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Q&A with dean of UC San Diego’s pharmacy school

Skaggs School of Pharmacy is innovative in education and research, James McKerrow says.

UC San Diego

Last July, Dr. James H. McKerrow became only the second dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, which opened its doors to its first class in the fall of 2002.

McKerrow is also an alumnus of UC San Diego — he earned his Ph.D. in biology in 1973, focusing on peptide chemistry and molecular genetics. He then went on to receive his M.D. from SUNY Stony Brook, with an internship in internal medicine. He completed his residency in pathology at UC San Francisco, then continued there as a postdoctoral fellow and clinical instructor, eventually becoming professor of pathology and most recently serving as director of the Center for Discovery and Innovation in Parasitic Diseases.

An expert in the area of neglected tropical diseases, McKerrow has brought a wealth of experience in natural product research and drug discovery and development to UC San Diego. His keen interest in these areas brings together cross-disciplinary researchers across our campus and in the community — in global health, biology, chemistry, engineering and drug development programs.

McKerrow is an active teacher and mentor in graduate and postdoctoral programs, lectures to medical and health profession students and has hosted underrepresented students each year for summer research internships. Committed to fostering science education in the community, he gives talks each year to elementary and high school students, and has presented several public lectures in the “Ask a Scientist” series in San Francisco.

At any given time, Skaggs School of Pharmacy faculty are teaching and training approximately 240 Pharm.D. students, 60 Ph.D. students and 30 pharmacy residents. The school offers an innovative and flexible curriculum leading to the Doctor of Pharmacy degree, taught by health sciences faculty in close association with the clinical, research and academic programs of the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Q&A

What guided your transition from researcher to researcher-administrator? How do your experiences as a researcher inform your choices as a leader?

I think what attracted me to be involved in administration as well as research is the opportunity to build bridges, not only from laboratory to laboratory, which is how science is done, but from school to school. And so one of the things I wanted to do when I came here is break down any silos that might’ve existed not only between the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and the School of Medicine, but between the pharmacy school and the campus as a whole.

How does being a UC San Diego alumnus help you in your current position?

As some people may know, I’m also an alumnus of UC San Diego — I got my Ph.D. here. So, I have connections with the Division of Biological Sciences and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry that other people might not have. And so that has made it a lot easier for me to reach out to colleagues across the campus and to foster what I would consider more interdisciplinary research than had occurred in the past.

What is unique about the Skaggs School of Pharmacy?

I think the important thing about the Skaggs School of Pharmacy is that it’s very innovative in two areas: the first is education and the second is research. It’s innovative in education because the role of pharmacists is rapidly changing. So now the pharmacist is becoming more of a primary health care provider. The Skaggs School of Pharmacy is at the forefront of understanding that and educating the pharmacists of the future, rather than the pharmacist of today.

The Skaggs School of Pharmacy is also one of few of what we’d call “research-intensive” pharmacy schools in the country. That means we have a very vibrant research program in drug discovery and development that goes hand-in-hand with our educational initiative.

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Recommendations for improving farmworker health to be unveiled

Briefing will be held March 17 at UC Center Sacramento.

>>Register for briefing

By Pat Bailey, UC Davis

An update on the status of health among agricultural workers and their families, as well as policy recommendations for making related health care advances, will be presented from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 17, at UC Center Sacramento.

“A variety of social, economic and political factors have converged to create a uniquely opportune moment to take action and improve the health of farmworkers and their families,” said Marc Schenker, distinguished professor of public health sciences and medicine at UC Davis and co-director of the Center of Expertise on Migration and Health of the UC Global Health Institute (UCGHI).

Policy recommendations will involve health care funding and insurance, occupational safety, labor law enforcement, and improving farmworker living conditions.

The presentation is free and open to the public, however attendees are asked to register at http://tinyurl.com/pjlgge7. The UC Center Sacramento is located at 1130 K St., Sacramento.

The event is sponsored by the UC Global Health Institute, with support from the California Program on Access to Care, Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, Migration and Health Research Center, and Health Initiative of the Americas.

Related link:
Registration opens for UC Global Health Day

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Chancellor announces major changes in UCLA health sciences leadership

John Mazziotta named medical school dean; hospital system CEO David Feinberg leaving.

John Mazziotta, UCLA

In an email to the UCLA campus community, Chancellor Gene Block today (Feb. 23) announced that Dr. John Mazziotta, a world-renowned brain imaging expert who established the UCLA Brain Mapping Center, has been appointed vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, effective March 1.

Block also announced that Dr. David Feinberg will step down from his position as president of UCLA’s health system and CEO of UCLA’s hospital system on May 1 to become president and CEO of the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania.

“While all of us are saddened to lose Dr. Feinberg, we are also excited that Dr. Mazziotta has agreed to take on this critically important role for UCLA,” Block wrote. “There is no better person than John Mazziotta to lead UCLA’s health science enterprise.”

Mazziotta will take over the responsibilities of Dr. A. Eugene Washington. Block announced in January that Washington would leave UCLA for a position at Duke University Health System.

Mazziotta, who joined the UCLA faculty in 1983, has served as associate vice chancellor for health sciences and executive vice dean of the Geffen School of Medicine since 2012. He has been chair of the department of neurology since 2002, and he has directed the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center since 1993. Mazziotta will step down as neurology department chair and an interim chair will be appointed.

“It is a great honor and privilege to lead one of the world’s finest schools of medicine and innovative, patient-focused health systems,” Mazziotta said. “Having worked very closely with Drs. Washington and Feinberg over many years, I know the transition will be smooth and the projects and initiatives we have developed together will proceed with full momentum.

“This will be a very productive and exciting time for the David Geffen School of Medicine and the UCLA Health System. I look forward to joining my colleagues of many years as we continue to ensure that UCLA is the future of medicine.”

Thanks to Mazziotta’s leadership, UCLA’s neurology department has ranked No. 1 nationwide in National Institutes of Health funding for nine consecutive years. And as director of UCLA’s Brain Mapping Center, he was principal investigator of the International Consortium for Brain Mapping, which led the creation of the first comprehensive atlas of the structure and function of the normal adult human brain.

Mazziotta, who Block called “a widely respected faculty administrator with a deep commitment to excellence in education, research, clinical care and public service,” has published more than 255 research papers and eight texts.

Among his numerous awards and honors, he has been elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal College of Physicians. Mazziotta earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbia University, and his M.D. and doctorate in neuroanatomy from Georgetown University. He completed his neurology and nuclear medicine training at UCLA.

In more than two decades at UCLA, Feinberg has built a distinguished record. Under his leadership, the health system continued an ongoing run of being named the best hospital in the West by U.S. News and World Report, as well as one of the top five in the nation, and patient satisfaction ratings soared to among the best in the U.S. among academic medical centers.

During Feinberg’s tenure, the health system built new partnerships with the Doheny Eye Institute, the Motion Picture and Television Fund health network, Cedars-Sinai and Select Medical, and other organizations. Feinberg also cultivated relationships throughout greater Los Angeles, including through his service on two health system boards and outreach to business and professional groups. His many honors include selection as one of the 50 most influential physician executives by Modern Healthcare magazine.

“Despite our excitement over Dr. Mazziotta’s new role, we are very sorry to see Dr. Feinberg leave us,” Block wrote in the statement. “I have no doubt that David will build upon his stellar record of accomplishment at Geisinger.”

Media contact:
Health Sciences Media Relations
(310) 794-0777
UCLAHSmedia@mednet.ucla.edu

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UC Davis student diagnosed with meningococcal disease

Student is receiving medical care and treatment at a local hospital.

(Updated Feb. 25: University and Yolo County Public Health officials say the student with meningococcal disease is recovering. The officials added that they had contacted people who had been in close contact with the student, so that they could arrange preventive medication for them. Read more, including the strain of meningococcal bacteria in this case.)

By Andy Fell, UC Davis

A student who attends the University of California, Davis, has been diagnosed with meningococcal disease, a bacterial infection that can cause bloodstream infections and meningitis, the university and public health officials said today (Feb. 23).

The student is receiving medical care and treatment at a local hospital.

UC Davis and Yolo County Public Health teams are investigating the case, providing preventive antibiotics to contacts where indicated, and educating the university community about meningococcal disease. Close contacts of meningococcal cases who are recommended to receive preventive antibiotics include people who were exposed to the ill person’s respiratory and throat secretions through living in close quarters, or kissing or other prolonged close contact.

University and county health officials are identifying people who had close contact with the student and recommending antibiotics to protect them from becoming ill. Officials are not recommending antibiotic prophylaxis for community members or UC Davis students in general. Prophylaxis is recommended for people specifically identified as close contacts of the ill student.

Meningococcal disease signs and symptoms, which are sometimes mistaken for those of flu early in the course of illness, can include:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Rash
  • Body aches/joint pain
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Confusion

Anyone with the signs or symptoms of meningococcal disease should seek medical care immediately. Early treatment of meningococcal disease is critical as the infection can quickly become life threatening.

Students with questions or any of the above symptoms should contact: UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services’ Advice Nurse Line, (530) 752-2349.

Parents, family members and the general public with questions or concerns should contact: Student Health and Counseling Services’ Directors Office, (530) 752-2333.

Covering coughs, keeping hands clean and being up to date with recommended vaccines, especially flu vaccine this time of year, are actions everyone can take to stay healthy, protect themselves from illness and prevent the spread of infections to others.

Media contacts:
Beth Gabor
Public affairs manager
Yolo County
(530) 666-8042
beth.gabor@yolocounty.org

Andy Fell
UC Davis News Service
(530) 752-4533
ahfell@ucdavis.edu

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On the road to recovery

UC Irvine spinal experts help patient get back on his feet after motorcycle accident.

Ruben Barajas remembers the accident in snapshots: Riding his motorcycle to class at Cal State Fullerton. An inattentive driver veering into his lane. Lying on the freeway, unable to move or breathe. Finally, paramedics giving him a lifesaving rush of oxygen.

“That first taste of air after struggling to breathe was absolutely beautiful,” he says. He also remembers the ambulance ride to UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, his anxious family, neurological tests and learning at age 25 he might never walk again.

His neurosurgeon, Dr. Daniel Yanni, explains: “Ruben had two shattered vertebrae in his neck — a severe injury that paralyzed his arms and legs. His chances of regaining movement were small, but we tried to ensure the best possible outcome by treating him quickly and aggressively.”

That night, Yanni removed the bone fragments that were compressing Barajas’ spinal cord, replacing the broken bones with a metal cage, plate and screws.

The next day, he excised more bone from the back of Barajas’ spine and anchored the cage in place with metal rods and screws. Both surgeries required tremendous surgical skill and precision.

Barajas was treated for other injuries, too — a broken right arm, fractured ankle and mangled right toe. The neurosurgical and neurocritical care team did everything possible to aid his recovery, even maintaining artificially high blood pressure to improve blood flow to the spinal cord.

Heavily sedated for two weeks, Barajas has no memory of the surgery. But he does remember beginning physical therapy at UC Irvine Health. “My right leg was in a brace and my right arm in a sling,” he says. “It was the hardest work I’ve ever done.” After three weeks at UC Irvine Health, he was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, where he continued to regain the use of his arms and legs.

The hard work and intensive medical care paid off. In January 2013, six months after the accident, Barajas took his first steps. “Just standing up was a shock,” he says. “I’d forgotten how different the world looks when you’re upright.”

He left the rehabilitation hospital in March using only a walker. By October, he was driving and working at a gym part time. In August 2014, two years after the accident, Barajas returned to college with a new career in mind. “I want to help people when they’re at their most vulnerable,” he says. “I can do that best as a doctor specializing in rehabilitation medicine.”

Yanni describes Barajas’ recovery as “truly spectacular.” Barajas credits Yanni: “I’m truly blessed that he had the expertise to put me back together,” he says. “I’m blessed beyond belief.”

To learn more about UC Irvine Health neurosurgical spine services, visit ucirvinehealth.org/spine.

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UCLA notifies patients who received endoscopic procedures

UCLA issues statement.

The UCLA Health System notified 179 patients on Feb. 18 that they may have been exposed last fall to the carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) bacteria during an endoscopic procedure to diagnose and treat diseases of the liver, bile ducts and pancreas at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. A total of seven patients were infected; the infection was a contributing factor in the death of two patients.

Only patients who underwent these endoscopic procedures from Oct. 3, 2014, to Jan. 28, 2015, are at risk of infection. Those patients are being offered a free home testing kit for analysis at UCLA to determine if they carry the bacteria in their intestines.

UCLA followed both national guidelines and the sterilization standards stipulated by Olympus Medical Systems Group, the instrument’s manufacturer. However, an internal investigation determined in late January that CRE may have been transmitted by two of the seven Olympus scopes used by the hospital during the four-month period.

UCLA immediately began reviewing every patient record to determine which patients underwent the procedure using this type of scope between October and January. In an abundance of caution, the hospital has notified all 179 patients who were examined with one of the seven instruments during that time.

The two infected scopes were immediately removed from use for return to Olympus. UCLA currently performs a more stringent decontamination process that exceeds both the manufacturer’s standards and FDA-approved manufacturer’s guidelines. Hospital staff thoroughly clean the instrument and place it in an automated machine for disinfection. Then the instrument is sent off-site for a second sterilization process using a gas called ethylene oxide.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and California Department of Public Health were notified as soon as the outbreak was detected. CRE exposures using the same type of scope have been reported in other U.S. hospitals. Concerned patients may contact their primary care physician or UCLA’s clinical epidemiology and infection prevention department at (310) 794-0189.

CRE Frequently Asked Questions

What are CRE?
CRE, which stands for Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, are a family of bacteria that can be difficult to treat because they are resistant to many commonly used antibiotics. CRE are an increasing public health problem throughout the world.

Enterobacteriaceae are a family of bacteria, including Klebsiella, E. coli and many other bacteria, that normally live in the colon of all people. Klebsiella and E. coli can become CRE when they obtain resistance mechanisms that make them more difficult to treat. While these bacteria usually do not cause any problems in healthy patients, they can cause infections in patients who have other serious medical problems or who are undergoing operations or other invasive procedures.

How were patients exposed to CRE at UCLA?
UCLA Clinical Epidemiology and Infection Prevention staff identified a small group of infections with CRE that appeared to happen after endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). After further investigation with the assistance of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, it was determined that the routine cleaning of the ERCP scopes as recommended by the scope manufacturer does not completely eradicate CRE as it does for other bacteria and viruses. After discussion with local and national public health officials, it appears that the ERCP scopes will require additional cleaning techniques beyond what is recommended by the manufacturer or significant redesign of parts of the scope.

If patients did not have an ERCP procedure, are they still at risk of infection at UCLA?
No. Only patients who underwent ERCP between Oct. 3, 2014, and Jan. 28, 2015, may be at risk of exposure.

Do CRE always cause infections?
No. The most common types of CRE are Klebsiella and E. coli, both germs that are present in the colon of all people. CRE can live in the colon and not cause any health problems; this is called “colonization.” While most people who are colonized will clear the organism over time, there is a small chance that CRE can cause an infection. Most people who develop an infection with CRE have underlying medical issues or have undergone a medical procedure.

How do patients know if they have CRE?
If a patient has symptoms of fever or chills, it is possible he or she could have an active infection, though this is very uncommon. If patients have any of these symptoms, they should contact their primary doctor immediately or call UCLA Clinical Epidemiology and Infection Prevention at (310) 794-0189 for guidance.
Patients without symptoms of infection may still be colonized with CRE in their colon. We are providing a screening test for patients to perform at home, which will be processed at a UCLA Laboratory. UCLA Clinical Epidemiology will contact patients with the results and answer questions.

What is the chance that a patient has CRE?
In a similar outbreak at another hospital, it was found that about 10 percent of patients who underwent ERCP later had CRE colonizing their colon.

What if a patient is colonized with CRE?
Most people who are colonized with CRE will eventually clear the bacteria from their colon if they are not exposed to antibiotics; however, some people may be colonized longer. Because Klebsiella is normally part of the millions of bacteria that live in the colon, carriers will likely not have any problems with the bacteria. It is important for a patient to know if they are colonized; their doctor may choose to treat them differently in the unlikely event of an infection. If a patient is identified as a CRE carrier, UCLA will ask health care workers to wear gowns and gloves if the patient is admitted to the hospital to decrease the risk of transmission of this germ to other patients. Unfortunately, there is no reliable way of eradicating CRE from the colon, though with time, it is likely that it will be crowded out by other bacterial strains that do not have antibiotic resistance.

What is UCLA doing to ensure that no other patients are exposed?
In addition to the cleaning process recommended by the ERCP and linear endoscopic ultrasound scope manufacturer, UCLA has begun outsourcing gas sterilization of these scopes after this process. We will also be performing cultures on scopes in coordination with the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Media contact
Health Sciences Media Relations
(310) 794-0777
UCLAHSmedia@mednet.ucla.edu

 

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UCSF receives $100M gift to advance health sciences mission

Landmark gift cements Chuck Feeney’s role as UC system’s top philanthropist.

Chuck Feeney

By Jennifer O’Brien, UC San Francisco

UC San Francisco has received a $100 million gift from visionary philanthropist Charles F. “Chuck” Feeney to support its new Mission Bay hospitals, world-class faculty and students, and research programs focused on the neurosciences and aging.

This donation brings the longtime supporter’s total UCSF giving to more than $394 million, making Feeney the single largest contributor to the University of California system.

“I get my gratification from knowing that my investments in medical research, education, and the delivery of health care at UCSF will provide lifelong benefits to millions of people not only in the Bay Area but also around the world,” said Feeney, who, despite his global presence as a successful entrepreneur and discerning philanthropist, prefers remaining out of the limelight. “I can’t imagine a more effective way to distribute my undeserved wealth.”

Reflecting on Feeney’s contributions, UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, M.B.B.S., said, “As we celebrate UCSF’s 150th anniversary this year, it is only fitting that we acknowledge the unique role Chuck has played in our history. While his impact has been felt most profoundly during this past decade, his generosity will carry on forever at our university, in the San Francisco community, throughout the Bay Area and globally, as our faculty and students advance knowledge and provide the finest clinical care. We are honored that he has decided to invest again in UCSF.”

Feeney’s gifts to UCSF are most visible at the university’s Mission Bay campus, where he has provided indispensable support to create advanced facilities and foster the environment for the biomedical research and patient care that goes on within them.

Before the latest funding, Feeney’s most recent gift to the campus was to UCSF Global Health Sciences, enabling the October 2014 opening of Mission Hall, which houses global health researchers, scientists and students under the same roof for the first time. Feeney, who coined the term “giving while living,” also generously supported the building of the Smith Cardiovascular Research Building and the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building.

“Chuck Feeney has been our partner at Mission Bay for more than 10 years,” added Hawgood. “He immediately embraced the Mission Bay concept, and he has enthusiastically helped us shape a larger vision for the campus and finance its development because he knew that our research and clinical programs could not flourish without state-of-the-art buildings.”

Gift to support four primary areas

The Campaign for the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay
Funds will support the $600 million philanthropy goal of the $1.5 billion hospitals project. The latest donation builds upon the transformative $125 million matching gift Feeney made to support the hospitals complex and its programs in 2009, the largest gift received toward the campaign.

The opening of the 289-bed hospital complex – which includes UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, UCSF Betty Irene Moore Women’s Hospital, UCSF Bakar Cancer Hospital, and the UCSF Ron Conway Family Gateway Medical Building – was the culmination of more than 10 years of planning and construction. Strategically located adjacent to UCSF’s renowned Mission Bay biomedical research campus, the new medical center places UCSF physicians in close proximity to UCSF researchers and nearby bioscience companies who are working to understand and treat a range of diseases, from cancer to neurological disorders.

“It’s been thrilling to see the reactions of our patients and their families as they encounter the amazing care offered at our new UCSF Mission Bay hospitals,” said Mark Laret, CEO of UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. “This world-class experience would never have been possible without the support of Chuck Feeney who, as the largest contributor to the project, helped us create the hospitals of our dreams. Every patient cured, every breakthrough discovered at Mission Bay, will be thanks in part to Chuck. His legacy is unparalleled.”

Neuroscience and aging
The gift also supports UCSF’s pre-eminent neuroscience enterprise, including its Sandler Neurosciences Center and neurology programs at Mission Bay.

The center, a five-story, 237,000-square-foot building that opened in 2012, brings under one roof several of the world’s leading clinical and basic research programs in a collaborative environment. UCSF’s neurology and aging efforts are focused on finding new diagnostics, treatments, and cures for a number of intractable disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, migraine, epilepsy and autism. The programs also seek to integrate neuroscience and clinical disciplines with public health initiatives in order to disseminate and implement novel findings from research centers of excellence, as well as conduct community outreach to raise awareness about the diseases of aging.

“Chuck Feeney has taken a keen interest in the challenges of aging,” said Hawgood. “In turn, he has recognized UCSF’s extraordinary talent in the neurosciences, among both basic researchers and those who translate research into clinical care and public policy. This gift will build on UCSF’s strengths while encouraging strong partnerships at other research institutions around the world where Chuck also has made important investments.”

Student scholarships and housing
Even with its extraordinary academic firepower, UCSF has extremely limited funds to support scholarships for professional students in its schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy. Part of the gift will provide scholarship support, bolstering UCSF’s ability to recruit the best and brightest students, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Recent decreases in state funding led to tuition increases and higher demand for scholarships. This, in turn, increased student debt. Combined with Bay Area housing prices that are among the highest in the nation – from 2011 to 2013, the median rent increased by 24 percent – the prospect of overwhelming debt can deter economically vulnerable students as well as those from middle-class backgrounds from attending UCSF. By minimizing debt upon graduation, the scholarships will help ensure that a UCSF education remains in reach for students from underserved populations, as well as for those students who choose to become health care leaders in underserved communities.

“Scholarships give our students the gift of freedom: to make career choices based on purpose and passion, rather than the price of education; to use time to study, explore science, and volunteer to help others, rather than working to make ends meet; and to succeed because someone who never met them saw enough potential to invest in their dreams,” said Catherine Lucey, M.D., vice dean for education at UCSF’s School of Medicine. “These scholarships catalyze our schools’ ability to find, recruit, educate and nurture the workforce our country needs: talented professionals whose life experiences enable them to provide compassionate care to today’s diverse communities and advance science to improve the health of future communities.”

Faculty recruitment
The donation also will help UCSF recruit the next generation of promising faculty in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

New funding will attract junior faculty – who frequently find it more challenging to secure research funding – and provide initial startup funds as they launch their research careers and clinical practices. With decreasing federal support for young investigators, this gift will underwrite a new generation of brilliant upcoming faculty.

“While Chuck’s unprecedented generosity has been focused primarily on Mission Bay, he understands the power of the entire UCSF enterprise, from our cutting-edge stem cell research at Parnassus to our innovative cancer programs at Mount Zion,” Hawgood said. “We’re thrilled that Chuck has inspired other philanthropists to join him in creating one of the most vibrant life science communities in the world, where progress will ripple far beyond Mission Bay and the campus for generations to come.”

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UC awards $23M to multicampus research collaborations

Awards include 18 collaborative proposals.

The UC Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative, led by Roger Bales at UC Merced, will dramatically improve the data on California’s water cycle and how water is used.

The University of California has announced the winners of the Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives funding opportunity, which will award more than $23 million over four years to 18 collaborative proposals.

The research grants will go to a diverse array of projects, from developing an implantable device that could correct memory impairment to an effort to help California better manage its water resources.

The 2014 request for proposals garnered 186 eligible entries in the arts, humanities, social, biological, environmental and physical sciences, and engineering. They were reviewed and ranked by experts from both inside and outside the University of California. The selected proposals involve researchers from all 10 UC campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“There were so many worthy applicants for this highly competitive awards program,” said Kathleen Erwin, director of UC Research Initiatives, which oversees MRPI. “The proposals that were selected advance research in areas that are critical to California, and which provide important collaborative opportunities for UC faculty and students across the university.”

MRPI awards support UC research collaborations that involve at least three campuses and strengthen the UC research enterprise. Among the research projects granted awards were:

Memory Prosthetics
Memory impairment is becoming a critical issue as California’s population ages. This collaboration, led by Bruce McNaughton at UC Irvine, will take a bold approach by designing and prototyping an electronic device to correct the underlying malfunction in the brain that leads to memory problems.

UC Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative
Ensuring that California’s water is well managed is of critical need, particularly during drought. The UC Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative, led by Roger Bales at UC Merced, will dramatically improve the data on California’s water cycle and how water is used. The research will aid policy development to help the state achieve long-term water security.

Consortium for Black Studies in California
Enhancing collaborative scholarship among experts distributed across campuses will position the UC as the premier institution for black studies in the United States. The Consortium for Black Studies in California, led by Robin Kelley at UCLA, will focus on humanistic and arts-based studies, such as film, music, poetry and fiction, that are relevant to California and often overlooked in other black studies programs.

California Immigration Research Initiative
If California were its own country, it would have the world’s fourth largest immigrant population. Led by David FitzGerald at UC San Diego, the Immigration Research Initiative will examine how these newcomers are integrated into California’s schools, workforce and culture, and develop applied solutions on complex immigration issues for policymakers.

Legal Economic Data and Analysis of Environmental Markets
Research led by Gary Libecap at UC Santa Barbara takes a fresh look at how to best protect the environment. Rather than a traditional regulatory approach, researchers will instead study the legal and economic basis for a rights-based method that engages property owners as part of a market-based solution to environmental protection.

“These awards support exciting research across the full breadth of the UC research enterprise,” said Mary Croughan, executive director of UC’s Research Grants Program Office, which houses UC Research Initiatives and the MRPI program in the UC Office of the President.  “UC has tremendous talent across its campuses, and these grants foster engagement across disciplines and locales.”

Learn more about the MRPI funding opportunity and see a full list of awarded projects on the UC Research Initiatives website.

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Genomics initiative launch draws enthusiastic industry, academic partners

UC Berkeley-UCSF partnership will apply new gene-editing techniques to improve health.

By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley

Several hundred guests crowded the lobby of the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences Wednesday night (Feb. 4) as the campus celebrated the launch of the Innovative Genomics Initiative (IGI), a partnership between UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco researchers and the biopharmaceutical industry to perfect new gene-editing techniques and apply them to drug development and global health in general.

Among the attendees were a representative from the Li Ka Shing Foundation, which was an early lead supporter of IGI, as well as representatives from two pharmaceutical companies – AstraZeneca and Agilent – that have signed agreements to partner with IGI to use the CRISPR/Cas9 technology to better understand diseases and speed the development of new drugs to treat them.

“The science is cool, but the kind of collaborative structure we have is cool as well,” said Lorenz Mayr, vice president for reagents and assay development at AstraZeneca.

IGI, located in the Li Ka Shing Center for Genomic Engineering, was formed after Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues discovered precision “DNA scissors,” a complex of RNA and protein called CRISPR/Cas9, that can snip DNA at very specific targets in a the genome, allowing scientists to cut out or edit defective genes, or add new genes. Doudna, a professor of molecular and cellular biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, hopes that IGI will make the Bay Area, with its wealth of scientific and clinical research and its business, technology and investment innovation, a global hub for development and application of the groundbreaking technology.

“The Bay Area offers a unique combination of world-leading academic research facilities and clinical institutions with a vibrant and innovative biotech sector,” said Doudna, who cofounded IGI with Jonathan Weissman, a UCSF professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology and HHMI investigator. “There is no better place in the world to spark innovation and discovery in the field of genomics.”

The technology is already being explored by IGI collaborator Jennifer Puck, medical director of the UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Pediatric Clinical Research Center, as a possible way to treat severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), often called the “Bubble Boy” disease. Puck’s work has focused on the genetic cause of SCID and the development of gene-targeted therapies for SCID.

Other scientists around the globe are applying CRISPR/Cas9 to understand and explore new treatments for diabetes, HIV/AIDS, blood cancers and rare genetic diseases like Huntington’s.

“Professor Jennifer Doudna’s groundbreaking scientific work and her launch of the Innovative Genomics Initiative are emblematic of all that we strive for in our research endeavors at Berkeley,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in a statement. “With its enormous potential to dramatically improve the health and well-being of people around the world, the IGI is another wonderful example of how this university’s research enterprise contributes to the greater good.”

AstraZeneca, IGI’s first partner, plans to use CRISPR/Cas9 to identify and validate gene targets relevant to cancer; cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases; and regenerative medicine to understand their precise roles in these conditions.

“We are excited to pair the IGI’s premier expertise in CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing and regulation with AstraZeneca’s deep experience in therapeutics,” said Jacob Corn, IGI’s scientific director. “I’m confident that, in working side-by-side with scientists at AstraZeneca, our collaboration will positively impact drug discovery and development to hasten treatments to patients.”

For more on IGI’s new partnerships, link to IGI’s website and AstraZeneca’s press release.

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1,000th solar suitcase is beacon in developing world

This innovation out of UC Berkeley has saved lives in places where light, power unreliable.

In 2008, an idea for bringing solar-powered light and electricity to energy-starved sub-Saharan Africa was burning brightly in Laura Stachel’s mind.

Stachel, an obstetrician turned public health graduate student at UC Berkeley, was appalled at conditions she saw at a maternity ward in a hospital in northern Nigeria. Frequent power outages meant emergency patient care was delayed, disrupted, or just impossible.

Stachel and her husband, solar energy educator Hal Aronson, devised the solar suitcase — delivering power and light from a most reliable source, the sun. The Blum Center for Developing Economies, at UC Berkeley, helped bring We Care Solar to life. Now, the nonprofit has shipped its 1,000th solar suitcase to provide electricity to health clinics trying to recover from the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

Read more on the Blum Center’s site

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UC awarded $15M in stem cell grants

10 recipients from six campuses for Tools and Technologies Awards.

Laura Marcu, UC Davis

University of California researchers from six campuses received 10 grants totaling nearly $15 million in the latest round of funding from the state’s stem cell agency.

The funding was part of almost $30 million in new Tools and Technologies Awards for 20 projects announced at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s monthly meeting. The Tools and Technologies Awards are intended to create and test novel tools and technologies, to improve existing ones, and to help resolve problems that are holding back the field.

Overall, CIRM’s governing board has awarded more than $1.8 billion in stem cell grants, with half of the total going to the University of California or UC-affiliated institutions.

Tools and Technologies Awards:

  • UC Berkeley: $1.4 million: David Schaffer
  • UC Davis: $3.7 million: Kent Leach, Laura Marcu
  • UC Irvine: $2.5 million: Mathew Blurton-Jones, Leif Havton
  • UCLA: $3.2 million: James Dunn, Hanna Mikkola
  • UC San Diego: $2.8 million: Shaochen Chen, Shyni Varghese
  • UC San Francisco: $1.4 million: Andrew Leavitt

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Registration opens for UC Global Health Day

Feb. 27 is submission deadline for student video and student plenary contests.

Early-bird registration is now open for UC Global Health Day, April 18 at UCLA.

Presented by the UC Global Health Institute, UC Global Health Day is an annual conference that showcases the research, training and outreach in global health being undertaken across the University of California.

This event is an opportunity for UC students, fellows, faculty, staff and visiting scholars to share their current work in global health. The day will feature plenary sessions, posters and concurrent breakout sessions covering a broad range of global health topics.

For those who register before March 20, registration costs $50 for general admission and $25 for students. For those who register between March 21 and April 14, registration costs $75 for general admission and $50 for students. To register, visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/uc-global-health-day-2015-tickets-15838746116.

UC Global Health Day also will feature a student video contest and student plenary contest. The submission deadline for those contests is at 11:59 p.m. today (Feb. 27).

Read more at the UC Global Health Institute website

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