The Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC) was established in 1960 as an organized research unit, with a mission to capitalize on the growing opportunities in biological/biomedical research in the Pacific and to help develop a future medical school. Originally named the Institute of Health Research, its name was soon changed to the Pacific Biomedical Research Center. It retained that name until 2005, when it was again changed to the Pacific Biosciences Research Center to better reflect its change in focus from biomedical sciences to transdisciplinary biological research.
In the mid-1960s the University of Hawai‘i initiated plans to develop a marine research facility, as part of PBRC, where local marine organisms would be used to study basic biological questions in cell and developmental biology. Funded by the National Science Foundation and the State of Hawai'i, and built on state land near Kewalo Basin, the Kewalo Marine Laboratory was opened in August 1972 with six full-time faculty, under the leadership of Dr. Robert Kane.
In 1974 the Sensory Sciences Institute, founded in 1966 by Nobel Laureate Georg von Békésy, merged into PBRC and was renamed the Békésy Laboratory of Neurobiology. PBRC initiated a program in cancer research that spun off as the independent Cancer Research Center in 1981. The Hawaiian Evolutionary Biology Program (HEBP) was established as a research program within PBRC in 1985. The HEBP evolved into what is now PBRC’s Center for Conservation Research and Training (CCRT) in 1993 after receiving a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to establish a program at UH Mānoa focused on addressing the extinction crisis faced by the unique plants and animals that evolved in Hawai‘i. In 1991, CCRT developed the highly successful Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology (EECB) graduate specialization program that was established under the College of Natural Sciences.
Since the early 1970s, PBRC has served as one of the major leaders at UH Mānoa for developing new training programs in the biological and biomedical sciences. In 1974, PBRC established UH Mānoa as a minority school through an award for a competitive grant from the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 1978, PBRC was awarded an honors undergraduate training program, Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) from NIH.
In the 1980's. PBRC developed and administered NIH biomedical center grants that supported programs such as the Center for Clinical Research Excellence, a Specialized Neuroscience Research Program (SNRP), two IDeA programs, the Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN), and a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) for cardiovascular research. PBRC took the lead in developing these health-related programs at a time when the Medical School concentrated on training medical students. During this time, PBRC also developed a core microscopy facility (the Biological Electron Microscopy Facility) and the first core molecular biology/biotechnology facility (the Greenwood Molecular Biology Core Facility) for the campus. Both facilities have continued to support researchers from many departments on campus and in the broader research community.
In the 1990's, PBRC continued its commitment to student training by obtaining federal funding for, and implementing, two new programs: the Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental Biology (UMEB) program, focusing on students from Hawai'i and the Pacific, and a training program (GK-12) in which graduate students mentored K-12 teachers to help them incorporate ecological, evolutionary, and conservation biology concepts into their classes. The UMEB program was renewed as the Undergraduate Research Mentoring (URM) in the biological sciences program.
In 2006 UH Mānoa was awarded NSF funding for an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program in Ecology, Conservation and Pathogen Biology that is administratively housed in PBRC. Since 2007, the PBRC faculty has been focusing on biodiversity in its broadest sense. PBRC is now uniquely positioned to lead the University in biodiversity studies and sustainability solutions.