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Napa quake survivor thankful to UC Davis Children’s Hospital

Injured 13-year-old in good condition.

Nicholas Dillon received a visit from Sacramento Republic FC soccer club Forward Max Alvarez, himself a native of Napa.

Nicholas Dillon, the brave 13-year-old who survived after a chimney collapsed on him in his home during the Napa Valley earthquake last Sunday, is in good condition in UC Davis Children’s Hospital. Dillon’s recovery has garnered national and international media attention. He was interviewed from his hospital room in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit yesterday by NBC News, among other media outlets.

Dillon also received a visit from Sac Republic FC soccer club forward Max Alvarez, himself a native of Napa.

“I want to thank all of the people who helped me,” Dillon said. “I’m grateful to the paramedics who brought me to Queen of the Valley (Medical Center) and to UC Davis, all of the staff at UC Davis, my family and friends. I can’t describe how thankful I am. I was in tears last night a little bit looking at the news.”

Dillon is expected to make a full recovery.

“I’m going to be fine. It’s going to be a long recovery, but I’m going to be okay,” he said.

The determined young man had an inspiring message for everyone affected by the earthquake.

“I just want everyone to know that we all have setbacks, but we will get through this as a community.”

Dillon’s family has established a fund to accept donations to support his recovery at the Bank of America: Nicholas M. Dillon Savings Account: 1641-0344-2511.

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Rethinking primary care

Team-based approach to care shows effectiveness, efficiency.

The green team at the Family Health Center at San Francisco General Hospital discusses its approach for the patients coming in that afternoon. (Photo by Elisabeth Fall)

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, primary care has been receiving a lot more scrutiny. In many cases across the nation, the health care system hasn’t been providing the most effective or efficient care.

“We’ve had to do a bit of soul-searching in primary care because we weren’t delivering the goods very well,” said Kevin Grumbach, M.D., chair of UCSF’s Department of Family and Community Medicine.

Kevin Grumbach, UC San Francisco

“It was hard to get appointments, and we weren’t meeting all the patients’ needs, especially if you look at diabetes care and rates of preventative cancer screening,” he said. “It’s not enough to just say we need to try harder; we need to rethink the system. So that’s behind this push to rethink what the roles of people are on the provider team.”

Increasingly, studies suggest that a more team-based approach to care could be a big part of the solution. UC San Francisco research has been key in showing the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of the “patient-centered medical home,” and in driving implementation of this model in multiple centers at San Francisco General Hospital.

Instead of the primary care physician trying to do everything in a 20-minute appointment, a whole team of health care providers is responsible for the patient’s care – from nurses to doctors to community health workers to mental health specialists to pharmacists. The team works together to anticipate the patient’s needs, communicate their findings with each other, and make sure no aspect of the patient’s health slips through the cracks.

From the patient’s perspective, it’s a one-stop shopping experience: In a single doctor’s visit, a patient could receive treatment from his or her primary care doctor, do a preventative screening with a nurse and a technician, and visit with a mental health specialist. In this approach, more is more – but it actually costs less.

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Tackling rare diseases

UC Irvine researchers’ search for genetic clues is giving new hope to families.

“In our lab, we don’t give up,” says Virginia Kimonis, a UC Irvince specialist in rare genetic diseases. “If people are reaching out, you have to do all you can about rare diseases.” (Photo by Steve Zylius, UC Irvine)

By the time families meet with Dr. Virginia Kimonis, hope is about all they have left.

Her pediatric patients are afflicted with debilitating diseases caused by mutations in an alphabet soup of genes – VCP and NUBPL among them. Prader-Willi, Rett, Paget’s and the like are difficult to diagnose and even harder to treat. But with cutting-edge genomic sequencing and old-fashioned scientific sleuthing, physician-researchers such as Kimonis are on the vanguard of modern medicine, finding therapies where none seemed possible.

Kimonis specializes in one of the most challenging areas: rare genetic diseases. What she and others in her field are learning about disorders that impact only a few is paving the way to a greater understanding of diseases that impact millions.

“It’s wonderful to show in the lab and in the clinic that we can offer these patients some hope,” says Kimonis, a UC Irvine pediatrician and clinical geneticist.

A rare disease is defined as one diagnosed in no more than 200,000 people worldwide; 70 percent, though, affect fewer than 6,000. And of the nearly 7,000 known rare diseases, half involve children, and 80 percent are linked to genetic flaws. These are Kimonis’ focus.

According to UC Irvine’s Dr. J. Jay Gargus, an expert in genetic metabolic diseases, rare disease research can be a springboard to understanding and treating more common ailments.

“We have a special opportunity with rare genetic diseases to provide an insight into how common diseases arise,” says Gargus, who directs the campus’s Center for Autism Research & Translation. “This is an important venue for drug discovery. The National Institutes of Health and the Food & Drug Administration recognize this and have programs established for target diseases. UC Irvine has a great strength in diagnostics, and we should be very involved in this.”

Gargus himself is making a breakthrough on a rare genetic disease. He recently held the first U.S. clinical trial of a treatment for Wolman disease, a cholesterol storage disorder, at UC Irvine Medical Center – with promising results.

Kimonis is also helping the campus establish itself as a leader in the field. She manages a section of the NIH’s Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network dedicated to Prader-Willi, Rett and Angelman syndromes.

Children with Prader-Willi – which is caused by the loss of several genes on chromosome 15 – are characterized by obesity, low muscle tone and cognitive disabilities. In addition to treating Prader-Willi patients with novel approaches, Kimonis is building a national database of those with the disease and designing studies to identify promising therapies.

In one project, she plans to partner with Daniele Piomelli – UC Irvine’s Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Neurosciences, who examines the endocannabinoid system – to see how marijuana-like chemicals called OEAs created in the body can help curb the insatiable appetites of Prader-Willi children. By creating mice models with Prader-Willi gene mutations, the two hope to learn if the hunger-curbing signal provided by OEA is missing and whether compounds that boost OEA can aid satiety.

“If successful, our experiments will achieve two important objectives,” Piomelli says. “First, they will help us understand why Prader-Willi causes hunger; second, and more importantly, they will suggest new possible therapies to reduce appetite.”

Another focus of Kimonis’ work centers on disorders triggered by mutations in the valosin-containing protein gene. VCP programs enzymes that help maintain cell health by breaking down and clearing away old and damaged proteins that are no longer necessary. Mutations in the VCP gene have been discovered in people who have a muscle-weakening disease called inclusion body myopathy, early-onset Paget’s disease of the bone or frontotemporal dementia.

Kimonis was the first scientist to map and identify mutations in the VCP gene in inclusion body myopathy, and in 2012, she developed the first genetically modified mouse model that exhibits many of the clinical features of diseases largely caused by VCP gene mutations.

“Mouse models like these are important because they let researchers study how these now-incurable, degenerative disorders progress in vivo and will provide a platform for translational studies that could lead to lifesaving treatments,” says Kimonis, who co-directs UC Irvine’s MitoMed laboratory, which offers testing for many rare diseases.

Her research breakthroughs are coinciding with greater public recognition of rare genetic diseases. The NIH has established an Office of Rare Diseases Research, and nonprofit groups such as the Orange County-based Global Genes Project are increasing awareness, advocating and soliciting philanthropic aid on behalf of this issue. (The GGP is hosting a patient advocacy summit Sept. 11 and 12 in Huntington Beach.)

Parents of children with rare genetic diseases are also speaking out. Cristy and Rick Spooner of Rancho Santa Margarita, who’ve endured a long quest to identify a disabling condition affecting two of their three daughters, have gone public with their story, hoping to raise the profile of such diseases.

After the Spooners spent years seeking help from doctors, Kimonis contacted them about a new technique, called exome sequencing, that examines the tens of thousands of genes in the human body for disease-causing mutations. Aliso Viejo-based Ambry Genetics, which partners with Kimonis’ research group, provided the sequencing services.

Test results showed that Cali and Ryann Spooner harbored mutations in the NUBPL gene. This defect prevents their mitochondria – the power generators in cells – from efficiently producing energy. Armed with this information, Kimonis developed dietary and drug treatments for the Spooner sisters.

“What’s even more satisfying about our work is that it has huge implications for other diseases,” she says.

Kimonis is seeking funding to determine whether mitochondrial defects caused by mutated NUBPL genes underlie the onset of Parkinson’s disease. She hopes to partner with UC Irvine neurologist Dr. Neal Hermanowicz, who manages the movement disorders program, to establish a clinical research network for this effort.

“In our lab, we don’t give up,” Kimonis says. “If people are reaching out, you have to do all you can about rare diseases.”

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UC campuses rank among world’s best universities

ARWU global rankings place four UC campuses in top 20, nine in top 150.

Nine University of California campuses placed among the top 150 universities in the world in rankings that focus on the quality of research and faculty released today (Aug. 15) by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

American universities dominated the 2014 Academic Ranking of World Universities, with UC Berkeley coming in first among public universities, followed closely by UCLA, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco.

UC campuses also did very well in the overall rankings:

  • UC Berkeley, fourth
  • UCLA, 12th
  • UC San Diego, 14th
  • UC San Francisco, 18th
  • UC Santa Barbara, 41st
  • UC Irvine, 47th
  • UC Davis, 55th
  • UC Santa Cruz, 93rd
  • UC Riverside, 101-150th grouping

UC Berkeley has been in the top four of the rankings since they began in 2003. For the first time this year, UC Santa Cruz broke into the top 100.

The rankings also rated the top 200 universities in five broad academic areas and five subject areas.

UC rankings in broad academic areas:

Natural sciences and mathematics

1. UC Berkeley
9. UCLA
18. UC Santa Barbara
26. UC San Diego
31. UC Irvine
51-75. UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz
76-100. UC Riverside

Engineering-technology and computer sciences

3. UC Berkeley
7. UC Santa Barbara
18. UC San Diego
26. UCLA
50-75. UC Davis, UC Irvine

Life and agricultural sciences

5. UC San Francisco
8. UC Berkeley
11. UC San Diego
15. UCLA
23. UC Davis
51-75. UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz
101-150. UC Riverside

Clinical medicine and pharmacy

2. UC San Francisco
9. UCLA
22. UC San Diego
28. UC Berkeley
51-75. UC Davis
101-150. UC Irvine

Social science

4. UC Berkeley
16. UCLA
23. UC San Diego
42. UC Irvine
51-75. UC Davis, UC Irvine
151-200. UC San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz

UC subject rankings:

Mathematics

3. UC Berkeley
9. UCLA
22. UC San Diego
51-75. UC Davis
76-100. UC Irvine
101-150. UC Santa Barbara

Physics

1. UC Berkeley
12. UC Santa Barbara
22. UCLA
33. UC Santa Cruz
45. UC Irvine
51-75. UC San Diego
101-150. UC Davis
151-200. UC Riverside

Chemistry

1. UC Berkeley
7. UCLA
13. UC Santa Barbara
18. UC San Diego
26. UC Irvine
47. UC Riverside
51-75. UC Davis

Computer science

3. UC Berkeley
9. UCLA
11. UC San Diego
24. UC Davis
29. UC Irvine
51-75. UC Santa Barbara

Economics

4. UC Berkeley
15. UCLA
18. UC San Diego
48. UC Irvine
51-75. UC Santa Barbara
76-100. UC Davis

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Innovation center names executive director

Karyn DiGiorgio to lead systemwide center.

Karyn DiGiorgio

Karyn DiGiorgio, M.S.N., R.N., has been appointed executive director of the UC Center for Health Quality and Innovation (CHQI).

The center, based at the UC Office of the President, is a systemwide effort launched in 2010 to support innovative grants and spread best practices that aim to improve quality, increase efficiencies and reduce costs at UC medical centers.

DiGiorgio joined UCOP in 2013 as the associate director of CHQI, after working for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, where she was a program officer in the Betty Irene Moore Nursing Initiative.

“Karyn brings a wealth of experience to this position, having served as associate director since 2013,” said Dr. John Stobo, UC Health senior vice president. “Karyn also served as interim director since March of 2014 following the retirement of Terry Leach, and has helped to enhance the scope of the center’s mission, collaborating with UCOP and medical center leadership to develop and implement a variety of patient care and revenue models as well as systemwide reimbursement models that will support UC Health’s Leveraging Scale for Value initiative.”

UC Health launched its Leveraging Scale for Value initiative in March to collaborate as a system to reduce costs and enhance revenue at UC medical centers.

At the Moore Foundation, DiGiorgio developed and managed multiple systemwide health care grants in the Bay Area and greater Sacramento regions — many of which resulted in significant reductions in patient morbidity and mortality and led to improvements in patient care. Previously, she worked as the R.N. discharge coordinator and a staff/charge nurse in the emergency department at UCSF Medical Center. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and holds an M.S.N. in health policy from UC San Francisco and an M.S. from Drexel University in Philadelphia.

The Center for Health Quality and Innovation is governed by a board composed of the six UC medical school deans, five UC medical center CEOs and chaired by the UC Health senior vice president.

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Cancers classified in new system

Reclassification could lead to different treatment options for up to 10 percent of patients.

Josh Stuart, UC Santa Cruz

New research involving UC San Francisco-affiliated and UC Santa Cruz scientists suggests that 1 in 10 cancer patients would be more accurately diagnosed if their tumors were defined by cellular and molecular criteria rather than by the tissues in which they originated, and that this information, in turn, could lead to more appropriate treatments.

In the largest study of its kind to date, scientists analyzed molecular and genetic characteristics of more than 3,500 tumor samples of 12 different cancer types using multiple genomic technology platforms.

Cancers traditionally have been categorized by their “tissue of origin”— such as breast, bladder, or kidney cancer. But tissues are composed of different types of cells, and the new work indicates that in many cases the type of cell affected by cancer may be a more useful guide to treatment than the tissue in which a tumor originates.

The study, published today (Aug. 7) in the online edition of Cell, was conducted as part of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) initiative spearheaded by the National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute, both part of the National Institutes of Health.

“It’s only 10 percent that were classified differently, but it matters a lot if you’re one of those patients,” said senior author Josh Stuart, a professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz.

Stuart helped organize the study as part of the Pan-Cancer Initiative of the Cancer Genome Atlas project. A large team of researchers from multiple institutions performed a comprehensive analysis of molecular data from thousands of patients representing 12 different types of cancer. This was the most comprehensive and diverse collection of tumors ever analyzed by systematic genomic methods. Each tumor type was characterized using six different “platforms” or methods of molecular analysis — mostly genomic platforms such as DNA and RNA sequencing, plus a protein expression analysis.

“This genomic study not only challenges our existing system of classifying cancers based on tissue type, but also provides a massive new data resource for further exploration, as well as a comprehensive list of the molecular features distinguishing each of the newly described cancer classes,” said co-senior author Christopher Benz, M.D., professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, adjunct professor of medicine at UCSF, and a member of UCSF’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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Lightning strike survivor reunites with rescuers

Off-duty lifeguard who saves lives is saved by others.

Dr. Gil Cryer (from left), chief of trauma and emergency surgery at Reagan UCLA Medical Center, talks with lightning strike survivor Robert Kilroy and Molly Steele, a nurse in the neuroscience/trauma Intensive Care Unit, where Kilroy stayed during his recovery. (Photo by Reed Hutchinson, UCLA)

July 27 started out as a typical Sunday for Robert Kilroy, a 56-year-old off-duty seasonal Los Angeles County lifeguard and a chiropractor. The Marina Del Rey resident went to his favorite spot in Venice Beach and was chest-deep in the ocean teaching his daughter Emily Kilroy, 15, how to surf.

Suddenly, a rare bolt of lightning from an unexpected summer storm struck the beach, injuring numerous people and tragically killing one young man. The next thing Kilroy knew, he woke up in the Emergency Department at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

What transpired that afternoon was a series of events that led to Kilroy’s remarkable survival and the opportunity for him and his daughter to reunite Thursday on Venice Beach with the men and women who played a role in his recovery.

What Kilroy does not remember from that day is being electrocuted after the bolt of lightning splintered from the sand into the water. His heart stopped, he went down and his lungs filled with ocean water.

Emily saw her dad floating, in full cardiac arrest. Pulling him to shore, she yelled for help. Immediately, first responders from the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguards started CPR, which got his blood circulating and his heart pumping again. The Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics inserted a breathing tube and rushed him to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

“He was unconscious, but his heart was working. However, since his brain had been without oxygen, our main concern at that time was ‘Will his brain recover?’” recalled Dr. Gil Cryer, chief and director of the UCLA Trauma/Emergency Surgery and Critical program, at a press conference Thursday.

Kilroy was moved to the neuro-ICU where he woke up fairly quickly and was communicating almost right away, which the team was gratified to see. Over the next few days they monitored his condition, performed procedures to help clear his lungs and kept him sedated to allow the ventilator to help him breathe and allow his lungs to recover.

“Each day he kept improving, and he really made a remarkable recovery,” said Molly Steele, a nurse in the neuroscience/trauma ICU at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who helped care for Kilroy.

In additional to the Emergency Department team and the Neuro-I.C.U., Kilroy was cared for by a handful of departments at UCLA, including cardiology, critical care anesthesiology/surgical, electroencephalography, neuro-critical care medicine, nutrition, the pharmacy, and respiratory and speech therapy.

Five days later, Kilroy was discharged from UCLA and has since returned to work and his normal everyday activities, including swimming in the ocean. At the press conference, he jokingly mentioned that people now ask him what it feels to be struck by lightning (he does not remember) and if he now has any superpowers (he has none).

On a more serious note, he described what the experience has taught him.

“One thing that I have learned is just how amazing it is to save somebody’s life. I have done it many times before as a lifeguard and never gave it much thought,” Kilroy said. “This time, it was my life that was saved, and it has brought on a new and much greater significance. “

He added, “All that has transpired has heightened my awareness of how much I have to be grateful for and how important it is for me to continue to grow that awareness.“

His daughter Emily said she plans to learn CPR, and said she was thankful for everyone who helped save her father’s life. “They kept my dad alive … it’s just the most meaningful thing that’s ever really happened in my life.”

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How the body initially responds to HIV infection

Inflammatory response breaks down intestinal lining; help may come from friendly bacteria.

Researchers at UC Davis have made some surprising discoveries about the body’s initial responses to HIV infection. Studying simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the team found that specialized cells in the intestine called Paneth cells are early responders to viral invasion and are the source of gut inflammation by producing a cytokine called interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β).

Though aimed at the presence of virus, IL-1β causes breakdown of the gut epithelium that provides a barrier to protect the body against pathogens. Importantly, this occurs prior to the widespread viral infection and immune cell killing. But in an interesting twist, a beneficial bacterium, Lactobacillus plantarum, helps mitigate the virus-induced inflammatory response and protects gut epithelial barrier. The study was published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

One of the biggest obstacles to complete viral eradication and immune recovery is the stable HIV reservoir in the gut.  There is very little information about the early viral invasion and the establishment of the gut reservoir.

“We want to understand what enables the virus to invade the gut, cause inflammation and kill the immune cells,” said Satya Dandekar, lead author of the study and chair of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at UC Davis.

“Our study has identified Paneth cells as initial virus sensors in the gut that may induce early gut inflammation, cause tissue damage and help spread the viral infection. Our findings provide potential targets and new biomarkers for intervening or blocking early spread of viral infection,” she said.

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In the media: Week of Aug. 24

A sampling of news media stories involving UC Health:

Op-ed: Public universities need to be nurtured, protected as an investment for all, Washington Monthly

UC President Janet Napolitano writes about the value of public higher education in Washington Monthly, noting UC’s role in health sciences training and in serving California’s safety net needs. Her piece coincided with the magazine’s rankings of how well colleges and universities serve the public interest. UC had the top three ranked campuses in the nation, four of the top five and eight in the top 100. Read UC release.

100 Most Influential People in Healthcare, Modern Healthcare

UC San Francisco’s Robert Wachter has been named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Healthcare” by Modern Healthcare. Wachter is chief of the medical service and chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine at UCSF Medical Center. Former UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, now CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also made the list, as did Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, who completed his residency at UCSF.

UCLA’s DNA detectives in action, U.S. News & World Report

Calvin Lapidus, 3, sits on an exam table at UCLA Medical Center and points correctly when asked to identify different animals on an iPad. His mom, Audrey Davidow Lapidus, lowers him to the floor and holds him as he moves his legs in “purposeful steps” as UCLA geneticist Stanley Nelson observes. Calvin can’t walk, but his movements are far beyond what they were at 10 months old, when he still wasn’t rolling over or sitting up and first came to UCLA. Medical tests had not turned up anything, though one doctor had wondered about possible genetic implications of some “interesting” facial features. Indeed, a cutting-edge analysis of Calvin’s DNA revealed a mutation resulting in ultrarare Pitt Hopkins syndrome. UCLA is one of a number of institutions now regularly charting patients’ exomes, the protein-coding portions of genes that account for only about 1 percent of DNA but close to 85 percent of known disease-causing DNA errors, and putting that information to clinical use.

UC Davis clinic serves the uninsured in Sacramento for free, The Sacramento Bee

Daniel Heidelburg normally heads to the emergency room when his breath gets short and his heart starts racing. But on one of his recent visits to the ER at UC Davis Medical Center, his doctor told him about a different option for follow-up care: the school’s free TEACH clinic. Earlier this month, Heidelburg, 51, a former Paratransit driver from Oak Park, paid his first visit to the UC Davis clinic. Heidelburg was examined by third-year medical student Kevin Dias and Dr. George Gallardo, a third-year resident. Dias and Gallardo are part of a core group of 25 medical students and nine residents who work at the TEACH clinic, which treats about 2,000 patients a year. Started in 2005 with a $3 million federal grant, the TEACH clinic has likely saved taxpayers millions of dollars in emergency room visits, said Mark Henderson, UC Davis Medical School dean of admissions. At the same time, Henderson said, the clinic has helped UC Davis attract a more ethnically diverse crop of medical students, many of whom intend to remain in primary care.

Teen crushed by bricks in Napa earthquake recounts pain, fear, San Francisco Chronicle

Nicholas Dillon felt the weight of the bricks fall on his back. Panic set in. His screams filled his pitch-black house in Napa as his mother struggled to reach him. The 13-year-old yelled. He couldn’t move. “I thought I was paralyzed. I couldn’t feel my legs. I couldn’t feel my back,” said Nicholas, who was crushed by a falling chimney in Sunday’s magnitude 6.0 earthquake, which injured more than 250 people in Napa and surrounding areas. Nicholas spoke to reporters Tuesday for the first time from his hospital bed at UC Davis Children’s Hospital in Sacramento. He said he was tired and in pain, but his eyes were alert and he’s listed in fair condition. He’s still taking inventory of his injuries, the worst of which was a badly fractured pelvis that required nearly 10 hours of surgery. A large scar stretches across his lower belly, he said. “I do consider myself lucky to be alive,” Nicholas said. “If I hadn’t moved, I’m telling you, I shouldn’t be here right now. I should be dead. … I didn’t black out. I remember the whole thing.”

Healing burns at Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California, The Sacramento Bee

For someone who spends his days around severe burns, Dr. David Greenhalgh is exceptionally cool. Greenhalgh, chief of burns at Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California, built the facility’s burn program almost singlehandedly at its start in 1997. Now, thanks to his cutting-edge medical research, it has grown into the busiest pediatric burn center on the West Coast and one of the nation’s leading facilities for this specialization. In a peach-and-mint building nestled next to the UC Davis medical campus on Stockton Boulevard, Greenhalgh treats dozens of burned and scalded children from 13 Western states, plus Mexico and Canada. He also runs the adult burn program at the UC Davis Medical Center across X Street.

Janet Napolitano hopes UC can cash in on companies, not just research, KQED

When Google went public, Stanford University made millions. The windfall came because Stanford had equity: not only Google’s intellectual property but also the company itself. This kind of direct investment in a startup was not allowed at the University of California — that is, until now. UC President Janet Napolitano made the change possible by removing guidelines for industry-academic relations. Her action is raising questions about ethics, funding and the future of basic research. This piece cites the example of a company called Caribou Biosciences, co-founded by UC Berkeley grad Rachel Haurwitz and UC Berkeley professor Jennifer Doudna, which grew out of their basic research on RNA at UC Berkeley.

Napolitano delivers clever message at Nexenta OpenSDx Summit, San Francisco Chronicle

Out of the hundreds of technology executives and venture capitalists that filled the St. Regis Hotel Thursday, Janet Napolitano must have felt like the lone wolf. Not because, as Napolitano humorously noted, she was perhaps the only speaker at the Nexenta OpenSDx Summit who did not bring a book to peddle. Nor because she was one of the few whose salary did not depend on a stock price. Instead, the president of the University of California system was bearing a message that might seem contrary to the startup factory ethos that dominates Silicon Valley; that not all innovation leads to profit. In fact, there’s plenty of research that might not lead to anything at all. Basic research, the study of something for pure scientific and intellectual inquiry, is just as critical to the long-term economic health of the United States as the latest tech craze.

StartX, QB3 partnership targets biotech startups in Palo Alto accelerator, San Francisco Business Times

Two powerhouses for biotech startups — StartX and QB3 — are joining forces to open lab space in Palo Alto for as many as 20 life sciences companies. StartX-QB3 Labs already has a handful of companies that pay $1,500 a month for a five-foot lab bench in the facility’s 2,000 square feet, or less for only a desk — and a startup ecosystem three blocks away from Stanford University, access to vital core lab facilities and two organizations with big-name connections and enviable track records for translating fresh ideas into standalone companies. The labs are part of a boom in accelerators and incubators in the Bay Area aimed at moving ideas into the marketplace or helping large companies more quickly identify up-and-coming drugs and technologies. QB3 has focused on turning ideas from researchers at UC Berkeley, UCSF and UC Santa Cruz into companies. Within its two on-campus incubators and three other affiliated incubators in Berkeley and San Francisco, it has helped spawn more than 100 companies.

See additional coverage: San Francisco Chronicle

Cedars-Sinai didn’t make the list in year 1. What will year 2 of narrow networks hold?, California Healthline

Not a single health plan available through Covered California’s Region 15 and Region 16 — the Los Angeles County — initially offered access to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center last year. (Health Net ended up contracting with Cedars for the ACA’s first enrollment period.) Earlier this year, Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic  detailed how insurers’ decision to leave out Cedars-Sinai (and generally avoid UCLA, ranked the top hospital in California by U.S. News) was driven by a focus to control costs and offer low-price plans in the insurance exchange. All told, about half of the plans sold on HealthCare.gov and state health insurance exchanges in 2014 had “narrow networks,” a McKinsey report found. The limited networks sparked a political and media outcry — especially among patients who had a specific preference for hospitals like Cedars and UCLA, which are known for their top-tier health services. In California, Anthem and Cedars struck a deal this spring that will allow the hospital to be offered through Anthem’s plans in Covered California’s next enrollment period.

New ‘biochips’ that mimic our bodies could speed development of drugs, Kaiser Health News/Wired

Imagine if scientists could recreate you — or at least part of you — on a chip. That might help doctors identify drugs that would help you heal faster, bypassing the sometimes painful trial-and-error process and the hefty costs that burden our healthcare system. Right now, inside a lab at the University of California, Berkeley, researchers are working to make that happen. They’re trying to grow human organ tissue, like heart and liver, on tiny chips. These aren’t your standard computer chips. They’re miniature networks, derived from adult skin cells coerced into becoming the type of tissue scientists want to study, that grow on miniscule pipe-like plastic chambers glued atop a microscope slide.

People with Down syndrome are pioneers in Alzheimer’s research (audio), NPR

When researchers at UC San Diego wanted to an experimental Alzheimer’s drug last year, they sought help from an unlikely group: people with Down syndrome.

How less sleep increases your risk of disease (audio), KQED Forum

More and more Americans are sleeping less and less. That’s according to data from the Centers for Disease Control that show a growing number of people sleep less than six hours a night. And research shows people who sleep less are at greater risk for heart disease, obesity and diabetes. We talk with experts about all things sleep. Guests include Matthew Walker, professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley, where he runs the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory.

Percentage of newborns breastfed in hospital on the rise, California Health Report

More infants are exclusively consuming breast milk immediately after being born in California hospitals than before, according to a new report from the California Women, Infants, Children Association and the UC Davis Human Lactation Center. Nicole Casalenuovo, the interim unit director at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s perinatal unit, is quoted.

Does ‘futile’ care needlessly clog the ICU?, KPCC

If a patient in the intensive care unit is receiving futile care, can that hurt another patient’s chances of getting needed treatment? In the journal Critical Care Medicine, researchers from UCLA and RAND Health conclude: Yes.

Shared decision-making in high gear at UCLA, HealthData Management

Using a combination of technological tools, videos, and surveys, clinicians and patients at UCLA are undertaking shared decision-making in several treatment areas.

Oakland physicians take no-confidence vote in Children’s Hospital negotiator, Bay City News

Union-represented resident physicians at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland are taking a no-confidence vote on hospital management’s negotiator in the slow-moving contract talks between the two sides, which have been going on for 16 months.

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The evolution of ‘anger face’

Researchers identify origin and purpose of the facial expression for anger.

The anger face is a constellation of features, each of which makes a person appear physically stronger. (iStock photo)

The next time you get really mad, take a look in the mirror. See the lowered brow, the thinned lips and the flared nostrils? That’s what social scientists call the “anger face,” and it appears to be part of our basic biology as humans.

Now, researchers at UC Santa Barbara and at Griffith University in Australia have identified the functional advantages that caused the specific appearance of the anger face to evolve. Their findings appear in the current online edition of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

“The expression is cross-culturally universal, and even congenitally blind children make this same face without ever having seen one,” said lead author Aaron Sell, a lecturer at the School of Criminology at Griffith University in Australia. Sell was formerly a postdoctoral scholar at UCSB’s Center for Evolutionary Psychology.

The anger expression employs seven distinct muscle groups that contract in a highly stereotyped manner. The researchers sought to understand why evolution chose those particular muscle contractions to signal the emotional state of anger.

The current research is part of a larger set of studies that examine the evolutionary function of anger. “Our earlier research showed that anger evolved to motivate effective bargaining behavior during conflicts of interest,” said Sell.

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Prions can trigger ‘stuck’ wine fermentations

Findings may have implications for better understanding diabetes.

A chronic problem in winemaking is “stuck fermentation,” when yeast that should be busily converting grape sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide prematurely shuts down, leaving the remaining sugar to instead be consumed by bacteria that can spoil the wine.

A team of researchers including UC Davis yeast geneticist Linda Bisson has discovered a biochemical communication system behind this problem.  Working through a prion — an abnormally shaped protein that can reproduce itself — the system enables bacteria in fermenting wine to switch yeast from sugar to other food sources without altering the yeast’s DNA.

“The discovery of this process really gives us a clue to how stuck fermentations can be avoided,” said Bisson, a professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology. “Our goal now is to find yeast strains that essentially ignore the signal initiated by the bacteria and do not form the prion, but instead power on through the fermentation.”

She suggests that the discovery of this biochemical mechanism, reported today (Aug. 28) in the journal Cell, may also have implications for better understanding metabolic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, in humans.

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UC Davis researchers launch study examining autism in girls

Little is known about biological differences between boys and girls with autism.

Little is known about autism in girls.

Autism is far more common in boys than girls – affecting 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls — but little is known about biological differences between boys and girls with autism. A new study, called the ‘Girls with Autism — Imaging of Neurodevelopment’ or GAIN Study, led by researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute will explore those differences in very young girls with autism.

“We know that the incidence of autism is much lower in girls than it is in boys. But we don’t know much about why that is, and what those differences are,” said Christine Wu Nordahl, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and principal investigator for the study. “Because autism so much more common in boys, girls are often understudied, and we haven’t had the chance to evaluate them in depth.”

To investigate the differences between autism in boys and autism in girls, MIND Institute researchers are seeking very young girls with autism — between the ages of 2 and 3.5 years old — who are recently diagnosed with autism. The researchers also are enrolling girls in the same age range who are developing typically.

Study participants will be followed for two years and will receive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and other tests, to help researchers identify differences in brain structure and connectivity between boys and girls with autism.

“A comprehensive understanding of the female phenotype of autism spectrum disorder is a pressing and timely topic, as indicated by national efforts to direct research towards this goal,” Wu Nordahl said.

For further information about the research or to inquire about enrolling a child in the study, please contact Michelle Huynh, study coordinator, at (916) 703-0410, or michelle.huynh@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

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