September 12, 2014.
A sampling of news media stories involving UC Health:
A UCSF professor won this year’s coveted Lasker Award for basic medical research with a Japanese scientist for discovering a cellular quality-control system in the human body that protects against harmful misshapen proteins that can lead to disease. Peter Walter, UCSF professor of biochemistry and biophysics, was honored for his work into how the nuclei of cells make sure proteins, which are folded into three-dimensional shapes, are able to detect those that are misshapen or misfolded. Lasker announced five award winners, who also included former Bay Area researcher Mary-Claire King, who won the special achievement award for her work in discovering BRCA1, a gene that when mutated greatly increases the chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. King, now at the University of Washington in Seattle, started her work at UC Berkeley and continued it at UCSF. Read UC coverage.
The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation awards — often called the “American Nobels” in medical science — were announced Monday morning, and one of the winners used the spotlight to call for dramatically widening the use of genetic screening for breast and ovarian cancer. The recipient, Mary-Claire King, 68, of the University of Washington in Seattle, is one of five scientists being honored; she won the special achievement award for “bold, imaginative” scientific and human rights accomplishments. Dr. King became interested in genetics while doing graduate work in statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, in the late 1960s, She took a genetics course and realized that mathematics held a key to solving a number of biological puzzles. Other Lasker recipients included Peter Walter, 59, of UC San Francisco, for discoveries concerning a cellular quality-control system that protects the body against potentially harmful proteins.
Becker’s Hospital Review’s list of “100 hospitals and health systems with great heart programs” includes three from the University of California: UC Davis, UCLA and UC San Diego.
Here’s how you might be able to turn autism around in a baby: Carefully watch her cues, and push just a little harder with that game of peek-a-boo or “This little piggy.” But don’t push too hard — kids with autism are super-sensitive.That’s what Sally Rogers of UC Davis has found in an intense experiment with the parents of infants who showed clear signs of autism. It’s one of the most hopeful signs yet that if you diagnose autism very early, you can help children rewire their brains and reverse the symptoms. It was a small study, and it’s very hard to find infants who are likely to have autism, which is usually diagnosed in the toddler years. But the findings, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, offer some hope to parents worried about their babies.
See additional coverage: Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Washington Post, California Healthline, CBS News (video), Fox News, Huffington Post, KCRA 3 (video), Newsweek, Sacramento Bee, Time
A new way to make powerful changes at will to the DNA of humans, other animals and plants, much like how a writer changes words in a story, could usher in a transformation in genetic medicine. Scientists are not just excited about this recently discovered technique because it can snip and edit DNA with precision. It can also do the job more easily and cheaply than other gene-editing methods, making possible research that has historically been difficult, experts say. Now some of the biologists who unlocked this tool, derived from the immune system of bacteria, are forming companies around it. Although this molecular system, known as Crispr, is not fully understood, researchers believe it can be harnessed to create therapies for intractable genetic diseases. One of those scientists, UC Berkeley professor Jennifer Doudna, was part of the team that in 2012 first demonstrated the technique. It is now employed by two companies she has co-founded: Caribou Biosciences in Berkeley, and Editas Medicine in Cambridge, Mass.
In the summer of 1854, a deadly strain of cholera struck London. Within two weeks, the outbreak claimed 500 lives. Residents fled. No one knew what caused cholera or how to stop it. The answers came when a local physician, Dr. John Snow, acted on a hunch that cholera somehow spread through water. Mapping the deaths and interviewing neighbors led Snow to suspect that the culprit was water from a single pump. It was the first time a map was used to determine how geography enables the spread of disease. Now, researchers at UCSF hope Snow’s logic and Google’s powerful mapping technology can be used to combat one of the world’s biggest health problems: malaria outbreaks in Africa. The team behind the project, along with dozens of other scientists and nonprofits, are turning to Google’s detailed maps to highlight worrisome patterns: shrinking rain forests, drying seas, melting glaciers.
ViaCyte has started a clinical trial of its diabetes treatment derived from stem cells, the first such treatment ever tested in people. UC San Diego said Tuesday it is hosting the phase one trial in partnership with San Diego-based ViaCyte. The biotech company grows islet cells from human embryonic stem cells. The cells are placed into a semi-permeable envelope and implanted into the patient. In animals, the stem cells mature into islet cells, successfully controlling blood sugar. The treatment could provide what the company calls a virtual cure for Type 1 diabetes, which is caused by a lack of insulin-producing “islet” cells in the pancreas.
Is memory formation now understood well enough that memories can be implanted and then removed absent the environmental stimulus?At the forefront of this project is the University of California, San Diego, neuroscientist Roberto Malinow. Ever since he was a medical student at N.Y.U., Malinow has been fascinated by the synapse, the small space between nerve cells that controls their communication. How, he wondered, could something so tiny control such complex, precise processes, with hundreds of molecules coming together to determine whether and how a memory will form? After finishing medical school, Malinow went on to complete a Ph.D. in neurobiology at the University of California, Berkeley, to better understand the nature of the neural process that had so captured his mind.
In Berkeley, a place where politics is rarely sweet, sugar is an especially bitter topic. Right now it’s the talk of the town – in the form of six conversations leading up to the vote on Measure D, a tax on sugary drinks on the November ballot. “Soda: the Series” is taking a look at the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on people’s health and the environment. The first conversation, which occurred on the evening of Sept. 4, featured four Bay Area health professionals who brought passion, anger and plenty of science to the Hillside Club in North Berkeley. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF, started off his presentation by saying he had no opinion on Measure D because university policy doesn’t allow it. “But you can’t understand the referendum unless you understand the science,” Lustig said. “And that’s my job.” UC Berkeley John Swartzberg and Pat Crawford also are quoted.
Diseases that were largely eradicated in the United States a generation ago—whooping cough, measles, mumps—are returning, in part because nervous parents are skipping their children’s shots. This program takes viewers around the world to track epidemics, explore the science behind vaccinations, hear from parents wrestling with vaccine-related questions, and shed light on the risks of opting out. Participants include UCLA autism geneticist Dan Geschwind.
This story is on a UCLA-led organization called “Hearts with Hope” that recently took a team of pediatric cardiology specialists to Arequipa, Peru, to offer medical services to young heart patients. The organization’s founder, Juan Alejos, clinical professor of pediatric cardiology at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA; Brian Reemtsen, associate clinical professor of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at UCLA; and Christian Eisenring, nurse practitioner with cardiothoracic surgery at UCLA, are interviewed.
This publication highlights Los Angeles’ best doctors, based on Castle Connolly ratings and peer reviews in the entertainment industry. More than 100 UCLA physicians made the list, and several were highlighted in feature stories.
A person could be forgiven for thinking that Google is a biotech company. Google plans to announce on Wednesday that it has bought Lift Labs, a San Francisco company that makes a high-tech spoon designed to make it easier for people with neurodegenerative tremors to eat, the latest in a growing list of moves the search giant has made into biotech. Anupam Pathak, Lift Labs’ founder, is quoted. Pathak has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Berkeley.
See additional coverage: Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Slate, Business Insider, CNet, Re/code
Becker’s Hospital Review’s list of “150 hospital and health system CFOs to know” includes three UC medical center CFOs: Lori Donaldson, UC San Diego Health System; Tim Maurice, UC Davis Health System; and Paul Staton, UCLA Health System.
An increasing number of young professionals see the MBA as a path to an entrepreneurial career. It’s important, however, to look outside the confines of a business school to what its parent university can offer. As schools look to commercialize their research and patents, natural opportunities emerge for MBAs to collaborate with students in other disciplines. That was the thinking for Leo Petrossian, a Ph.D. in biomolecular nanotechnology from Arizona State, whose engineering and science background took him to a biotech startup in Silicon Valley before he pursued an MBA at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. He co-founded Neural Analytics, which licenses a technology developed by the department of neurosurgery at UCLA that makes it possible to diagnose conditions stemming from traumatic brain injury — without brain surgery.
Jirayut “New” Latthivongskor, an undocumented immigrant who attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, has been admitted to medical school at UC San Francisco. UCSF says he is its first undocumented immigrant student. A Q&A with Latthivongskor.
As African countries struggle to fight the worst outbreak of Ebola in history, a team at UC Davis is working to identify the next disease like Ebola, before it becomes a pandemic. Jonna Mazet runs the early warning project, called Predict, based at the School of Veterinary Medicine. Many of today’s emerging diseases come from animals. Scientists believe Ebola, for example, is transmitted when people eat fruit bats that carry the virus. So Mazet is searching around the globe for new viruses carried by animals that humans may not have had much contact with before.
Breast cancer spread less effectively to the lungs when an enzyme regulating cell growth is blocked, according to a study performed in female mice given human breast cancer cells. The results support testing drugs that inhibit this pathway, said UC San Diego-led scientists who published the study Sept. 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Experts discuss the low return rate of Medi-Cal renewal forms, and the more-complicated requirements and sometimes-confusing language of the forms. Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program. The report includes comments from Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
Low doses of fish oil may help reduce the number of seizures experienced by people with a form of tough-to-treat epilepsy that no longer responds to drugs, a small new study suggests. The research was led by Dr. Christopher DeGiorgio of UCLA and included 24 people with epilepsy that could no longer be controlled using medications.
An obituary of Dr. George Bartzokis, professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute. The article highlights his research that focused on myelin, the fatty sheath that covers the brain’s nerve fibers, and his argument that the breakdown of myelin plays a major role in the development of disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. Bartzokis was 58.