More Than Three Decades of Dedication

Richard Burns

“Student emergencies were no stranger to me,” Richard Burns (M.S. 1954) says, as he reflects on the impact of funding on his own graduate experience nearly 70 years ago. His parents covered his first year of undergrad at Albion College, but the next year was a bit tougher. “A summer job made tuition, and a friend of my dad's gave me a basement room to hang my hat in,” he recalls, and he later snagged a student job in the cafeteria, which kept him fed. “Now, I'm glad I can help a little,” he says of his 30-plus years of giving to Rackham. “I think U-M offers an outstanding locale for graduate education and research.”

As a graduate student at U-M, fellowships covered most of his expenses. He taught in the Zoology Department before serving in Korea from 1955 to1956. He then returned to the Department of Pharmacology with the support of the GI Bill. Burns worked with Dr. Maurice Seevers observing and recording a range of drug responses in animals. “Our program of assessing the addiction liability of candidate pain relievers in monkeys involved rating the level of withdrawal responses in opiate-habituated animals, Burns explains. “Drugs that would substitute for the opioid and attenuate the withdrawal symptoms would be suspect for that liability.”

When he and his wife Martha married in November 1958, Burns left the doctoral program for a research position with the Norwich Pharmaceutical Company in New York, where he worked for 34 years. He tested newly synthesized chemical entities in mice to observe their effects on behavior and a range of other responses. In their research, they found that one compound caused profound dose-related muscle relaxation over a range of non-lethal doses.

Student emergencies were no stranger to me…now, I'm glad I can help a little.

In 1974—after ten years of development—Dantrium hit the market and proved to be a life-saving treatment for malignant hyperthermia, a rare, life-threatening response to certain anesthetics. Before the drug’s development, operations would need to be paused and aggressive measures—such as immersing the patient in ice water—had to be taken to stop the muscle contractions that led to the dangerously heightened body temperatures. Having a readily available antidote changed operating suites all over the world.

His days in the lab may be behind him, but with his 30+ years of annual gifts to funds like the Rackham Impact Fund and the Rackham Emergency Fund, Burns continues to make a global impact. With gifts like his, we can continue to provide the resources necessary to empower some of our brightest minds and support those following in his footsteps.

To our loyal annual donors, whether your gift is $5 or $5,000, we thank you for your unwavering support and continued partnership.

Richard Burns.