Innovation and discovery are the watchwords at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus, where industry and academia integrate in developing the therapies that promote the University’s mission of advancing health worldwide™.
In just a few years, many of UCSF’s most brilliant researchers have set up shop in sparkling, new labs at UCSF Mission Bay, with state-of-the-art equipment making possible all sorts of new discoveries.
UCSF already boasts more than 1 million square feet of research space at Mission Bay, and many of its labs are establishing new models for how to work both with industry and with clinicians to discover new drugs, devices and cures. In a world where the pace of discovery seems to quicken by the day, the University’s Mission Bay facilities are providing the space, the technology and the collaborative environment to take advancement to warp speed.
The California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, also known as QB3, a consortium of UCSF, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, based on the campus, emphasizes quantitative approaches to the biosciences as a means to develop the tools to predict biological processes. Through this approach, using sophisticated equipment, scientists work to predict exactly how a protein’s function will change if they alter its composition, how an organism will behave if a gene is modified and how patients will respond to a new therapy.
In other fields of endeavor, engineers build models to determine whether a circuit will work or how well an airplane will fly. At QB3, scientists emulate those models, hoping that by understanding the design principles of biology, they will be able to develop cells and microorganisms that provide unique resources such as drugs or biofuels.
QB3 scientists follow eight major research themes, from chemical biology to synthetic biology, and from harvesting the information in genomes to developing biomaterials and stem cells.
At the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building, research teams delve into three primary areas: laboratory research into the causes and events related to cancer’s progression; clinical research to translate new knowledge into viable treatments; and population research that can lead to prevention, early detection and quality-of-life improvement for those living with cancer.
The building is home to investigators from the Brain Tumor Research Center as well as those specializing in population sciences, pediatric oncology, urologic oncology and computational biology.
Bringing many of the researchers together at Mission Bay — along with the clinical component that will grow when the new women’s and children’s hospitals are completed in 2014 — creates myriad opportunities for new discoveries.
“This is our dream — to have a campus where clinical and basic scientists can commingle,” says Frank McCormick, PhD, director of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We can do better for our patients when we’re at Mission Bay. There are so many basic scientists at Mission Bay, and to add clinicians to the mix will grant more exposure between the two groups. It’s a two-way street, and it will enable us to give our patients the best access to the best treatments possible.”
Putting basic scientists and clinicians together should ultimately lead to treatments and cures. “We can push the translational research envelope further than anywhere in the United States, bringing discovery faster to the patient,” says Peter Carroll, MD, MPH, associate dean of the UCSF School of Medicine and professor and chair of the Department of Urology. “We think it’s ideal.”
At the Smith Cardiovascular Research Building, research scientists and clinicians focus on achieving new understanding and treatment for heart and vascular diseases. The building is home to UCSF’s legendary Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI), led by Shaun Coughlin, MD, PhD.
“For 50 years, UCSF CVRI scientists have worked across disciplines to attack cardiovascular disease,” says CVRI Director Coughlin. “Their partnerships led to major advances in understanding disease and in medical care, aiding everyone from infants with respiratory problems to adults with thrombosis.”
Among the many other stellar researchers running labs at UCSF Mission Bay are:
- Kathleen Giacomini, PhD, and Sarah Nelson, PhD, co-chairs of the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences: Giacomini is a pioneer in the study of pharmacogenomics — how an individual’s genetics determines his or her response to medicines. She is leading a multidisciplinary research project on how genes affect an individual’s response to medications, and she is working to strengthen a global network of researchers involved in these efforts. Nelson is a pioneer in developing new imaging techniques. She pulls together students with expertise in mathematics, physics, computer analysis, biology and chemistry to see what new methods of analyzing imaging can reveal about patients with brain tumors, prostate cancer and neurological diseases.
- Charles Craik, PhD, a professor in the schools of pharmacy and medicine: Craik’s lab studies the chemical biology of proteolytic enzymes and their natural inhibitors. These enzymes, known as proteases, cut other proteins, an activity essential to nearly all life processes. A particular emphasis of his work is identifying the roles and regulating the activity of proteases associated with infectious diseases, cancer and development. These studies are providing a better understanding of both the chemical makeup and the biological importance of these critical proteins, which constitute about 2 percent of the human genome. This in turn is leading to the development of strategies for regulating proteolytic activity in medical treatment.
- Cynthia Kenyon, PhD, American Cancer Society Research Professor and director of the Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging: The center is an interactive community of investigators studying aging and age-related disease as a way of facilitating research and medical breakthroughs. The discovery by Kenyon and colleagues that a single-gene mutation could double the life span of the tiny roundworm C. elegans sparked an intensive study of the molecular biology of aging. Aging had been assumed to be a passive consequence of molecular wear and tear. This discovery led to the realization that there exist genetic control circuits for aging. The long-lived mutants are resistant to many age-related diseases, raising the possibility of a new strategy for combating many diseases and targeting aging itself. Kenyon and her colleagues extended the life span of healthy, active C. elegans sixfold, demonstrating the extraordinary plasticity of aging.
- Joe DeRisi, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics: In 2002, DeRisi and colleagues developed the ViroChip, a microarray that contains DNA from every known virus and has proven to be a valuable experimental diagnostic tool for identifying previously unknown viruses in both humans and animals. The tool was first used in 2003 to confirm the identity of the virus that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS, as a new corona virus. The technology later became the basis for the UCSF Viral Diagnostics & Discovery Center, as a resource for researchers worldwide. DeRisi also works with UCSF parasitologists to identify drug targets against the malaria parasite and the debilitating microorganism responsible for Chagas disease, the leading cause of heart disease in Latin America.
The future holds many bright, new research initiatives as well. One that is already rising is the new Neurosciences Laboratory and Clinical Research Building, scheduled for completion in 2012. There, in a $200 million, five-story, 237,000-square-foot building, the world’s top clinical and basic science researchers will collaborate to prevent, treat and cure pervasive neurological diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, migraine, epilepsy, autism, mental retardation and cerebral palsy.
“This building culminates a 10-year dream,” says Nobel laureate Stanley B. Prusiner, MD, director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, whose researchers will join those from the UCSF Department of Neurology and the W.M. Keck Foundation Center for Integrative Neuroscience in the new building. “It will bring together some of the best scientists in the world to work on these very prevalent diseases of the brain. The opportunity for major progress is tremendous.”
The research space provided by the new building and the adjacent Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Hall will constitute “more than 400,000 square feet dedicated to studying these extremely complex, challenging diseases,” Prusiner says. “UCSF Mission Bay will be one of the biggest neuroscience complexes in the world.”