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Cal-BRAIN research program launched

First call for proposals has gone out.

Cal-BRAIN co-director Ralph Greenspan, who also heads up UC San Diego’s Center for Brain Activity Mapping.

Cal-BRAIN—a statewide research grants program that aims to revolutionize our understanding of the brain — is officially underway. The first call for proposals has gone out, and the program expects to announce its first awards in early 2015.

The program is seeking interdisciplinary teams from throughout the state to develop innovative new technologies for monitoring and analyzing wide-scale activity in the brain.

An initiative led by UC San Diego, Cal-BRAIN is short for California Blueprint for Research to Advance Innovations in Neuroscience. The program was signed into law in June and is the California complement to the federal BRAIN Initiative announced by President Barack Obama in 2013.

Ralph Greenspan, director of UC San Diego’s Center for Brain Activity Mapping, and Paul Alivisatos, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, are serving as Cal-BRAIN’s co-directors. Greenspan and Alivisatos are also co-authors of the initial proposals that led to both the BRAIN Initiative and Cal-BRAIN.

“We have laid the foundations for this important exploration of the brain in health and in disease, and we now look forward to being instrumental in the future of this research as well,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “UC San Diego is a natural leader to accelerate the development of ‘neurotechnology,’ as we have some of the world’s top scholars in both engineering and neurosciences.”

Cal-BRAIN has an initial allocation of $2 million. Seed grants in the first year will be a maximum of $120,000. Scientists from all California nonprofit research institutions are eligible to apply.

The call for proposals was approved by Cal-BRAIN’s California Advisory Board, which “represents all the major neuroscience research universities in California,” Greenspan explained.

To reduce the possibilities for conflict of interest, an out-of-state reviewing committee will assess the proposals. The first round of approximately 12 seed grants should be ready to announce by the end of January, Greenspan said.

“We’re eager to see the forward-looking research ideas that will come in,” said Greenspan, who is also associate director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at UC San Diego and professor in residence of neurobiology and cognitive science. “We have high hopes that California can play a major leading role in the national search for a better understanding of the brain.”

For more information on the program and to apply, visit the Cal-BRAIN website or write to info@cal-brain.org.

Cal-BRAIN is also seeking public input and will hold a Patients and Advocates Symposium on March 28 at the Sanford Stem Cell Consortium auditorium.

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U.S. News ranks 9 UC campuses among world’s best

Inaugural global rankings focus on research.

U.S News and World Report named nine University of California campuses among the best universities in the world in their first global rankings, with two campuses — Berkeley and UCLA — scoring in the top 10.

UC Berkeley ranked third and UCLA eighth in the rankings, which drew heavily on data related to research prowess, including such factors as scholarly publications, citations and impact, international collaboration, awards of doctoral degrees, and global and regional reputation.

Altogether, nine UC campuses placed among the top 130 universities in the world in the 2015 Best Global Universities rankings of 500 universities in 49 countries.

Ranked along with Berkeley and UCLA were: UC San Diego, 18th; UC San Francisco, 22nd; UC Santa Barbara, 28th; UC Davis, 37th; UC Santa Cruz, 63rd; UC Irvine, 66th; and UC Riverside, 127th.

“This is about faculty productivity and prestige,” U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly told the Washington Post. “It is meaningful for certain things and not necessarily meaningful for other things. We get that. This is about big muscular research universities doing what research universities claim is their mission.”

UC campuses consistently perform well in college rankings.

In U.S. News’s national rankings, which came out earlier this year, six UC campuses were among the top 20 public universities in the country. UC Berkeley and UCLA were first and second, respectively, with UC San Diego, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara also ranked in the top 10, followed by UC Irvine at 11th.

In Washington Monthly’s rankings, which emphasize how well colleges and universities serve the public interest, four UC campuses placed in the top 5. UC San Diego ranked first; UC Riverside, second; UC Berkeley, third; and UCLA, fifth.

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UC medical centers ID’d as priority hospitals to treat confirmed Ebola cases

UC committed to addressing public’s health needs, ensuring safety of its health care workers.

Though there are no confirmed or suspect cases of Ebola Virus Disease (Ebola) in California, today (Oct. 24) the University of California Office of the President informed the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) that all five UC medical centers are positioned to provide in-patient care for Californians who have confirmed cases of Ebola if necessary.

CDPH continues working with health officials to prepare for potential cases of Ebola in California and the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is providing updated, specific guidelines on the protective equipment, training and other measures that must be in place to protect workers’ health and safety.

“All of the UC medical centers specialize in complex care and operate as or staff level one trauma centers. We appreciate their leadership role in willingness to treat Ebola patients,” said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of CDPH and state health officer. “The administration will support these hospitals in meeting this public health need in California. At the same time all hospitals and medical providers need to redouble preparedness efforts to ensure that they can effectively assess Ebola risk in their patients, while ensuring workplace safety.”

“As part of a public university, UC’s medical centers are far along in their preparation activities and are willing to care for confirmed Ebola patients,” said Dr. John Stobo, UC senior vice president for health sciences and services. “Stepping up to a public health crisis is what these medical centers do, and in the past weeks we have been actively readying ourselves for any health eventuality related to Ebola. We are committed to addressing the health needs of this population and the public at large, as well as ensuring the safety of our health care workers. It is our intent that only health care workers who are members of a core designated group or who volunteer to do so will provide care to confirmed Ebola patients.”

The UC medical centers identified today include the Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco facilities. These hospitals will closely coordinate with CDPH and local health officers as they consider taking on such patients. Today’s announcement means that the UC medical centers are positioned to accept patients in California with confirmed cases of Ebola. They are not identified as treatment centers for patients being transported into the United States by the U.S. State Department. Four hospitals in other parts of the country are already established as treatment centers for these repatriated U.S. citizens.

CDPH has been reviewing Ebola preparedness, screening and treatment guidance from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and will ensure that the UC medical centers have the most up-to-date information on how to treat and care for Ebola patients, should confirmed Ebola cases appear in California.

The UC medical centers, like all health care facilities in California, are required to comply with standards set by Cal/OSHA to ensure that appropriate protective equipment, training and other measures are in place to protect worker health and safety while caring for Ebola patients. Cal/OSHA is developing updated guidance and compliance requirements specifically identifying what measures are adequate — and inadequate — to comply with California’s workplace health and safety legal requirement, based on CDC’s recent strengthening of clinical guidance for Ebola treatment. Cal/OSHA will also provide on-site consultation for these medical centers to help them meet the established occupational health and safety standards.

CDPH has also committed to helping the five identified medical centers obtain the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), should the hospitals have sourcing challenges. CDC recently updated the PPE guidance, aligning them with California’s stronger standards. State officials will also work with these medical centers to ensure that medical waste generated from the treatment of an Ebola patient will be properly handled and disposed.

All hospitals throughout the state are expected to screen, identify and isolate any patients with Ebola risk. Screening questions include:  “Has the patient recently been in one of the three countries with Ebola outbreaks: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea?”; and “Has the patient been in direct contact with someone known to have Ebola or someone exposed to Ebola?” If further testing of the patient is recommended, the hospital will contact the local health department, which will provide a more detailed epidemiological assessment. If necessary, the local health officer will then coordinate with CDPH and CDC to pursue testing at CDC-approved laboratories. During that time, the patient should remain in isolation until the test results are available. If test results are positive, CDPH will work with the hospital, local health officers and the CDC to transfer the patient as needed.

CDPH remains in contact with hospitals and health care professionals throughout the state to monitor and strengthen medical preparedness and Cal/OSHA will be working with hospitals to provide compliance assistance on required workplace safety standards. Other hospitals will likely be identified as additional priority hospitals for Ebola treatment.

Since the Ebola outbreak began in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, CDPH has worked with state, federal and local health officials to prepare for potential cases of Ebola in California. In August, CDPH launched an informational website compiling information about the outbreak and preparing California health care providers with guidance and protocols from the CDC. CDPH has developed an interim case report form for reporting suspected cases of Ebola to CDPH and has distributed CDC guidance on specimen collection, transport, testing and submission for patients suspected of having Ebola. Last week, CDPH posted interim guidelines for Ebola medical waste management and recommended that all health care facility environmental services personnel and infection control staff work together to develop facility-specific protocols for safe handling of Ebola related medical waste. CDPH has provided these and other documents to health care providers and partners via the California Health Alert Network (CAHAN).

In September, CDPH convened more than 1,100 health care and public health workers to urge them to assess their Ebola readiness and conduct drills in their facilities. Last week, CDPH officials held a teleconference with health care providers to discuss the latest news and guidance about handling suspected Ebola cases. CDPH is providing weekly updates to local health officials, first responders and health care providers as the Ebola outbreak continues in West Africa. CDPH launched a telephone hotline call center to respond to public inquiries related to Ebola. Earlier this week, Governor Brown joined officials from the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS), CDPH, Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) and Cal/OSHA to meet with California hospital leaders, nurses, emergency responders, local health directors and medical providers.

CDPH is also available to provide consultation about suspect Ebola cases to local health departments and health care providers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. CDPH joins with a team of state departments and agencies including CHHS, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) and DIR, to address all aspects of preparedness for a potential Ebola case in California.

For more information about how the state is preparing for potential cases of Ebola, please read CDPH’s Ebola Virus Disease FAQs and visit the CDPH Ebola Virus Information Page and the Cal/OSHA Ebola Virus Information site.

Media contacts:
Anita Gore, California Department of Public Health
(916) 440-7259

University of California Office of the President
(510) 987-9200

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Two UC centers named stem cell ‘alpha clinics’

Designation will help speed development of treatments.

Image by UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center

In a push to further speed clinical development of emerging stem cell therapies, Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center at UC San Diego Health System and a joint UC Irvine-UCLA alliance were named today (Oct. 23) two of three new “alpha clinics” by the state’s stem cell agency.

The announcement, made at a public meeting in Los Angeles of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine Governing Board, includes an award of $8 million for each of the three sites. The other alpha grant recipient is the City of Hope hospital near Los Angeles.

“A UC San Diego alpha clinic will provide vital infrastructure for establishing a comprehensive regenerative medicine clinical hub that can support the unusual complexity of first-in-human stem cell-related clinical trials,” said Dr. Catriona Jamieson, associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, deputy director of the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center, director of the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center stem cell program and the alpha clinic grant’s principal investigator.

“The designation is essential in much the same manner that comprehensive cancer center status is an assurance of scientific rigor and clinical quality. It will attract patients, funding agencies and study sponsors to participate in, support and accelerate novel stem cell clinical trials and ancillary studies for a range of arduous diseases.”

The alpha clinics are intended to create the long-term, networked infrastructure needed to launch and conduct numerous, extensive clinical trials of stem cell-based drugs and therapies in humans, including some developed by independent California-based investigators and companies. These trials are requisite before any new drug or treatment can be approved for clinical use.

Meanwhile, UCLA’s Eli & Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Research and UC Irvine’s Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center will launch a collaborative stem cell clinic. The joint entity will conduct clinical trials of investigational stem cell therapies and provide critical resources and expertise via the creation of a world-class, state-of-the-art infrastructure supporting clinical research.

The grant reviewers lauded the UCLA/UCI consortium’s “impressive and multidimensional team of experienced personnel” that will expand “access to patients, attracting national and international clinical trials and accelerating future trials in the pipeline.”

The initial stem cell trials supported by the UCLA/UCI Alpha Stem Cell Clinic will be two UCLA projects using blood-forming stem cells. The first trial will test a stem cell-based gene therapy for patients with “bubble baby disease,” also called severe combined immune deficiency, in which babies are born without an immune system. Under the direction of Dr. Donald Kohn, the clinical trial will use the baby’s own stem cells with an inserted gene modification to correct the defect and promote the creation of an immune system. The second clinical trial, under the direction of Dr. Antoni Ribas, will use a patient’s own genetically modified blood-forming stem cells to engineer and promote an immune response to melanoma and sarcomas.

“This CIRM Alpha Stem Cell Clinic grant is an important acknowledgement of our cutting-edge research and will help us to advance the design, testing and delivery of effective and safe stem cell-based therapies,” said Dr. Owen Witte, professor and director of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center. “The implementation of a standard of excellence in clinical research will improve healthcare and the lives of patients far beyond the longevity of individual trials.”

Potential clinical studies at UCI, such as those being considered for retinitis pigmentosa and stroke, will also be supported by the clinic.

“UCI has established a strong preclinical stem cell research program, and it’s vital to move ahead to the clinical testing phase,” said Sidney Golub, director of the UCI Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center. “To advance treatments in this field, we all have to work together, and that’s what the UCLA-UCI Alpha Stem Cell Clinic program represents.”

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Six UC members elected to IOM

Members elected from four UC campuses: Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego, San Francisco.

UCLA's James Economou is one of six UC members newly elected to the Institute of Medicine.

Six University of California members have been elected to the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine.

They join a class of 70 new members and 10 foreign associates announced today (Oct. 19). Since 1970, the IOM has elected more than 200 members affiliated with UC.

Membership in the Institute of Medicine is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of medicine and health. Chosen by current active members, candidates undergo a highly selective process and are nominated based on their professional achievements and commitment to service.

The Institute of Medicine includes a diversity of talent, as its charter requires that at least one quarter of the membership selected be from outside the health professions, in fields such as law, engineering, social sciences and the humanities.

The newly elected UC members are:

UC Berkeley

  • Randy Schekman, Ph.D., UC Berkeley professor of cell and developmental biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator

UCLA

  • James Economou, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for research and Beaumont Professor of Surgery

UC San Diego

  • Richard Kronick, Ph.D., UC San Diego professor of family and preventive medicine, on leave serving as director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

UC San Francisco

  • Eric Goosby, M.D., professor of medicine and director, Institute of Global Health Delivery and Diplomacy, UCSF School of Medicine, Global Health Sciences
  • Deepak Srivastava, M.D., director, Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, and UCSF professor of pediatrics and biochemistry & biophysics
  • Ronald Vale, Ph.D., UCSF professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator

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UC med centers named health care equality leaders

LGBT survey honors four UC med centers.

The nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization has again named four University of California medical centers as “Leaders in Healthcare Equality.” UC Davis, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco medical centers earned top marks for their commitment to equitable, inclusive care for LGBT patients and their families, who can face challenges in accessing adequate health care.

UCSF Medical Center became the only institution in the United States to have received a perfect score on the national Healthcare Equality Index for seven consecutive years.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2014 Healthcare Equality Index designated 426 health care facilities as leaders for meeting key criteria for equitable care, including non-discrimination policies for LGBT patients, non-discrimination policies for employees, a guarantee of equal visitation for same-sex partners and parents, and training for staff in LGBT patient-centered care.

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Smoking’s $18B toll on California

Despite declines in numbers of smokers, related diseases account for 1 in 7 deaths in state.

Read the full report (click image to view)

By Carolyn McMillan, UC Newsroom

Fewer Californians smoke today than 10 years ago, yet smoking continues to take an enormous toll on the state and its residents, triggering $18.1 billion in health care costs and lost productivity from illness and premature death.

In the first comprehensive analysis of the financial and health impacts of tobacco in more than a decade, UC San Francisco researchers found that smoking accounted for 1 in 7 deaths in the state — more than from AIDS, influenza, diabetes, or many other causes.

While the number of smokers in California declined from a decade ago, nearly 4 million people still smoke, including an estimated 146,000 adolescents, the UCSF study found.

Far too many smoking deaths

“We found that while the California tobacco control program has led to reductions in tobacco use in the state over the last decade, smoking is still far too prevalent and results in far too many deaths and high health care costs,” said principal investigator Wendy Max, Ph.D., professor of health economics at the UCSF School of Nursing and director of the UCSF Institute for Health & Aging.

The research was conducted at the institute, with grant funding from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program of the University of California’s Office of the President.

The findings offer a snapshot of tobacco use throughout the state drawn from 2009 data, the most recent available when the study began.

UCSF researchers profiled each of the state’s 58 counties with total costs, costs per resident and per smoker, expenditures for each type of health care, smoking prevalence and mortality measures. The same investigators conducted similar statewide studies in 1999 and 1989.

The report found that smoking prevalence was higher in some parts of the state than others, and that males — whether teens or adults — were far more likely to smoke than females.

“This kind of detailed data helps us target our limited smoking cessation resources where they are needed most,” said Dr. Michael Ong, chair of the California Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee and a UCLA physician. “We also see clearly from this report that tobacco — despite declines in its prevalence — remains a major threat to public health and a drain on health care resources.”

An extraordinary economic burden

The cost to California, its counties and its residents from smoke-related diseases remains significant. In Los Angeles County, for example, smoking carried a $4.4 billion price tag in 2009 — the highest of any county in the state. That total included $2.3 billion in direct health care costs and $2.1 billion for indirect costs, of which $1.7 billion was due to premature deaths.

“Smoking exacts an extraordinary economic burden on our county,” said Dr. Paul Simon, director of the LA County Public Health’s division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention. “The dollar amount is staggering, and it does not take into account the untold emotional costs on family members and friends.”

UC President Janet Napolitano said the study exemplifies the ways in which university research informs the work of public health offices around the state. UC campuses conduct a wide range of research each year aimed at improving the lives of Californians and people around the world — often in partnership with state and federal agencies looking to understand and address important health issues.

“In partnership with the state, we’ve made great strides in educating people about the risks of smoking, but as this important study shows, there is much more to do,” Napolitano said.

As the former Arizona attorney general, Napolitano was heavily involved in implementing the Master Settlement Agreement and represented the nation’s attorneys general on the Board of the Legacy Foundation, the largest national nonprofit public health organization devoted to tobacco control.

Statewide, smoking represented $6.8 billion in lost productivity and about 587,000 years of potential life lost from 34,363 deaths, or 17.1 years per death, the researchers found.

More deaths than AIDS, diabetes or Alzheimer’s

Smoking also was found to be a leading cause of death in 2009. The 34,363 total deaths from smoking were 17 times the number from AIDS; five times the deaths from diabetes, influenza and pneumonia; and three times the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s disease and unintentional injuries.

Cancer was the primary cause of smoking-attributable death, accounting for 13,514 deaths, followed by cardiovascular disease with 10,490 deaths, and respiratory diseases with 10,331. Pediatric disease accounted for 27 deaths, and secondhand smoke exposure was attributed to 794 adult deaths.

The direct health care costs of smoking accounted for 54.4 percent of the total $18.1 billion cost of smoking, or $9.8 billion. Lost productivity due to illness comprised 7.9 percent ($1.4 billion), and lost productivity from premature death comprised 37.6 percent ($6.8 billion).

Hospital care of current and former smokers cost $4.3 billion of the $9.8 billion total health care costs of smoking. Ambulatory care services were $2.1 billion; nursing home care, $1.5 billion; prescription drugs, $1.1 billion; and home health care, $794 million.

The report found that the state’s tobacco control efforts have been effective in reducing smoking-attributable deaths, reducing the prevalence of smoking and cutting the real costs of smoking, as compared to a decade ago.

Nonetheless, costs remain high and the wide variation in smoking costs across the counties suggests that many geographic areas would benefit from targeted efforts to reduce smoking.

“County-level estimates of the costs of smoking help to identify geographic disparities in the economic burden of tobacco use. These data are useful for local governments and policy makers to develop more effective tobacco control policies at the local level,” said co-author Hai-Yen Sung, Ph.D., professor of health economics at the UCSF School of Nursing and the UCSF Institute for Health & Aging.

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NIH invests in big data to advance biomedical research

Grants awarded to 3 UC campuses: UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded three University of California campuses a total of more than $31 million to develop new strategies for mining and understanding the surge in complex biomedical data sets known as “big data.”

The grants are part of the NIH’s $656 million Big Data to Knowledge, or BD2K, initiative.

UCLA and UC Santa Cruz each were awarded $11 million to form big data computing centers — two of 11 such centers nationwide.

UCLA’s Center of Excellence for Big Data Computing will create analytic tools to address the daunting challenges facing researchers in accessing, standardizing and sharing scientific data to foster new discoveries in medicine. Investigators also will train the next generation of experts and develop data science approaches for use by scientists. The center’s principal investigator will be Peipei Ping, a professor of physiology, medicine and bioinformatics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The Center for Big Data in Translational Genomics, a multi-institutional partnership based at UC Santa Cruz, will help the biomedical community use genomic information to better understand human health and disease. The center will be led by David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering and director of the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute.

In addition, UC Irvine assistant professor of psychiatry & human behavior Theo van Erp is co-chair of the schizophrenia working group for the Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics Through Meta-Analysis project. Led by the University of Southern California, the ENIGMA Center for Worldwide Medicine, Imaging and Genomics received an $11 million Big Data to Knowledge grant. UCLA also is particpating in the ENGIMA consortium, with its research led by Carrie Bearden, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and Eleazar Eskin, professor of computer science and human genetics.

Also, researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine have been awarded a $9.2 million grant to help modernize and transform how researchers share, use, find and cite biomedical datasets. UC San Diego professor of medicine Lucila Ohno-Machado will be lead investigator on the Biomedical and healthCAre Data Discovery and Indexing Ecosystem (BioCADDIE), a 3-year project, in collaboration with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

“Data creation in today’s research is exponentially more rapid than anything we anticipated even a decade ago,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. “Mammoth data sets are emerging at an accelerated pace in today’s biomedical research and these funds will help us overcome the obstacles to maximizing their utility. The potential of these data, when used effectively, is quite astounding.”

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NIH awards high-risk, high-reward research grants

UC researchers receive 17 of 85 awards aimed at innovative approaches to biomed research.

Michi Taga,UC Berkeley

The National Institutes of Health awarded 85 grants under its High Risk-High Reward program, of which 17 will go to University of California researchers. The awards support scientists proposing highly innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research.

UC researchers received 11 of 50 New Innovator awards, which support projects by early-career biomedical researchers with the potential to transform scientific fields and accelerate the translation of research into new ways to improve human health.

UC scientists also received:

  • One of 10 Pioneer awards for groundbreaking approaches that have the potential to make an unusually high impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research;
  • Two of eight Transformative Research awards for cross-cutting interdisciplinary approaches that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms; and
  • Three of 17 Early Independence awards that provide an opportunity for exceptional junior scientists to skip traditional postdoctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions.

“Supporting innovative investigators with the potential to transform scientific fields is a critical element of our mission,”’ said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. “This program allows researchers to propose highly creative research projects across a broad range of biomedical and behavioral research areas that involve inherent risk but have the potential to lead to dramatic breakthroughs.”

The total funding for the 85 grants is approximately $141 million.

Weian Zhao, UC Irvine

UC recipients include:

UC Berkeley

  • Nicholas Ingolia (New Innovator)
  • Michi Taga (New Innovator)
  • Roberto Zoncu (New Innovator)

UC Davis

  • Lin Tian (New Innovator)

UC Irvine

  • Weian Zhao (New Innovator)

UCLA

  • Reza Ardehali (New Innovator)
  • Elissa Hallem (New Innovator)
  • Sriram Kosuri (New Innovator)
  • Lili Yang (New Innovator)

UC San Francisco

  • Adam Abate (New Innovator)
  • Robert Judson (Early Independence)
  • Wendell Lim (Transformative Research)
  • Michael McManus (Transformative Research)
  • Michael Rosenblum (New Innovator)
  • Glenn-Milo Santos (Early Independence)

UC Santa Barbara

  • Denise Montell (Pioneer)

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

  • Amanda Randles (Early Independence)

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Four UC scientists awarded National Medal of Science

Three recipients from UC Berkeley, one from UCSF.

Bruce Alberts, UC San Francisco

Four University of California scientists were awarded the 2014 National Medal of Science — the nation’s highest honor for achievement and leadership in advancing the field of science.

Recipients include Bruce Alberts, professor emeritus of biochemistry, UC San Francisco; and Judith Klinman, professor emerita of chemistry, and Alexandre Chorin, University Professor emeritus of mathematics, UC Berkeley. The late David Blackwell, mathematician and statistician at UC Berkeley, was awarded the medal posthumously.

The National Medal of Science was created by statute in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation. Awarded annually, the medal recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering.

“These scholars and innovators have expanded our understanding of the world, made invaluable contributions to their fields, and helped improve countless lives,” President Obama said of the 2014 medalists. “Our nation has been enriched by their achievements, and by all the scientists and technologists across America dedicated to discovery, inquiry, and invention.”

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Study to examine risks, benefits of chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer

Research aims to better inform physicians, patients about optimal treatment strategies.

Joy Melnikow, UC Davis

Treatment for early stage breast cancer is highly effective, and for many women considering treatment choices, chemotherapy may add little to an already high long-term survival rate. Joy Melnikow, professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and director of the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research at UC Davis, is working to define the potential long-term harms of chemotherapy for these patients, so they can be weighed against the potential benefits.

Her study, funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), aims to better inform physicians and their patients about optimal treatment strategies. She also hopes to identify gaps in the evidence to date that require additional research.

“It‘s important to know when you can say the evidence is strong and when it is not,” she said.

Melnikow said treatment regimens vary for early-stage invasive breast cancer. In many cases, women opt for a lumpectomy (surgical removal of the tumor) with radiation, or a mastectomy (removal of one or both breasts) with the addition of hormonal therapy and/or chemotherapy and sometimes trastuzumab (Herceptin), a monoclonal antibody treatment.

“The survival from treatment with or without adjunctive chemotherapy is extremely good for many women with early-stage disease, so the incremental benefit of chemotherapy may be small,” she said. “The question is how to balance the benefits with the potential long-term harms of chemotherapy.”

Melnikow and her colleagues are conducting a series of systematic reviews of the published literature to extract and synthesize what is known about a range of potential long-term harms of chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer. The harms may include congestive heart failure, ovarian failure (for premenopausal women), peripheral neuropathy, cognitive impairment, and secondary cancers from the effects of chemotherapy on the DNA of non-breast cancer cells.

In addition to identifying and reviewing all available published evidence on the topic, Melnikow also is working with her colleagues to mine previously unpublished data from the NCIB-30 trial of chemotherapy regimens for early-stage breast cancer.

“We hope our work will provide new information to help women and their doctors make decisions about breast cancer chemotherapy,” she said. “We also expect to define critical gaps in the evidence that can inform future research in this area.”

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Research on cell biology mystery may reveal root causes of Alzheimer’s

A well-known cellular structure orchestrates how vault nanoparticles naturally form in cells.

In the 1980s, professor Leonard Rome and his then-postdoctoral fellow Nancy Kedersha made a breakthrough in cell biology when they discovered vaults, naturally occurring nanoparticles — of a size measured in nanometers (1 nanometer = 1 billionth of a meter) — that are composed mostly of proteins and number in the thousands inside every cell of the body.

In the decades since, Rome’s team has discovered how to form vaults in the laboratory using the proteins they consist of. While naturally occurring vaults contain other elements, Rome’s team built empty ones, which eventually enabled them to pursue the idea of inserting drug molecules into vaults. Those could then be put in serum, injected into patients, and directed to specific cells where they release the drugs. Thus, vaults are being developed as a highly accurate drug-delivery system that is being commercialized.

But one question that Rome and his team couldn’t answer was how the natural vaults originally formed inside cells. Now Rome and his collaborators at UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute appear to have solved that mystery.

In a study published online today (Oct. 30) in the journal ACS Nano, Rome’s team, led by first author and postdoctoral scholar Jan Mrazek, report data that suggests that polyribosomes — small molecular machines that read genetic information and form proteins inside cells — work like 3-D printers to both create and link together proteins and correctly form them into vaults. (Watch a brief animated explanation of how it works.)

“This idea needs some further research and confirmation, but it is a very elegant model and we are convinced that it explains how vaults are formed,” said Rome, who is associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute. “If the model is correct, it reveals something new about cell biology — that this polyribosome that has been known for 50 years has a heretofore unknown function. Namely, it orchestrates the assembly of macromolecular complexes such as vaults, and other structures in a cell that are made of multiple proteins.”

Mrazek said that this possible function of polyribosomes may also provide new understanding of protein aggregation, which is a clumping of deformed proteins that happens in such diseases as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s.

“If a protein is not made correctly, it’s possible that these deformities can alter the guided assembly of macromolecules by the polyribosomes,” Mrazek said. “Once you understand that there is a machine in the cell that directs the formation of these macromolecular complexes, you can see where things might go wrong with that machine. By studying nanotechnology we have revealed something unknown about basic cell biology that might have wider implications.”

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