April 3, 2015.
A sampling of news media stories involving UC Health:
In December, UC San Diego’s California Center for Algae Biotechnology Director Steve Mayfield got a call from the White House. It was the Office of Science and Technology Policy, looking for advice on improving world food security. “We hear you’re Mr. Algae,” they said. The prominent research scientist was not surprised to hear from them. Algae, which Mayfield has studied for 30 years, are efficient protein additives. The tiny, single-cell organisms pack a powerful punch and have the potential to make a difference in a variety of industries. About 15 years into studying the genes of algae, Mayfield asked himself, “What’s the endgame here?” His answer: “You learn how the genes work so you can make something interesting.” In 1999, he zeroed in on monoclonal antibodies. These can specifically target cancerous cells to kill them, leaving healthy cells undamaged. Once Mayfield’s lab created cancer-fighting human antibodies, there was no looking back. “We said, what other products can algae make? Fuel? Plastics? Nutraceuticals? Animal feed? Cosmetics? A malaria vaccine? Now we make all those things.”
A feature on the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) program, a federally approved waiver program that allows federal Medicaid funding to be used to create financial incentives for providers to pursue delivery-system reforms. Those reforms involve infrastructure development, system redesign and clinical-outcome and population-focused improvements. Under these programs, the initial focus is on meeting process-type metrics in setting up the reforms; in the later years, the focus shifts to outcomes-based metrics such as population health improvements. In 2010, California became the first state to win federal approval for and launch a DSRIP initiative as part of a broader Medicaid Section 1115 waiver. The waiver programs provide states with significant funding to support hospitals and other providers in reforming how they deliver care to Medicaid beneficiaries. But it’s unclear whether the Obama administration will renew the DSRIP programs in California and other states. The article includes photos that highlight DSRIP projects at UC Davis, UC Irvine and UCLA.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors recently voted to change the name of Riverside County Regional Medical Center to Riverside University Medical Center. The county is still fully in charge. No university has a hand in running the medical center – nor helping with the costs of keeping it open. But county officials rationalize the “rebranding” as a way to highlight the residencies medical students from several universities will perform there. It’s a teaching hospital, they say. The dean of the UCR School of Medicine isn’t concerned. “Emphasizing the fact that they’re a teaching hospital is both true and a good thing,” Dean G. Richard Olds told The Press-Enterprise last week.
A group at the UC San Diego School of Medicine could have an impact on Arkansas and Oklahoma with an online program launched last year to retrain doctors from other fields to help fill the growing demand for primary care physicians. Dr. Leonard W. Glass, M.D., president of Physician Retraining & Reentry through the UC San Diego School of Medicine, notes that more than 30 million Americans are projected to obtain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and every day about 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare.
California, which has the most doctors of any state in the U.S., ranks as the 14th best state for physicians based on several metrics, including wages and job opportunities, according to a new WalletHub report. In the report, Emily Dow, CMO of UC Irvine Health’s Family Health Center and a professor at the UC Irvine School of Medicine, wrote that states can attract more primary care physicians by “promot[ing] primary care as the bedrock of health and wellness.” Dow added, “Having an adequate supply of primary care physicians should not just be a local issue, but a national policy so that everyone has access to primary care no matter where you live.”
Kaiser Permanente is about to begin what is believed to be the largest genetic research project ever conducted by a health organization into the causes of autism, gathering biological and other health information from 5,000 Northern California families who have a child with the developmental disorder. “There have been a lot of genetic studies done, and the one thing we know for sure is it’s very complex,” said Neil Risch, study co-investigator and the director of UCSF’s Institute for Human Genetics. “It’s not likely there are just one or two ‘smoking gun’ genes contributing to it.”
UCSF Nobel laureate Dr. Harold Varmus, the departing director of the National Cancer Institute, addresses funding challenges and the state of the fight against the disease.
Cancer afflicts 1.7 million Americans each year and kills 600,000 of them. A new PBS documentary, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” explores the history of the disease and the ongoing attempts to treat it. Guests include the director of the film, Barak Goodman; Brian Landers, patient at UCSF first diagnosed with melanoma about 20 years ago and has now started on immunotherapy; Bruce Ames, professor emeritus of biochemistry, UC Berkeley, and senior scientist at Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute; and Lewis Lanier, American Cancer Society professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and leader of the Cancer, Immunity, and Microenvironment Program at UCSF.
Colonoscopies may rank among people’s least-favorite cancer screening procedures, but one UC Irvine Health doctor says they are a necessary step toward his goal of a colon cancer-free Orange County. William Karnes, a gastroenterologist and director of the school’s High-Risk Colon Cancer Program, said about one in 20 people develop colon cancer in their lifetime. However, the routine screening, in which a thin, flexible scope is moved through the colon to look for small growths, or polyps, can drop the chance of developing cancer dramatically, Karnes said. UC Irvine Health is working in several directions to reduce the incidence of colon cancer in Orange County by 90 percent – the estimated amount of colon cancers that are preventable, Karnes said. Most, if not all, of UC Irvine’s project will require active participation from patients, he said.
Cigarette smoke functions much like an alarm to the superbug MRSA, warning it to activate its defenses, according to a new study led by UC San Diego scientists. In lab studies in human cells and whole mice, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria exposed to cigarette smoke extract become harder to kill, said Dr. Laura E. Crotty Alexander, a pulmonologist at UCSD and the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.
A team of researchers led by UCSF scientists has found strong evidence that recent, alarming clusters of sudden-onset paralysis cases — most of them in California and Colorado — were caused by the same virus that was also responsible for hundreds of severe respiratory infections in U.S. children last year. Particularly worrisome is that the enterovirus identified in the research is a new strain that appears to have mutated to become more polio-like, raising the prospects of future outbreaks of the disease, scientists said in a paper published March 30. “The changes were always in the direction to make it more similar to polio,” said Dr. Charles Chiu, head of the viral diagnostics laboratory at UCSF and lead author of the paper. “I want to make sure we don’t alarm people. There’s a chance this virus may never come back, which would be the best-case scenario. But we certainly need to be prepared.”
See additional coverage: New York Times, Washington Post
A new prenatal blood test that’s becoming increasingly popular is extremely accurate in detecting Down syndrome very early in a woman’s pregnancy, according to a study led by UCSF scientists, but whether it should replace the current standard testing is still not clear.
Pharma heavyweight Novartis has stepped in to help bankroll Berkeley-based Caribou Biosciences, one of the upstart leaders in the race to develop the cutting-edge CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. The pharma giant joined a group of backers that includes Fidelity Biosciences, Mission Bay Capital, and 5 Prime as well as company founder and UC Berkeley molecular and cell biology professor Jennifer Doudna, a key player among a small group of investigators which has spawned a lineup of closely watched biotechs. All together the group, which was also joined by an unnamed investor, provided $11 million in an A round to Caribou, which plans to use the cash to further advance technology spotlighted in projects at the University of California and the University of Vienna.
After coming out as transgender at age 17, Kylie Blume shuffled between therapists and suffered years of depression before finding a physician who understood her desire to live as a woman, she said. It wasn’t until she enrolled at UC Davis that she found a doctor who would help her transition, a process that often involves hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery. Both treatments have been covered by campus health insurance since 2009, but that kind of policy is hard to find in the real world, she said. Now 32, Blume returned to UC Davis’ medical campus last weekend to attend the first ever Improving OUTcomes conference, a two-day event intended to help providers and patients better understand how to appropriately serve the needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. UC Davis and other medical centers have focused on the issue in recent years, especially as LGBT people increasingly seek benefits under the Affordable Care Act, which has expanded coverage to serve more of their needs.
Patients on a high-fructose diet showed increases in conversion of sugar to fat, reduction of conversion of fat and an increase in liver fat, according to results released this week of a pilot study by researchers at UC San Francisco and Touro University California in Vallejo. The same patients exhibited a reversal of that pattern when switched off the high-fructose diet, researchers said — in just nine days for each diet.
The launch of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft Friday was of particular interest to some UC San Diego researchers studying the effects of long-term space travel on humans. “We have been preparing for the launch for over a year, so this is a very exciting time for us,” said Prof. Brinda Rana, of UCSD’s School of Medicine. The researchers held a launch-watching party on campus, celebrating with borscht, catered from the Pomegranate Russian Restaurant, Champagne and MoonPies. Rana is a key player in two of 10 health studies that NASA commissioned to co-monitor American Astronaut Scott Kelly in space and his identical twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, on the ground.
Does growing up in poverty affect the size of your brain? A study published March 30 concludes yes. It finds that brain structures linked to key mental abilities — many of them needed for academic learning — tend to be smaller in children from low-income households than those with more affluent parents. The researchers, including some at UC San Diego, saw the biggest differences in the surface area of the cerebral cortex. This outer part of the brain is associated with language formation, memory, planning, problem solving, reasoning and other functions. The scientists also emphasized that such gaps in brain size appear to be environmentally related, because they already accounted for factors such as age, gender and genetic ancestry. That means the size gap isn’t necessarily permanent, they said. The brain may be able to remold itself in response to new experiences.
Doctors, stop sticking your patients so many times for redundant blood work during their hospital stays, especially when results won’t affect your clinical decisions. It’s not always so urgent. Blood draws add costs, and it’s not so much fun for patients to get poked with a sharp needle multiple times a day.Besides, you might be causing or hastening their anemia. Those are among the themes in the UCSF Medical Center’s “Think Twice, Stick Once” campaign that began last July through the efforts of young University of California, San Francisco internal medicine house staff doctors led by Daniel Wheeler. The project initially aimed to reduce blood draws among medical service patients by 5 percent in the 2014-15 academic year, compared to the prior year when draws averaged 2.1 per patient per day. Obstetric, pediatric, surgical and ICU patients are excluded because such patients may have more rapid fluctuations. So far the team is way ahead of its goal.
More patients across the country may have been infected by medical scopes manufactured by Olympus Corp. than previously thought, health officials warned March 30. Olympus’ scopes are at the center of a string of recent endoscope-related superbug outbreaks that include Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Cedars Sinai Medical Center, as well as an earlier case at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.
The missing dog and cat of a veterinary student who was killed in a murder-suicide last week in Davis have been found. Whitney Engler, 27, and Joseph Hein, 23, were found dead early March 27 on the second floor of a west Davis duplex, seven hours after police surrounded the home. When police eventually entered the home, Engler’s dog, named Rosie, ran from the residence. The brown-and-white Australian shepherd was found over the weekend by a man who refused any reward from Engler’s friends. Engler was a student at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and was expected to graduate in May, according to her mother, Virginia Bigler.
While EHRs and HIEs are being touted as necessary tools for the improvement of the nation’s health care system, some Californians believe that the use of HIEs in fact worsen patient data privacy, according to a recent study. Approximately 40 percent of respondents think HIE worsens privacy while nearly one-third think it improves privacy and 42.5 percent believe it worsens security, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. The study interviewed 800 adult California residents and conducted by UC Davis and UC San Diego researchers.
Dr. Wade Crow, a UC Irvine ophthalmologist, debunks the myth that reading in dim light will ruin your vision.