At University of California Health (UCH), scientists and physicians work across the borders of their disciplines and institutions. These collaborations regularly push the boundaries of knowledge in human biology, disease causation and medical treatment. We rapidly share the resulting discoveries to make an impact as quickly as possible on people’s lives and well-being.
Among the hundreds of areas of systemwide collaboration spanning basic, translational and clinical research, here are some of the most frequent.
Clinical and Predictive Genomics
When the human genome was sequenced in the early 2000s, a genomics revolution began. This revolution is ushering in an era of precise, personalized tests and treatments that target the molecular basis of disease. Researchers at UCH and the University of California (UC) are on the leading edge of these developments. They collaborate frequently in many areas of genomics, including:
Progress in cancer genomics means treatments can increasingly target specific genetic mutations and other molecular abnormalities. Across UC’s five Comprehensive Cancer Centers — each of which holds the highest possible designation from the National Cancer Institute — researchers are developing new targeted therapies through translational research and clinical practice. UCH is the only health system in the nation with five NCI-designated centers, which gives us a unique framework for quickly advancing cancer research.
UCH researchers are harnessing advances in genomics to diagnose and treat infectious diseases, including COVID-19 and many others. For example, a team of researchers from UC San Francisco, UCLA, UC Davis and UC Berkeley recently created a test that can rapidly pinpoint the cause of infection in critically ill patients. It replaces the many tests that would otherwise be necessary by analyzing the genomic information in a single sample of cerebrospinal fluid or blood.
UC researchers are collectively examining the moral foundations of genomic and genetic medicine through the lenses of the humanities, anthropology, and the social and behavioral sciences. This interdisciplinary approach is crucial as we address the bioethical and privacy issues that advances in genomics are creating for patients, families, physicians, business and government.
Virtual Care (Telemedicine), Sensors and Networking
Increasing numbers of people depend on virtual care — diagnosis and treatment delivered by phone, video, email or other communications technology. (Virtual care is also known as telemedicine or telehealth.) Researchers across UCH are working to make telemedicine more effective and accessible, especially for populations without adequate access to health care.
For example, they regularly publish interdisciplinary research at the intersection of technology and mental health. Much of this research focuses on ways to improve culturally relevant remote mental health services for populations across California, including:
- People who are incarcerated
- People with low incomes
- Latinx and Asian immigrant communities
- Rural communities
- Black communities
- People with a history of trauma
- People with autism
UCH researchers are also inventing new technologies that expand the potential uses of virtual care. For example, a team from UC San Diego, UC Irvine and UCLA is developing state-of-the-art mobile robots that combine video and special sensors so that health care providers can remotely “touch” patients. The robots can be used in health care facilities or homes to enable diagnosis and treatment of more conditions than video alone would allow.
Bioengineering and Regenerative Medicine
UCH researchers in bioengineering and regenerative medicine are developing a wide range of new stem cell and gene-based therapies. These therapies have the potential to transform the treatment of dozens of diseases, injuries and other conditions. For example:
Researchers at UC San Diego developed a stem cell therapy called fedratinib to treat myelofibrosis, a type of blood cancer originating in the bone marrow. When the FDA approved the drug in 2019, it became the first new treatment for myelofibrosis in a decade.
Researchers at UC San Francisco are working to develop a stem cell therapy for people with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS frequently occurs in patients with severe cases of COVID-19. The therapy is designed to help the lungs repair themselves, get patients off ventilators and increase patients’ rates of survival.
Like a lot of UCH research in bioengineering and regenerative medicine, these studies were funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). CIRM, a state agency, brings together California researchers to develop stem cell therapies that meet the needs of Californians — and the world.
The Bioengineering Institute of California, housed at UC Davis, is another collaborative organization. It fosters a network for systemwide research, among other shared projects.
UCH’s five Comprehensive Cancer Centers — at UC Davis, UCSF, UCLA, UC Irvine and UC San Diego — each hold the highest possible designation from the National Cancer Institute. And each conducts extensive research, translating promising results into potential new treatments. The UC Cancer Consortium combines and accelerates these efforts for greater impact. For example, research collaborations often occur in the following areas:
Across UCH, findings from molecular diagnostic tests are evaluated against the ever-increasing number of therapeutics being developed in translational research and clinical practice.
Cancer Clinical Trials
All UC cancer centers are working to make clinical trials more broadly available, through referrals, to patients across the state.
Population Health Science
Research shows that cancer’s prevalence, severity and response to treatments can vary widely among different racial ethnic groups. UCH researchers are working to find new ways to reduce these disparities.
Big Data Best Practices
Advances in data collection, storage and analysis are beginning to revolutionize cancer care. UCH researchers are working across disciplines to develop best practices for leveraging data while preserving patient privacy.
The University of California administers the Cancer Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC), which provides competitive seed grants to faculty across the UC system. Funded by donations and bequests for cancer research, the CRCC supports projects in any discipline that address any aspect of cancer.
UC also runs the statewide California Breast Cancer Research Program, the largest state-funded breast cancer research effort in the nation. Since 1993, the program has awarded over 1,000 grants totaling more than $280 million for research to prevent, treat and cure breast cancer. The majority of that funding has gone to researchers across the UCH system.
Health Effects of Climate Change
Researchers across UCH are investigating the potential health effects of climate change.
One of these effects may be the increased incidence of San Joaquin Valley Fever, a fungal disease spreading throughout California and the southwestern United States. The spread of the disease — also known as coccidioidomycosis — may reflect shifts in the state’s climate, among other possible causes. In 2018, the University of California funded two collaborative projects to advance Valley Fever research with $3 million of designated funding from the state of California.
UCH researchers are also investigating the effects of increasing temperature and wildfires. For example, UC San Diego and UC Irvine researchers found that exposure to heatwaves during the week before birth was strongly linked to an increased risk of preterm delivery.
From the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, UC researchers have been leaders in characterizing the virus. And they continue to pioneer treatments and prevention strategies for diverse populations. UCLA, UC San Diego and UCSF all have Centers for AIDS Research (CFARs) that conduct and evaluate innovative research for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
Some of the funding for this work comes from the statewide California HIV/AIDS Research Program, which is run by the University of California. The program supports innovative work in many areas of HIV/AIDS research, such as:
Basic biomedical sciences, including projects aimed at understanding the mechanisms of HIV prevention, treatment or cure at the cellular or subcellular level.
Health disparities and high-risk populations, such as a project investigating ways to prevent HIV in people who have just been released from jail.
Linkage to care, including research on how to ease the complicated path from being diagnosed with HIV to beginning antiretroviral therapy.
Moreover, UC researchers’ experience with HIV/AIDS has enabled them to lead research into other viral infections, including COVID-19.
Leading COVID-19 Research
From the beginning, researchers across UCH helped lead the global race to rid the world of COVID-19.
Every week, researchers across the University of California publish new work that pushes the boundaries of knowledge in human biology, disease causation and medical treatment.