Bluestone to Capitalize on New Opportunities to Advance UCSF

Jeffrey Bluestone

Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD, a renowned immunologist and expert in immune tolerance research who has successfully led several major initiatives at UCSF, has been officially appointed as executive vice chancellor and provost.

UC Regents today (March 25) affirmed Bluestone to assume UCSF’s No. 2 leadership post, as recommended by UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH. He succeeds Eugene Washington, MD, who was named dean and vice chancellor of health sciences at UCLA. Read the news release.

“I am excited about his leadership of our research enterprise, his commitment to creativity in how we conduct business in the future, and his understanding of the academic and research environment, including the core values of UCSF, the infrastructure needs for basic and clinical research, faculty reward systems, and opportunities for industry partnership,” Desmond-Hellmann said.

In his new role, Bluestone will serve as UCSF’s chief academic officer, guiding the vast research and academic enterprise, working in close collaboration with the chancellor and the leadership team to advance UCSF priorities, and overseeing the campus ethics and compliance enterprise.

Bluestone is the fourth executive to be tapped for the UCSF leadership team by Desmond-Hellmann, who became chancellor in August 2009. Since then, she has named Sam Hawgood, MBBS, dean of the medical school; Carol Moss, vice chancellor for development and alumni relations; John Plotts, chief business officer; and Elazar Harel, PhD, JD, chief information officer. Harel’s appointment to the new position of vice chancellor of information technology also was approved by the Regents today.

“It’s exciting to come in on the ground floor of this new leadership team,” said Bluestone, who served in an interim role as the UCSF vice chancellor for research since July 2008.

Building on UCSF’s Achievements

One of Bluestone’s top priorities is to build on UCSF’s achievements as a world leader in scientific discovery and to galvanize the basic and clinical research communities at UCSF and beyond to take advantage of what he terms the “genomic revolution and the tremendous opportunities to improve health through new diagnostics and new treatments.”

Recruited to UCSF in 2000, Bluestone is internationally recognized as an expert on why the body’s immune system decides to reject or accept transplanted tissue. His research has catalyzed recent progress in stem cell research, islet cell transplantation and immune tolerance therapies – efforts that have translated into drugs to treat human disease.

Two mornings a week, Bluestone will continue managing his lab on the Parnassus campus, where he and his colleagues conduct immune tolerance research designed to both understand and treat autoimmune diseases and organ transplant rejection.

“The day-to-day interactions with exceptional students and colleagues have been extraordinary,” he said. “The challenge of thinking of an idea and seeing it translated into data that leads to changes in our understanding of how the immune system works still keeps my juices flowing.”

Asked why he chose to assume this new, high-level responsibility, Bluestone said, “I like to paint on a big canvas and want to see if I could make a difference. This is a tremendous institution – one of the best in the world. If I ever have a new platform to advance health, this is the place to do it.”

No stranger to the campus community, Bluestone has been making a difference at UCSF over the past decade. Most notably, he has:

  • Directed the UCSF Diabetes Center, considered a model of basic and clinical discovery, where 150 faculty and staff are working to improve the quality of life of those with diabetes;

  • Directed the Immune Tolerance Network, the largest international consortium – consisting of more than 80 of the world’s leading scientific researchers – dedicated to the clinical testing of new therapies for immune tolerance;

  • Served on the Strategic Planning Board that led the development of UCSF’s first-ever strategic plan, which serves as a roadmap for the next decade;

  • Led UCSF’s committee to strategize and secure funds made available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, making the campus one of the top institutional recipients of science-based stimulus funds, with 276 awards and $129.5 million in funding as of March 22; and

  • Represented the academic enterprise in the chancellor’s administrative and operating efficiencies work group, which is expected to forward recommendations on how to improve administrative operations and realize savings to the leadership team later this month.

Translating Discoveries

From Bluestone’s perspective, now is the time to advance the mission and vision of UCSF’s strategic plan and the priorities of Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann (discovery, patients/health, education, people and business.) The strategic plan calls for translating discoveries into improved health, fostering innovation and collaboration, and developing strong partnerships with community and industry partners, among other goals.

“I come at this job with the notion that at the end of the day, we have to be true to our mission, vision and strategic plan,” Bluestone said. “That is a beacon that we can follow.”

Bluestone also comes to the job with more than 30 years in academic research, having served at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and on the faculty at the University of Chicago. He believes the greatest missed opportunity in academic medicine thus far has been in not fully capitalizing on translational research – taking extraordinary basic science discoveries into the clinic in what is referred to as T1 research. Despite explosive gains in the scientific community’s understanding of human disease, Bluestone believes the meaningful translation of that knowledge into treating patients, improving health and preventing disease has gone too slowly.

The transition from basic research advances to drug discoveries has been viewed as the “valley of death” or the “great abyss,” Bluestone said. As UCSF’s chief academic officer, he is now positioned to help “faculty see our discoveries make their way through the pipeline faster to help patients.”

“The future success of academic medicine will be team efforts where astute clinicians and PhD researchers work together to tackle the research problems of our day,” he said. “It is hard to imagine that success can be achieved with either community working in isolation. I like to think that I have enough sense of the clinical imperatives to appreciate both sides of the effort and contribute to the overall enterprise.”

One way to ensure that the best health solutions get to patients as quickly as possible is to expand upon the work that began with the creation of the UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), Bluestone said.

Awarded $100 million in a grant from the NIH, the CTSI was established in 2006 as one of the first 12 academic institutions selected to be part of a national consortium. The CTSI fosters research and education in translational and clinical science at UCSF by supporting researchers in their career and along the research process by providing funding and training, consultation services by senior faculty, clinical research facilities and services to promote communication and collaboration.

Bluestone will work closely with CTSI Director Clay Johnston, MD, PhD, who will report directly to Bluestone – and with others at UCSF who are engaged in translational research – to speed the translation of scientific discoveries from laboratories into practical medical advances for the patients and communities who need them.

Bluestone also wants to cultivate more industry partners, a goal he shares with Desmond-Hellmann. To this end, he is developing the Office of Technology, Innovation and Industrial Partnerships to build new alliances and partnerships with industry. These partnerships are critical to ensuring the expeditious and effective transfer of UCSF’s discoveries into benefits for the public.

Bluestone said the leadership of Desmond-Hellmann – who as president of product development at Genentech was instrumental in bringing therapeutics to patients – is producing a cultural shift across campus.

“The limiting scope of basic science has changed,” he explained, as laboratory scientists are expanding their thinking beyond working with yeast, worms and flies, and are now considering how they can work with clinician-scientists to advance human health.

Bluestone aims to reengage faculty researchers to bridge the gaps between academia and industry, and in the process, he hopes to energize the next generation of scientists to work in academic research.

“Translational research is not just a euphemism, but a charge to the entire community to team up to cross the bridge and take advantage of the creativity, passion and focus of academic research, industry and the clinical communities to transform translational research from a concept to a reality,” Bluestone said.

Ensuring Excellence Across UCSF

With appreciation for web-based technology, Bluestone represents the next generation of UCSF leadership: He uses Twitter [UCSFDC] and has hundreds of fans who follow his diabetes tweets through the social networking site.

Bluestone appreciates the immediacy and expedition of the digital age and believes in clear and transparent communication. This philosophy will be important as UCSF leaders prepare to share and act upon the recommendations of the chancellor’s administrative and operating efficiencies work group now looking at how to improve UCSF’s projected Fiscal Year 2011 operating budget. Read more about the work group.

Bluestone, who has been actively engaged in the work group, said that one thing has become perfectly clear: “The status quo is not acceptable.” He sees his role as helping to bring out the best in UCSF faculty and staff to ensure that they have the “resources they need to be successful” and that “the excellence in the administration matches the excellence” of the rest of the University.

Bluestone will help stabilize the enterprise through this transitional time. He will encourage faculty and staff to look toward the future. “It’s a new university that we’re creating and this should be exciting.”

As the nation and state confront ongoing financial challenges, Bluestone said the University community should become more proactive in touting the promise and the power of biomedical research and in helping to demonstrate UCSF’s value as a global leader in health sciences education, research and patient care.

“We have to do a much better job of informing and working with the community, not just the research community, to help them understand the opportunities – that there are discoveries to be made and advances to be had that will fundamentally make people’s lives better,” he said.

Bluestone is eager to work with Desmond-Hellmann, whom he admires for her “passion, optimism, can-do approach, pragmatic attitude and sense of self” in the years ahead.

“I hope people realize that this is a critical time for us,” he said. “We do really good things here that will make a big difference in people’s lives.”

Photo by Susan Merrell

Related Link:

UCSF appoints Bluestone as executive vice chancellor and provost
UCSF News release, March 25, 2010

Chancellor Names Bluestone as Executive Vice Chancellor, Provost, Pending Approval by Regents
UCSF Today, February 24, 2010