UCSF’s reputation as a leading institution in health sciences education encompasses its training programs in immunology and infectious diseases.

The 2010-2011 US News & World Report survey on the nation’s best graduate schools ranks UCSF training in AIDS and in immunology and infectious diseases as the premier programs in the country: No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. These assessments are based on expert opinions about the quality of training, on measures of the caliber of a school’s faculty and students, and on research quality and productivity.

Microbiology and Immunology

The UCSF Department of Microbiology and Immunology is one of the largest in the country, with 45 faculty members, and several of the leading immunology textbooks used nationally in graduate and medical education have been written by UCSF faculty. The breadth of UCSF research expertise strengthens the education program. Students learn through academic programs, but they also learn about emerging insights in immunology from UCSF scientists, many of whom made fundamental advances that define current understanding in the field.

Areas of research, each a focus of educational training, range from the underlying causes of diabetes, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis to studies of molecular-level signaling within the immune system.

BMS Program

Graduate education in immunology is organized through the innovative Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Graduate Program, which provides cross-disciplinary training. In their first year, graduate students study the molecular mechanisms of mammalian cell, organ and immune system functions, a course designed to integrate knowledge at these different levels and to help students develop an understanding of the living system beyond its individual functions. The curriculum provides a foundation for research in immunology, infectious diseases and related fields.

First-year students also take on three research rotations in different laboratories to learn, through hands-on experience, a range of experimental approaches, and to help them choose a laboratory and project for their PhD research.

One redesigned immunology course in the general medical school curriculum brings together different disciplines that all bear on the same system in the body, rather than teaching each discipline in a separate course.

Integrated Instruction

“We integrated instruction in rheumatology and autoimmune mechanisms with the pharmacology of immunosuppressant drugs for organ transplants, so the future physicians will have a broader understanding of disease and treatment,” says Tony DeFranco, PhD, a professor of microbiology and immunology and one of the course’s architects.

Another new course developed by microbiology and immunology faculty is designed to provide “cross-fertilization” between PhD and MD students, DeFranco says. The advanced immunology course is coordinated with second-year medical student instruction, bridging clinical and basic research insights. The course invites patients into the classroom to boost PhD students’ awareness of the impact of diseases, and also to promote medical students’ understanding of the science underlying disease. The course includes discussions about novel therapies with a senior scientist at Genentech.

Microbial Pathogenesis

A new graduate emphasis in the BMS program is microbial pathogenesis, drawing on UCSF’s prominence in infectious diseases, virology and microbial mechanisms of infection. The program trains students in skills to carry out research on diseases that threaten global health, including malaria, TB and HIV.

In addition to carrying out their own research, students participate in a weekly microbial pathogenesis seminar series, in which they present their ongoing research to their colleagues. Topics range from the actions of key genes that facilitate TB infection to studies of new virus and bacteria species and their role in disease. The series also includes selected speakers outside of UCSF who are performing cutting-edge research in microbial pathogenesis.

UCSF’s Program in Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Defense brings together researchers from numerous UCSF sites (including Parnassus, Mission Bay, San Francisco General Hospital and San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center) and interested students from any UCSF programs. In addition to a weekly seminar series, the program offers an advanced-level graduate course, several intensive mini-courses and a yearly symposium featuring speakers and poster presentations from interested researchers throughout the greater Bay Area. Recent talks have covered studies of pathogen evolution and bacteria that live in humans. 

HIV/AIDS Training

Medical student training in AIDS patient care includes an elective course in which students participate in consultation and care for HIV-infected adults. Students learn to recognize the range of human immunodeficiency virus disorders and how to gauge when to modify the use of potent antiretroviral therapy based on each patient’s progress. They become skilled in diagnosing opportunistic infections and in educating patients and families about optimal care.

UCSF’s Center for AIDS Prevention Studies oversees programs to address the need for high-quality HIV and AIDS research and treatment in countries with a particularly heavy HIV infection burden and lack of resources to adequately respond. The International Traineeship in AIDS Prevention Studies trains research scientists from low- and middle-income countries in AIDS prevention research. Participants work with UCSF scientists during their six-week intensive course. Each visiting scientist develops a protocol for a specific AIDS prevention-related research project to be carried out in his or her home country.

Scholars trained in the center’s programs are working in government, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, and as leaders of HIV/AIDS programs in the United States, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

Global Health Sciences

UCSF Global Health Sciences offers a range of programs to prepare the next generation of researchers and clinicians for careers in global health and reducing the impact of poverty, chronic illness and new infectious diseases on vulnerable populations worldwide.

A one-year program for a master’s of science degree focuses on preparation for leadership positions in global health practice, policy, research and development. Other training programs are geared to post-graduates and to students in the health professions, and provide coursework on global health problems, experience in inter-disciplinary teamwork and participation in a mentored project in local or global underserved populations.