Nurturing Relationships Between Research and Clinical Practice

February 01, 2002
Space has long been one of the most precious commodities on the Parnassus campus. As plans for the Mission Bay campus take shape, so too do the plans for what to do with laboratory space that will become available at Parnassus heights as researchers depart for the new campus. "We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reconfigure the way basic science and clinical medicine interact with each other in an academic medical center," says Don Ganem, professor of microbiology and immunology. Ganem served as co-chair with Robert Jaffe, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, on the committee that reviewed proposals from researchers, eventually choosing six programs to receive the bulk of the soon-t o-be-available space. These basic science initiatives were selected because they are designed to support both basic and translational research with an eye toward clinical applications, explains Ganem. In the past, the kind of cooperation that allowed research to go "from bench to bedside" required special insight on the part of individual researchers. These programs create an organizational structure that fosters and nurtures productive relationships between modern disease-based research and clinical practice. In addition to the six new programs described below, the School of Medicine space committee will soon allocate additional research space to clinical departments. The heads of these departments are now working together to come up with proposals for the committee to review. "We will be looking at programs that are interdisciplinary and that have the most urgent need for space," says Ron Arenson, chair of the radiology department. "This will relieve our need, at least until the Mount Zion research building or phase two of Mission Bay is completed." These new and expanded programs offer a chance for collaboration both within and between schools even though the majority of campus resources are centered in the medical school. "One of the things we're doing at UCSF is breaking down the bureaucratic boundaries that separate departments and schools," says Keith Yamamoto, the School of Medicine's new vice dean for research. "We want to tap the expertise and resources across the whole institution." Building strength in immunology The Program in Immunology began in 1987 and serves as a model for both the relatively new and the newly created research initiatives. In addition to being a formal graduate program, the Program in Immunology has grown and strengthened its faculty, positioning itself as a leader in the field as well as in the area of translational medicine. The program is directed by an elected steering committee. Currently, the members of the committee are Art Weiss, chief of the division of rheumatology, Tony DeFranco, chair of the department of microbiology and immunology, and Richard Locksley, chair of infectious diseases. A total of 28 faculty members from five departments make up the program. The program has a large component of basic research, but also includes applied research and clinical trials. Currently the research includes aspects of immunity from organ transplantation to autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and diabetes, to allergies. "The immune system impacts almost every organ system because components of it travels in blood and lymphatic vessels around the entire body," says Weiss, the program's current director. In the past two years, prominent senior investigators have joined the faculty. Jeffrey Bluestone, director of the diabetes center, joined the program last year to lead the research effort to prevent and cure of diabetes. He is also helping to create a national design for clinical trials in new therapies against autoimmune diseases, allergies and transplant rejection based on the latest basic science. Lewis Lanier, now a professor of microbiology and immunology, came from industry to lead the program's efforts in cancer immunogenetics. And, Abul Abbas came from Harvard University - after a 25-year career at the Ivy-league school - as chair of pathology. Together, the program's faculty hopes to bring clinical trials back from the realm of private industry to academic research settings. The program's new space will allow as many as 10 faculty members to be housed side-by-side on a single floor. "Right now there are no more than two faculty next to each other," Weiss explains. The contiguous space will be located on the 10th floor of Health Sciences East - conveniently located near diabetes researchers on the 10th floor of Health Sciences West. It will house both current and new faculty as well as new and expanded core facilities. The program, administered by the School of Medicine, may wind up housing the largest concentration of immunologists of any American university, Weiss says. "This horizontal and contiguous consolidation provides us with a remarkable, and perhaps unprecedented, opportunity to interact and build off of our individual research strengths." {pagebreak}

Creating world's leading asthma research center

Twenty-five medical school faculty members are currently part of the Sandler Center for Basic Research in Asthma, a three-year-old program funded by The Sandler Family Supporting Foundation. Its goal is to draw upon the strength of basic science at UCSF to gain insights into the biology of asthma. "We expect new insights into the basic biology of asthma to lead to better ways of treating and preventing this common and often devastating disease," says Dean Sheppard, the center's acting director. The center provides direct support for asthma-related research by UCSF faculty through a competitive grants program. Over the last three years, 22 grants have been awarded. In addition, the center directly and indirectly supports and encourages other asthma-related research at UCSF through its core facilities. These include the transgenic mouse physiology and morphology core, the functional genomics core and the genotyping core (in conjunction with the Program in Human Genetics). All of these facilities are widely used by the UCSF community. "We have been providing state-of-the-art technology to interest UCSF faculty in asking questions related to asthma," Sheppard explains. Some of the center's faculty and facilities will relocate to Mission Bay. However, additional space has been committed at Parnassus to recruit the center's director, who will hold the Marion and Herbert Sandler Distinguished Professorship for Asthma Research. Additional faculty members also will be hired. "We are creating a general enthusiasm and excitement about asthma research," says Sheppard. "With the expansion, we hope to establish UCSF as the world's leading asthma research institution." Becoming a global leader in human genetics The sequencing of the human genome ushers in a new era in disease-related investigation. The genome will make it possible to correlate genetic make-up with the onset, development and treatment of disease. Therapies will soon be targeted to correct cohorts of patients based on genetics. These advances will be made possible by scientists using the genome information to address some of the most basic questions in cell and molecular biology. As the genetics of diseases is elucidated, translational research is likely to become an increasingly prominent component of biomedical research. Already a leader in translational research, UCSF has the unprecedented opportunity to become the world leader in human genetics. Hence, the creation - and current expansion - of the Program in Human Genetics. The program promises to be the source of major scientific discoveries. It also aims to harness both disease-based research and clinical science expertise, leading the way in improving health care for patients with some of the most common, life-threatening diseases. In order to take advantage of this opportunity, the Parnassus reconfiguration includes new space for the program - located on the 9th floors of Health Sciences East and West. Since 1997, Charles Epstein, professor of pediatrics and Ira Herskowitz, professor of biochemistry and biophysics, have served as co-directors of the program, which is currently comprised of 73 faculty members. Research by the group focuses on a broad range of topics relevant to human genetics, including the identification of genes that determine susceptibility to major human diseases. A search committee has been appointed that will recruit a prominent human geneticist to assume the direction of this world-class initiative. A number of new medical school faculty members also will be hired to round out the expertise and achieve the research goals of the program. "The expanded group will provide a basis for future development in this area and give impetus to the expansion of human genetics activity throughout the UCSF campus," says Epstein. {pagebreak}

Collaborating in craniofacial, mesenchymal biology

Research done by faculty in this program, based in the School of Dentistry, will focus on increasing the understanding of the basic biology of bone, connective tissue, cartilage, fat and muscle - referred to as "mesenchymal tissues" because of their common developmental history. The aim is to understand how these tissues develop and function and how abnormalities in their development give rise to the many craniofacial and skeletal anomalies known in humans. "A number of projects are in the works," says Rik Derynck, professor in the department of growth and development. "The program focuses on a new area in which we want to carry out highly visible, first-rate research." Derynck adds that the craniofacial and mesenchymal biology (CMB) program and the stem cell biology program plan to interact closely with one another. "We're essentially asking interrelated research questions. The key to success will be close collaboration and coordination between the two programs." The CMB program will receive new space, augmenting the space already occupied by current program faculty. About five additional labs will fill the space on the 15th floor of Health Sciences East, including that of the new director once he or she is named. The program's space also will include an infrastructure of new and expanded core facilities. Developing therapeutics for infectious diseases In addition to energizing the field of human genetics, the genomic revolution offers new hope in the fight against some of the most intractable diseases facing mankind. Researchers in the Program in Microbial Pathogenesis and Infectious Disease hope to use genomic information from infectious agents to develop new vaccines and drugs. "Genomics have opened the door to a lot of new therapeutics," says Tony DeFranco. "Our hope is to bring in people who will develop new therapies for diseases that have been particularly difficult to get rid of, as well as tackle emerging problems." DeFranco has been working with Rick Brown, professor in the department of medicine's division of infectious disease, to plan the program. A steering committee will be set up next month. About a dozen faculty members are coming together to form the basis of the program. One of these faculty members is expected to assume the directorship for the program. New space will be dedicated to this program that will house three new faculty members and their laboratories. The new faculty and facilities will help the program in its mission to develop therapeutic agents targeting the most widespread and virulent infectious agents. DeFranco says: "This is an area that's important medically and exciting scientifically." Defining a vision in stem cell biology "The stem cell program is at its stem stage," Yamamoto says. He and others responsible for planning the program are in the process of determining the faculty's collective vision for the program. "The area is potentially so broad that it can be defined in several different ways," Yamamoto explains. How the program's research focus is defined will in turn influence the kind of director that is recruited. The new director will consolidate and expand the loose knit community of researchers at UCSF that already focus on some of the critical challenges in the field. Research aimed at answering fundamental questions about the process and control of cell differentiation will be an important focus of the program. "A key is to define the markers along the pathways from stem cells to restricted cell types." Yamamoto and others caution that scientists are a long way from being able to generate cells of a specific type for use in treating patients. But along the course of reaching that goal, there are many important and exciting discoveries to be made. "UCSF has a rich history in this field, both in the distant and recent past. This is the ideal place for the kind of dialogue that can lead to extraordinary results." The program, based in the medical school, will be getting additional space, most likely all on the 12th floor of Health Sciences West and on the 14th floor of Medical Sciences. The space will be used to house new faculty members and their labs and, possibly, core research facilities. Source: Camille Mojica Rey