he received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial
Foundation Fellowship, which he appied to fund research under the direction of Arne
Tiselius at the University of Uppsala in Uppsala, Sweden. Tiselius had won the 1948 Nobel
Prize for Chemistry for his work with separating the proteins in the blood stream. He
also developed equipment and techniques for separation of proteins and became the leader
in protein chromatography. Li was originally supposed to spend six months in Sweden and
then return to Berkeley, however, while at Uppsala, Li extended his stay.
Fearing Li's loss, UC administrators acted quickly to meet his research needs. Li
returned to Berkeley in 1950 as a full Professor with joint appointments in the newly
created Berkeley Biochemistry Department and the San Francisco Experimental Endocrinology
Department. At the same time he was named Director of the newly designated Hormone
Research Institute. Li maintained strong ties with Tiselius and two future directors of
University of Uppsala departments, Dr. C.A. Gemzell, Chairman (1959-72) Department of
OB/GYN and Dr. Jerker Porath, Director Institute of Biochemistry, trained under Li at the
HRL. The isolation of human growth hormone in 1955 and the successful synthesis of human
growth hormone in 1971 confirmed Li's place in scientific history. The direct clinical
applications of growth hormone in the treatment of children with hypo-pituitary dwarfism
drew Li into cooperation with clinical trials and publicity of these discoveries provoked
floods of letters to Li and the HRL.
The University of Chicago attempted to recruit Li in the late 1950s, but he remained with
the University of California. In 1967 both the lab and his professorial affiliations
moved from Berkeley to San Francisco. The change in location appears to have had little
or no effect on the laboratories focus or function. Li continued to unlock the secrets of
the pituitary. He and his lab were responsible for the isolation and amino acid
sequencing of prolactin (ovine) which stimulates milk production, the semi-synthesis of
ovine corticotrophin and the total synthesis of human ACTH (adrenocorticotropin) which
were important in the treatment of inflammatory disease before the development of
cortico-steroids, the isolation and sequencing of lutropin (ovine and human) and
thyrotropin (human), and the isolation, sequence determination and synthesis of
b-melanotropin or b-MSH (porcine, bovine and camel), as well as the discovery, isolation,
structure and synthesis of corticotropin-inhibiting peptide.
His final major discovery while at HRL grew out of his labs isolation, in 1964, of sheep
lipotropin which had powerful lipid-mobilizing properties. It also appeared to be a
precursor of b-MSH. Li felt that there was more to this protein than was immediately
obvious. In 19__ he first discovered that lipotropin could be cleaved to yield
b-endorphin, a protein with morphine-like effects first isolated by Li from camel
pituitaries and later human and other species. This led to two new fields of research,
the defining of "pro-hormone" precursors, and the study of endorphin and the enkephalins.
b-endorphin sparked a whole new area of clinical research and cooperation. It was hoped
that b-endorphin would help with pain relief since camels who produce relatively large
amounts of this protein are almost totally impervious to pain. It was also investigated
as a possible treatment for drug addiction, depression, and schizophrenia.
He retained his professorships and directorship until his "retirement" in 1983 when
William Rutter became Director of the HRL, and shifted the laboratories focus towards
biochemistry/biophysics. Li was then given his own Molecular Endocrinology Laboratory
which he ran until his death from Cancer in 1987. His last major accomplishment, the
identification and purification of insulinlike growth factor I in 198_ took place at the
Molecular Endocrinology lab and he was awarded his final honor --the Pierce Award at the
Tenth American Peptide Symposium in 1987 just months before his death.
Other awards and honors earned by Li during his life include the California Section Award
of the American Chemical Society (1951), the Francis Amory Septennial Prize of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1955), a Gold Medal from the Minister of Education
of the Republic of China (1958), the first Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research
(1962), the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement (1964), a Gold
Medal from the City of Milan, Italy (1967), the University Medal in Liege, Belgium
(1968), the City of Hope National Medical Center Award (1969), the Modern Medicine
Distinguished Achievement Award (1970), a Scientific Achievement Award from the American
Medical Association (1970), the National Award of the American Cancer Society (1971), the
Nicholas Andry Award from the Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons (1972), the Lewis
Price of the American Philosophical Society (1977), the Nichols Medal of the American
Chemical Society (1979), a Science Award from the Academia Santa Chiara, Genoa, Italy
(1979), the Koch Award of the Endocrine Society (1981), the Heyrovsky Gold Plaque of
Honor for Achievement in Chemistry from the Czechoslovakia Academy of Sciences (1982) and
the Luft Medal of the Swedish Society of Endocrinology (1986).
He also received awards from a number of Chinese-American organizations including the
Chinese-American Citizen Alliance (1961), the Chinese Society of Engineers (1965), the
Chinese-American Physicians Society (1977), The Shoong Foundation (1980), the Chinese
Hospital of San Francisco, the American Chinese Medical Society (1983) and the
Mid-America Chinese Science and Technology Association (1984).
Though nominated at least twice for the Nobel prize, this highest of scientific awards
eluded him, though he was invited to nominate a candidate for the 1957 Nobel for
Physiology and Medicine. He nominated Dr. Charles Huggins. Li was also active on the
prize committees for the Lasker (1970, 1975, 1979, and 86) and Amory Prizes (1977, 1979,
1981-87) as well as serving on grant review committees for the American Cancer Society
Li's association with the University of California spanned more than five decades, during
which he served as mentor to a number of students who went on to prominent scientific
careers including several department heads. Alumni of the HRL include: Dr. Yehudith Birk,
Hebrew University, Israel; Dr. R.D. Cole, University of California Berkeley, Dr. Laszlo
Graf, Institute of Drug Research, Budapest, Hungary; Dr. C.Y. Lee, Chinese University,
Hong Kong; J.E. Leonis, University of Brussels, Belgium; Dr. Lin Ma, Vice-chancellor, The
Chinese University of Hong Kong; Dr. T.B. Lo, National Taiwan University; Dr. N.R.
Moudgal, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, Dr. Willem Oelofsen, University
of Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Dr. Brian T. Pickering, University of Bristol England;
Dr. R.S. Schwyzer, Swill Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich; and Dr. P.G. Squire,
Colorado State University.
He also received honorary degrees from 10 Universities. Including three in 1971, the year
that the synthesis of Human Growth Hormone was announced (University of the Pacific,
Marquette University and Saint Peter's College ). The other degrees were from the
Catholic University of Chile (1962), Chinese University of Hong Kong (1970), University
of Uppsala, Sweden (1977), University of San Francisco (1978), Long Island University
(1979), University of Colorado (1981), and the Medical College of Pennsylvania (1982).
Li is credited with being an excellent teacher who encouraged the free flow of ideas
within his laboratory. Hew was always ready to play devil's advocate and pressed his
students and associates to be creative as well as able to back up there opinions. More
than one student wrote Li, after leaving his lab, that they missed the openness and
independent working conditions that Li provided.
Beyond his academic and lab duties Li was very active in the wider scientific community
serving on the Scientific Advisory Board for the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer
Research, New York (1952-55), and as Scientific Advisor for the Children's Cancer
Research Foundation, Boston (1963-73), in the United States. He was also active in
promoting the study of science and specifically Biochemistry in China through his service
on the advisory boards of two Chinese Institutions. He served on the Academic Advisory
Board of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (1963 -87), and as Chairman of the Advisory
Board (1971-77), then as Corresponding Member (1979-83) and finally again as Chairman
(1983-87) of the Institute of Biological Chemistry of the Academia Sinica in Taipei,
He also served chairman or president for a number of national and international
scientific symposia including the International Symposium on Protein and Polypeptide
Hormones, Liege, Belgium (1963), Conference on Glycoproteins with Hormonal Activities,
National Institutes of Health (1971), Second International Symposium on Growth Hormone,
Milan Italy (1971), Symposium on Gonadotropins, Bangalore, India (1973), International
Symposium on Growth Hormone and Related Peptides, Milan, Italy (1975), 12th Miles
International Symposium on Peptide Hormones, Baltimore (1979), and the International
Symposium Growth Hormone and Other Biologically Active Peptides, Milan Italy (1979). At
the time of his death he was making plans to attend yet another international event, the
centennial celebration at the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile, hosted by his
long-time associate Hector R. Croxatto.
Publishing is an integral part of modern academic scientific practice and Li published
with a vengeance, authoring or co-authoring over 1000 papers during his career and
collaborated with at least 300 other scientists. He also shared his knowledge through a
variety of editorial activities. He Edited
Hormonal Proteins and Peptides,
volumes 1-11, (Academic Press Inc.) 1973-83.
are no documents relating to his editing of vol 13 (1987).
Methods in Medical Research,
volume 3, 1950 and
Perspectives in the Biochemistry of Large Molecules,
Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 1962, was Section Editor of
Peptides and Proteins,
1960-63 and Specialist
Subject Editor for the
International Encyclopedia of Pharmacology and Therapeutics
(Pergamon Press) 1975-77. He served first as Co-associate Editor (1969-76) and
then as Editor-in-Chief (1977-87) for the
International Journal of Peptide and
as well as serving on editorial advisory boards for both
Scientific and Popular journals such as the
Archives of Biochemistry and
General and Comparative Endocrinology
Current Topics in Experimental Endocrinology
Li was also actively involved in the creation of Pituitary Banks, in an attempt to insure
an adequate amount of human pituitaries for both research and clinical uses. The lack of
adequate supplies of pituitaries from which to extract human growth hormone for the
treatment of more than a token number of dwarf children was a major motivating factor in
the push to synthesize the hormone.
In order to insure the funding of his work Li and Alice Fordyce of the Lasker Foundation
organized the Hormone Research Foundation around 1968. Li served as President of the
Foundation until his death.
Scope and Content
The Choh Hao Li papers consist of 52 cartons and 2 boxes containing files spanning his
career at the University of California, (1938-87) with the bulk of the material dating
from the 1960s through his retirement from the Hormone Research Laboratory (1983). The
papers represent his scientific, administrative, collegial and private life. Topics
covered by the papers include research documentation (laboratory notebooks, paper drafts,
tables, and correspondence about research with a variety of colleagues), acquisition of
research materials --especially animal and human pituitary glands, work on advisory,
editorial and other professional committees, clinical trials and requests for help from
the public, and some materials on the direction of the Hormone Research Laboratory and
University of California administrative files. There are also some biographical and
personal items in the collection, including material on Li's visa status in the 1930s and
40s, as well as letters to and from his wife and children during his lengthy travels.
Materials in the collection include: correspondence, laboratory notebooks, research
notes, manuscripts, reprints, administrative files, annual reports, photographs,
illustrations, and scrapbooks.
A significant minority of the letters and other documents in the collection are written
in Chinese, especially some of his correspondence with family members and with Chinese
officials and colleagues. There are also scattered letters in various European languages
in the collection, but many of these have English translations attached.
The Li Papers have been divided into 10 series: Correspondence, University of California,
Laboratory Notebooks, Manuscripts (including reprints and illustrations), Grant
Applications, Photographs (and news clippings), Thesis, Requests for Help (Restricted),
Personnel Files (Restricted), Restricted Materials.
There does not seem to have been a clear differentiation in the filing system between
Li's personal, professional and laboratory correspondence. While the majority of the
correspondence and other papers in the collection are by or about Li, there is also
correspondence between third parties and third party manuscripts and reprints. Most
third-party material was either sent to Li by one of the concerned parties or is by or to
a member of his laboratory.
Only the Correspondence Series (Series I) has been fully processed and is described at
the folder level, the rest of the materials have been roughly orgainized into series and
have box-level description.
The Correspondence Series is the largest series in the collection (18 cartons) iand is
divided into four major subseries: general correspondence, subject correspondence, award
correspondence, and travel correspondence. The
General Correspondencesubseries contains the bulk of the material and covers a wide variety of topics.
Subject Correspondence subseries is made up of several
short runs of correspondence on variety of topics including the b-MSH controversy, the
Endocrine Dinner Club, editorial files for the book, Hormonal Proteins and Peptides,
which Li edited, and letters seeking employment with the lab, Lasker Foundation and
Hormone Research Foundation Correspondence. The
Awards Correspondencesubseries documents Li's receipt of several awards and his later service on the
prize committees for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences' Amory Award and the
Lasker Foundation's Lasker Award. The
Travel Correspondencesubseries includes travel reports of varying depth, correspondence from and about
trips, conference announcements and expense reports. Some folders contain detailed
correspondence and planning materials for conferences or symposia. The Awards and Travel
sub-series have not been fully processed. Original
Photographsfound within the
Correspondence Series have been
replaced with photocopies. The original photographs have been added to the Series
The Correspondence Series as a whole documents Li's active involvement with a
cross-section of the scientific community, and includes personal as well as strictly
business letters. Li's correspondents ran the gamut from Nobel Prize winners such as
Christian Anifsen, Stanford Moore, Frederick Sanger, William Stein, Arne Tiselius, and
Vincent du Vigneud to other significant members of the scientific community and students
and former students, including Sidney and Seymor Farber, Ardis Lostroh, Max Geffen, S.L.
Chien, and Dwight Ingles. He also corresponded with prominent members of the Chinese
American community such as the architect I.M. Pei, and there are scattered letters from
entertainment figures such as Danny Kaye and Eddy Arnold.
Scientific and professional issues predominate, such as the letter from Laurence Kinsell
explaining his reasons for leaving UC and discussions of research, the work of the
National Pituitary Agency in trying to arrange for glands from animal and human sources
to provide enough material for both clinical and research uses; and evaluations of
journal articles and individuals. However more personal topics, including wedding and
birth announcements, discussions of family and work life are also appear.
Li carried on extensive correspondence with scientists around the world, having major
contacts in Europe and South America. He corresponded regularly with researchers and
doctors in Sweden, England, France, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Italy, Germany,
Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan, Australia, Israel, Iraq, Canada, Mexico and China. This
international correspondence occasionally includes insider opinions on major political
and social events, such as a letter from Hector R. Croxatto of the Universidad Catolica
de Chile (Dec. 20, 1973) describing his feelings about the overthrow of Salvador Allende.
The Chinese correspondence documents his role in promoting science education in Hong Kong
and Taiwan, including letters to and from officials at the Academia Sinica (Taiwan) and
the Chinese University of Hong Kong, covering hiring decisions, placement of students,
curriculum issues and more. This correspondence can be found both under the names of the
Institutions and in "China --miscellaneous" folders, as well as under the names of
specific individuals such as: Shih-Liang Chien, Tung-bin Lo, Choh-Ming Li (CHL's
brother), Ma Lin, and others.
Major correspondents include: Howard Bern , Yehudith Birk --Israel, Michel Chretien
--France, Peter Condliffe, Hector Croxatto --Chile, Thomas L. Dao, Konrad Dobriner, Ralph
I. Dorfman, Enrique Egana --Chile, Escamilla, Roberto, Evans, Herbert, Alice Fordyce [See
Also --correspondence in Lasker Foundation and Hormone Research Foundation sub-sub
Series], Peter Forsham, William Ganong, Maxwell Geffen, David W. Golde, Laszlo Graf
--Hungary, Antonietta and Renzo Grattarola --Italy, George P. Hess, Charles Huggins [Li's
nomination of Huggins for Nobel prize is filed under Huggins, Charles --Nomination for
the Nobel Prize 1957], Dwight J. Ingle [See also Upjohn Co.], Marion Jutisz --France,
Hiroshi Kawauchi --Japan, John H. Lawrence, Rolf Luft --Stockholm, Sweden, Johannes
Meienhofer, N. Raghu Moudgal --India, Hans Neurath, Willem Oelofson--South Africa, Kai O.
Pedersen --Uppsala, Sweden, Brian T. Pickering --England, John G. Pierce, Gregory Pincus,
Jerker Porath --Uppsala, Sweden, William O. Reinhardt, T. S. Anantha Samy, Andrew
Schally, Hans Selye --Montreal, Canada.
Major companies and organizations represented in the correspondence include Armour &
Company, Eli Lilly & Company, Upjohn Co., Merck and Co., CIBA Foundation, Guggenheim
Foundation, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Cancer Society, American
Chemical Society, Endocrine Society, National Academy of Science, National Institutes of
Health, National Pituitary Bank, National Research Council, New York Academy of Arts.
Letters from the same person may appear in both the company/ organization files and under
their own name.
There are also three files of correspondence from his stint as editor of the
International Journal of Peptide and Protein Research, (1972-87); and files from the
Endocrine Dinner Club which he organized and ran from 1952-63.
Family correspondence is also found in this collection. Li's correspondence with wife and
children appear in the Travel Correspondence sub-series, as well as under Li Family
Correspondence among the General correspondence sub-series, though most of that folder
contains correspondence with siblings. Li's brothers Choh Ming and Choh Luh, both have
several correspondence files in the General correspondence sub-series. Of special
interest are Choh Ming Li's 1946 CV, and a 1972 article on Acupuncture which refers to
Choh Luh Li.
Li's research is documented not only by his correspondence but also in the unprocessed,
two carton Laboratory Notebooks Series (Series III) and the extensive unprocessed
Manuscripts Series which appears to contain drafts, reprints, illustrations and data for
all or most of Li's and or the labs papers, including unpublished papers. Also of
interest are the Grant Application files (Series V) and the carton containing the Thesis
(Series VII) of several of Li's colleagues and advisees. Series II: University of
California contains material relating to Li's responsibilities as Director of the Hormone
Research Lab and as a member of the faculty at the University of California. There is
also a photograph and clipping file (Series VI) which contains a variety of photographs
of Li and co-workkers, a super-8 film of the Hormone Research Lab and a clippings on Li
from the 1940s-1960s. Series VIII, XI & X are restricted for reasons of
confidentiality and privacy. Materials in these files will be opened to the public as
restrictions expire. Series VIII contains laboratory personnel records. Series XI
consists of Help Requests from the public asking about the availability of the hormones
that Li had helped to isolate or synthesize, or offering themselves as research subjects.
Series X contains miscellaneous restricted files.