TAG: "biomedicine"

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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UCSF Discovery Fellows Program meet fundraising challenge


Strong show of support for basic science education and research.

Members of the inaugural class of Discovery Fellows are joined by philanthropist Harriet Heyman. (Photo by Elisabeth Fall)

A year ahead of schedule, UC San Francisco has met the unprecedented fundraising challenge set by Sir Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman to raise $5 million from 500 donors for the Discovery Fellows Program, which supports basic science Ph.D. education.

Moritz and Heyman responded to the news that their challenge had been met by extending the fundraising effort through 2016 with up to $5 million more in matching funds, and by committing a $1 million bonus if the new campaign attracts another 500 donors.

“Strength and purpose depend on communities deciding to attack the future with gusto,” said Moritz, chairman of Sequoia Capital in Menlo Park. “This has happened in a spectacular manner at UCSF during the last year, and we hope that even more people now have a great, additional incentive to help our university attract medical science’s most talented graduate students.”

At $60 million, the Discovery Fellows Program is already the largest endowed Ph.D. education program in the history of the University of California system. The couple launched it last year with a $30 million gift, which was matched by UCSF and hundreds of individuals, most of whom gave to the university for the first time.

The fund recognizes the critical role doctoral students play in fueling biomedical research. As the endowment grows, it will increasingly take the financial pressure off faculty to fund education with research money and give students freedom to choose their mentors based on scientific rather than financial concerns.

“This endowment will support basic science at UCSF for generations to come,” said Elizabeth Watkins, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate Division and vice chancellor of student academic affairs. “It goes to the very heart of what UCSF is all about: creating the conditions for scientists to do great work.”

A spate of generous donations from UCSF friends and alumni helped propel the campaign to success. Among the donors who made leadership gifts to establish named fellowships are the philanthropist Hwalin Lee, Ph.D., class of ’66; former UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H., and her husband Nicholas Hellmann, M.D.; retired Impax Laboratories Inc. chief Larry Hsu, Ph.D.; and Pablo Valenzuela, Ph.D., co-founder of Chiron Corp., and his wife Bernadita Valenzuela, Ph.D.

Lee, who received his doctorate from UCSF, said he gave to express his appreciation for his alma mater. “I think this is a very good opportunity to do something for the school,” he said.

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National Biomedical Computation Resource receives $9M from NIH


Collaborative effort crosses disciplines to advance biomedical research.

Rommie Amaro, UC San Diego

The National Biomedical Computation Resource (NBCR) at UC San Diego has received $9 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The funding will allow NBCR to continue its work connecting biomedical scientists with supercomputing power and emerging information technologies.

National Biomedical Computation Resource Director Rommie Amaro says renewed funding from the Naitonal Institutes of Health will make it possible for biomedical researchers to study phenomena from the molecular level to the level of the whole organ.

Biomedical computation – which applies physical modeling and computer science to the field of biomedical sciences – is often a cheaper alternative to traditional experimental approaches and can speed the rate at which discoveries are made for host of human diseases and biological processes.

The five-year NIH grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences provides funding for everything from staffing and training to developing biomedical research technologies for academic researchers around the world. It involves faculty from UC San Diego’s Physical Sciences, School of Medicine, Jacobs School of Engineering, San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), as well as faculty from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), a private, nonprofit research organization.

“NBCR has evolved tremendously in the 21 years since it was created,” said Amaro, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC San Diego and an affiliate of the UC San Diego Qualcomm Institute (QI). “Our main effort remains focused on making connections across diverse scales of biological organization. As scientists, we are very good at looking at particular components of the human body within a single scale, but we ultimately need to connect across three or four scales in order to model and understand complex biological phenomena from the molecular level minutia all the way up to the whole organ.”

NBCR is run under the auspices of the UC San Diego Center for Research in Biological Systems at QI. It provides a collection of computational tools – Web services, graphical models, simulation methods and technologies and workflows – that make it possible for, say, a molecular biologist or neuroscientist to extrapolate how the molecular dynamics in brain cells might affect the whole organ.

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NIH awards $2M for DNA sequencing research


UC Santa Cruz leads efforts to develop nanopore technology for DNA sequencing.

Mark Akeson, UC Santa Cruz

A group led by Mark Akeson, professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz, will receive $2.29 million over three years from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) to support the team’s work on novel DNA sequencing technology.

Akeson leads the UC Santa Cruz nanopore group, which has spent years developing technology to analyze DNA strands as they pass through a tiny pore in a membrane, called a “nanopore” because it is just 1.5 nanometers wide at its narrowest point. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide.) Akeson’s group has made important advances in nanopore sequencing technology, and research funded by the new grant could have valuable applications in biomedical research.

The project will focus on optimization of enzymes, pores and computational methods for nanopore sequencing of individual DNA molecules taken directly from the nucleus of a cell. The UCSC group uses a nanopore formed by a self-assembling protein complex called an ion channel, inserted into a membrane similar to a cell membrane. An electric field drives DNA strands (which are negatively charged) through the nanopore, and blockage of the nanopore as a strand passes through produces electrical current modulations that can be analyzed to yield DNA sequence information.

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Squid skin protein could improve biomedical technologies


Conductivity could charge up futuristic disease treatments.

A protein in squid skin called reflectin can conduct positive electrical charges, making it a useful in helping medical devices communicate with the human system. (Image by Matt Woodworth)

The common pencil squid (Loliginidae) may hold the key to a new generation of medical technologies that could communicate more directly with the human body. UC Irvine materials science researchers have discovered that reflectin, a protein in the tentacled creature’s skin, can conduct positive electrical charges, or protons, making it a promising material for building biologically inspired devices.

Currently, products such as retinal implants, nerve stimulators and pacemakers rely on electrons – particles with negative charges – to transmit diagnosis data or to treat medical conditions. Living organisms use protons, with positive charges, or ions, which are atoms that contain both electrons and protons, to send such signals. The UC Irvine discovery could lead to better ion- or proton-conducting materials: for instance, next-generation implants that could relay electrical messages to the nervous system to monitor or interfere with the progression of disease.

Alon Gorodetsky, assistant professor of chemical engineering & materials science at The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, led the research team. “Nature is really good at doing certain things that we sometimes find incredibly difficult,” he said. “Perhaps nature has already optimized reflectin to conduct protons, so we can learn from this protein and take advantage of natural design principles.”

He and his group have been studying reflectin to discern how it enables squid to change color and reflect light. They produced the squid protein in common bacteria and used it to make thin films on a silicon substrate. Via metal electrodes that contacted the film, the researchers observed the relationship between current and voltage under various conditions. Reflectin transported protons, they found, nearly as effectively as many of the best artificial materials.

Gorodetsky believes reflectin has several advantages for biological electronics. Because it’s a soft biomaterial, reflectin can conform to flexible surfaces, and it may be less likely to be rejected by the human body. In addition, protein engineering principles could be utilized to modify reflectin for very specific purposes and to allow the protein to decompose when no longer needed.

“We plan to use reflectin as a template for the development of improved ion- and proton-conducting materials,” Gorodetsky said. “We hope to evolve this protein for optimum functionality in specific devices – such as transistors used for interfacing with neural cells – similar to how proteins evolve for specific tasks in nature.”

The research is published in the July issue of Nature Chemistry. Co-authors are David Ordinario, Long Phan, Ward Walkup, Jonah-Micah Jocson, Emil Karshalev and Nina Husken of UC Irvine.

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UC BRAID holds annual retreat


UC translational medicine leaders celebrate achievements with eye toward future.

UC BRAID program leaders (from left) Clay Johnston, UC San Francisco; Dan Cooper, UC Irvine; Gary Firestein, UC San Diego; Lars Berglund, UC Davis; and Steven Dubinett, UCLA, with Steven Beckwith, vice president for research and graduate studies at the UC Office of the President. (Photo by Christina McCabe, UC San Diego)

UC BRAID program leaders (from left) Clay Johnston, UC San Francisco; Dan Cooper, UC Irvine; Gary Firestein, UC San Diego; Lars Berglund, UC Davis; and Steven Dubinett, UCLA, with Steven Beckwith, vice president for research and graduate studies at the UC Office of the President.

By Patti Wieser

The path forward is clear: To continue and enhance the development of a robust coordinating center that combines the individual University of California health campuses into a model virtual biomedical research institution.

That’s the conclusion reached by representatives of the University of California Biomedical Research Acceleration, Integration, and Development (UC BRAID) program during an annual retreat held at UC San Diego on Oct. 15. About 70 translational medicine researchers, administrative leaders, staff and faculty representing seven UC campuses met to discuss next steps along the path, identify potential research intersections and share the achievements for UC BRAID.

“The largest role for BRAID is enabling partnerships, and that will help us reach our goal of reducing barriers to biomedical research,” said Gary S. Firestein, M.D., UC BRAID chair, director of UC San Diego’s Clinical and Translational Research Institute, and dean and associate vice chancellor of translational medicine at UC San Diego.

Established in 2010, UC BRAID, in collaboration with the University of California Office of the President, is a joint effort of the five UC biomedical campuses to catalyze, accelerate and reduce the barriers for biomedical, clinical and translational research across the UC system. The UC BRAID consortium — UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco — pools data, resources and expertise to reach this goal. UC Riverside and Santa Cruz also participated in this year’s UC BRAID meeting.

Major successes of UC BRAID highlighted at the 2013 retreat were:

UC-Research eXchange consortium (UC-ReX): UC BRAID launched the consortium’s first tool from UC ReX, namely the Data Explorer, building the first cross-campus clinical query system capable of exchanging patient-level data, as well as aggregates (counts and descriptive statistics). The UC ReX Data Explorer enables search of 12 million de-identified patient records from the five UC medical centers with one query.

U54 Center for Accelerated Innovation (CAI): NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute awarded $12 million to UC to create a Center for Accelerated Innovation (CAI). UC BRAID oversees this new center aimed at translating innovations into improved health.

“An important part of UC BRAID’s mission is to improve UC collaborative research opportunities. UC ReX is a great example of how UC BRAID accomplishes this,” said Firestein, who went on to laud the CAI as a UC BRAID accomplishment. “The new U54 CAI is a remarkable example of inter-institutional collaboration.” Michael Palazzolo, M.D., a professor of medicine at UCLA, is the principal investigator for CAI.

Firestein and UC BRAID Director Rachael Sak, R.N., M.P.H., gave presentations about how UC BRAID takes research from silos to collaboration and how to leverage the program. Firestein cited examples of silos in academic medicine as multiple cores performing the same service, different IT systems in clinical research and resistance to central institutional review boards.

He emphasized the urgency of change, building a guiding team and getting the vision right. “We must empower change, remove obstacles and reward progress,” the UC BRAID chair said.

Clay Johnston, M.D., a member of the UC BRAID Executive Committee, added that UC BRAID realizes its vision by identifying areas of collaboration, aligning across multicampus initiatives, and evaluating priorities and making funding recommendations. “We were established to identify and address, on a systemwide level, the shared challenges of academic translational science,” Johnston said.

Other key topics at the retreat included biorepositories, contracting, regulatory, and drug and device discovery and development. Participants also discussed the new BRAID Child Health Initiative to expand research for the pediatric population. The presentations and agenda are available at: www.ucbraid.org/events.html.

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NIH official says spending cuts pose threat to biomedical research


Sally Rockey: “When you put money behind an issue or disease, you can move rapidly.”

Sally Rockey of the National Institutes of Health talks with UCSF scientist Tejal Desai during a tour at UCSF Mission Bay.

Sally Rockey of the National Institutes of Health talks with UCSF scientist Tejal Desai during a tour at UCSF Mission Bay.

Scientific progress and innovation are speeding along, faster than ever before, but arbitrary spending cuts are posing an unprecedented threat.

That’s the sobering paradox of biomedical research according to Sally Rockey, PhD, a high-ranking official at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who visited UC San Francisco last week.

Rockey, Ph.D., deputy director for extramural research at the NIH, oversees about $25 billion in grants, which represent more than 80 percent of the NIH budget.

The title of her address says it all: “NIH: Interesting Times, Challenging Times.”

She spoke of the astounding impact of biomedical research on U.S. health: The cancer rate is falling about 1 percent a year. Death rates for cardiovascular disease have dropped 60 percent in the last half-century. And HIV therapies are enabling people in their 20s infected with the virus to live to age 70 and beyond.

“It demonstrates that when you put money behind an issue or disease, you can move rapidly,” Rockey said, adding that it also shows that NIH-supported research on retroviruses provided a knowledge base when the AIDS epidemic surfaced.

Rockey showed a photograph of the enormous campus of the NIH, which has 17,000 federal employees and another 20,000 contractors. It funds about 25,000 institutions and organizations at any given time, and between 300,000 and 400,000 individuals.

About one of every 500 members of the U.S. working population is in some way supported by the NIH, said Rockey, who was acutely mindful of the possibility of the looming government shutdown that has since become a reality.

Between 1998 and 2003, the NIH budget more than doubled, from $13 billion to $27 billion. But now it has flattened, Rockey said, and about 25 percent of its buying power has been lost because of the increased cost of research.

“We’ve been flat for a long time, and this becomes problematic for us,” said Rockey, who appeared Sept. 24 at Genentech Hall on the UCSF Mission Bay campus. “What really becomes problematic – and the thing that you all feel – is the reduction in the success rate.”

The rate – the number of awards divided by the number of applications – was 17.8 percent in 2012, “really low” compared with a historic high of 30 percent.

“What does this mean?” Rockey asked. “This is a really tough time to think about the future of individuals considering a future in biomedical research, because they know they have only a 15 percent chance of getting funded and there’s a lot of work that goes into putting these proposals together.”

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NIH awards high-risk, high-reward research grants


UC scientists receive 15 awards.

(From left) Ali Mortazavi, Sunil Gandhi and Aaron Esser-Kahn of UC Irvine are among 15 UC and UC-affiliated scientists receiving awards to support innovation in biomedical research.

(From left) Ali Mortazavi, Sunil Gandhi and Aaron Esser-Kahn of UC Irvine are among 15 UC scientists receiving awards to support innovation in biomedical research.

University of California researchers received 15 of 78 National Institutes of Health awards announced today (Sept. 30) for high-risk, high-reward research.

That includes nine of 41 NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards, four of 15 NIH Director’s Early Independence Awards and two of 12 NIH Pioneer Awards. The NIH also awarded 10 Transformative Research Awards. The total NIH funding for the 78 awards is approximately $123 million.

The New Innovator Awards support projects by early-career researchers that show potential to transform scientific fields and accelerate the translation of research into new ways to improve human health. The work by UC researchers could aid in the development of safer, more targeted vaccines; help in repairing damage caused by traumatic brain injury, stroke or neurodegenerative disease; and help lead to a way to keep HIV-infected people from developing AIDS without a lifelong need for antiretroviral drugs.

Pioneer Awards challenge investigators at all career levels to develop highly innovative approaches that could have a powerful impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research. Early Independence Awards provide an opportunity for exceptional junior scientists who recently have received their doctoral degree or finished medical residency to skip traditional postdoctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions.

UC recipients include:

UC Berkeley

  • Hillel Adesnik, NIH Director’s New Innovator Award
  • Jennifer Ahern, NIH Director’s New Innovator Award
  • William Ludington, NIH Director’s Early Independence Award
  • David Frank Savage, NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

UC Irvine

  • Aaron Palmer Esser-Kahn, NIH Director’s New Innovator Award
  • Sunil Gandhi, NIH Director’s New Innovator Award
  • Seyed Ali Mortazavi, NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

UCLA

  • Baljit Khakh, NIH Pioneer Award

UC San Diego

  • Hannah Kathryn Carter, NIH Director’s Early Independence Award

UC San Francisco

  • Rahul Chandrakant Deo, NIH Director’s New Innovator Award
  • Zev Jordan Gartner, NIH Director’s New Innovator Award
  • Lei Stanley Qi, NIH Director’s Early Independence Award
  • Shomyseh Sanjabi, NIH Director’s New Innovator Award
  • David Eric Weinberg, NIH Director’s Early Independence Award
  • Leor S. Weinberger, NIH Pioneer Award

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$30M gift fuels UCSF endowment for Ph.D. students


Moritz, Heyman back biomedical research.

Sequoia Capital Chairman Sir Michael Moritz, KBE, and his wife, Harriet Heyman, in collaboration with UC San Francisco, have kicked off a new endowment with a $60 million contribution to ensure the future of Ph.D. education programs in the basic sciences.

The gift is being made in recognition of the critical role doctoral students play in fueling biomedical research and is the largest endowed program for Ph.D. students in the history of the 10-campus University of California.

The UCSF Discovery Fellows Program will fund UCSF’s basic science Ph.D. programs, such as cell biology, biochemistry and neuroscience, which consistently rank among the top biomedical research doctoral programs in the United States. Researchers at UCSF rely on graduate students to bring energy, ideas and new collaborations to their labs, and students are key to recruiting top-flight faculty.

Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman

Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman

The couple has given $30 million, which UCSF has matched with $25 million of institutional funds and a commitment to raise an additional $5 million from at least 500 donors. The fundraising challenge is intended to instill a new culture of private giving to fund graduate education, so the university can expand its endowment.

“Graduate students in the life sciences play a vital role in faculty research and innovation and bring curiosity and new ideas to the laboratories where they work,” said UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H.

“With the freedom to work in multiple labs and across disciplines, they make discoveries at the intersections of research, fostering collaborations as unlikely as they are productive,” she said. “Many of these students work in the labs that are exploring new approaches to understanding cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and more. Their novel perspectives and unbridled curiosity give rise to powerful questions that can alter a lab’s entire course of research. We are deeply grateful to Michael and Harriet for this gift.”

Major research universities like UCSF typically cover the cost of tuition and living expenses for their basic science Ph.D. students. But this model has become more difficult over the past decade as state funding for higher education has dwindled and federal funding from the National Institutes of Health has stayed mostly flat.

While the funding to cover students comes from many university sources, UCSF faculty are under increasing pressure to use their federal research grants to support these costs. The endowment will relieve these pressures.

“We’ve given to educational institutions where there’s an emphasis on excellence, government support has evaporated and there is an urgent need to ensure that smart souls don’t have financial hurdles that prevent them from conducting great work,” said Moritz. “You can’t live in San Francisco without being aware of the role that UCSF plays in the community, and everyone in Silicon Valley knows the debt that the entire biotechnology industry owes to UCSF.”

UCSF biochemist Herbert Boyer and Stanford’s Stanley Cohen jointly discovered how to create recombinant DNA, which involves splicing genes from one organism into another. Boyer went on to co-found Genentech Inc., which launched the biotechnology industry, pioneering the use of these techniques to create powerful new drugs.

Moritz, who is chairman of Sequoia Capital in Menlo Park, said he and Heyman chose to give to UCSF’s basic science programs because of their enormous potential for future payoffs. Heyman is an author and a former editor at The New York Times who has written for numerous publications. She also serves as a volunteer in a lab at UCSF.

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Compound discovered at sea shows potency against anthrax


UC San Diego finding is latest evidence that oceans offer vast resource for novel therapeutics.

Marine samples being readied for study in William Fenical's laboratory.

Marine samples being readied for study in William Fenical's laboratory.

A team led by William Fenical at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego has discovered a new chemical compound from an ocean microbe in a preliminary research finding that could one day set the stage for new treatments for anthrax and other ailments such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

As reported in the international edition of the German journal Angewandte Chemie, Scripps researcher Chris Kauffman in Fenical’s group first collected the microorganism that produces the compound in 2012 from sediments close to shore off Santa Barbara. Fenical’s team in the Scripps Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, working in conjunction with San Diego-based Trius Therapeutics, used an analytical technique known as spectroscopy to decipher the unusual structure of a molecule from a microscopic species known as Streptomyces. Initial testing of the compound, which they named anthracimycin, revealed its potency as a killer of anthrax, the infectious disease often feared as a biological weapon, as well as MRSA.

“The real importance of this work is the fact that anthracimycin has a new and unique chemical structure,” said Fenical, who added that the finding is a basic research discovery, which could lead to testing and development, and eventually a drug. “The discovery of truly new antibiotic compounds is quite rare. This discovery adds to many previous discoveries that show that marine bacteria are genetically and chemically unique.”

The discovery provides the latest evidence that the oceans, and many of its unexplored regions, represent a vast resource for new materials that could one day treat a variety of diseases and illnesses. Fenical, a distinguished professor of oceanography and pharmaceutical science, helped found the field of marine biomedicine as a researcher at Scripps. He is a pioneer in discovering and identifying these novel compounds. His research has helped bring attention to the need for continued exploration of the ocean for science and society.

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UCSF pain researcher awarded prestigious biomedical research prize


David Julius wins Janssen Award.

David Julius, UC San Francisco

David Julius, Ph.D., who uses natural molecules found in tarantulas and hot chili peppers to study pain, has been named the winner of the 2013 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research.

Julius, professor and chair of the UC San Francisco Department of Physiology, won for his discovery of the molecular mechanism that controls the sensory perception of temperature, and for his discoveries of this mechanism’s role in the sensation of acute and inflammatory pain. These discoveries have significantly advanced the study of pain and may lead to new pain therapies.

He has won numerous prestigious honors and awards, among them the Shaw Prize, the Passano Award, the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, the Scolnick Prize from the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, the Unilever Science Prize and the Klaus Joachim Zülch Neuroscience Prize.

He joined UCSF in 1990, after completing his postdoctoral studies at Columbia University.

The Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research, which carries a $100,000 prize, was created by Johnson & Johnson to honor the legacy of scientist Paul Janssen (1926-2003), whose work led to the development of more than 80 transformational medicines in several fields, including pain management, psychiatry, infectious disease and gastroenterology. Janssen founded Janssen Pharmaceutica, which was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 1961.

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