Research Excellence 1

By any measure, UC San Francisco is one of the world’s leading research universities.

Development of its dazzling research reputation began in the early 20th century when the George Williams Hooper Foundation chose the Affiliated Colleges on Parnassus — which became UCSF — as its first university partner for basic science investigation. 

Linda Giudice, MD, PhD and Susan J. Fisher, PhD

Linda Giudice , MD, PhD with Susan Fisher, PhD

Today basic science remains the crucial anchor of the UCSF research enterprise. UCSF basic scientists conduct studies at the genetic, cellular, molecular and systems level, and their discoveries are a rich source of knowledge and understanding of biology, biochemistry and other disciplines related to health and disease. 

Basic science research does not necessarily produce results that are immediately relevant to patient care, but the knowledge is essential to advancing the discovery process that leads to new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent a variety of disorders. 

While basic scientists pursue investigations independently in their labs, they also collaborate with clinical researchers in translational medicine, which is the process of applying ideas, insights and discoveries generated through basic research to improving human health. Each group brings its own expertise and intrinsic value to the team and cross-informs the other, which is the foundation for establishing UCSF’s excellence in this field. 

Clinical researchers conduct studies that involve people, samples of their tissues and their behavior. Some studies evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new interventions that evolved from basic science discoveries, while others analyze the mechanisms of disease.

Clinical research teams also carry out epidemiological and behavioral studies, which look at the distribution of disease and actions and decisions that affect health, and outcome studies, which seek to identify the most effective interventions, treatments and services.

The research enterprise also includes UCSF faculty experts in health policy and related topics who study ways to improve health care delivery systems and reduce health disparities.

Contributions to Health and Humanity

UCSF research findings have contributed in countless ways to benefit health and humanity. Pioneering studies on recombinant DNA techniques in the early 1970s laid the foundation for the biotechnology revolution and development of numerous lifesaving treatments.  

The discovery by a UCSF research team that normal genes can convert to cancer genes through genetic damage has transformed the way scientists look at cancer, and has led to new strategies for detection and treatment. Genetic and molecular actions underlying aging, blood clotting, pain perception, infectious disease and causes of autoimmune disease, in which the body attacks its own cells, have all been elucidated at UCSF.  For a full list of notable research achievements, go here.

Numerous objective metrics provide a measure of UCSF’s distinguished research caliber, including:  

Rankings – In the 2010 survey rankings by the highly prestigious National Research Council, which includes faculty research productivity in its assessment, 12 UCSF graduate education programs are rated among the best nationwide. Seven programs rank in the top 10: nursing, bioengineering, biochemistry and molecular biology, neuroscience, biophysics, biomedical sciences, and cell biology.  Also listed among the nation’s best are UCSF programs in medical anthropology, chemistry and chemical biology, sociology, genetics, and oral and craniofacial sciences.

A researcher conducts a microdissection using dry ice.

In addition, the UCSF schools of medicine, nursing and pharmacy regularly rank at or near the top every year in assessment of research quality in the annual survey of best graduate schools by US News & World Report, which is based on ratings by peer institutions. (Dental schools are not ranked.) 

National Institutes of Health funding – UCSF consistently ranks as one the top recipients nationwide and first among public institutions in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. The ranking serves as a key measure of research promise from the viewpoint of scientific peers from across the country who serve on NIH review panels charged with assessing projects for grant awards. 

The federal funding plays a key role in supporting UCSF’s biomedical enterprise, including research into the genetic, molecular and cellular basis of diseases, epidemiological and clinical-research studies, and efforts to develop innovative treatments and cures. 

Biotech industry – UCSF faculty scientists have founded dozens of biotech firms, including pioneer companies Genentech Inc. (now part of the Roche Group) and Chiron Corp. (now part of Novartis International AG). 

Number of patents – UCSF has had 1,351 (US) and 2,496 (foreign) issued for UCSF inventions since 1977, including two of the top five royalty-producing patents in the 10-campus University of California system: No. 1 hepatitis B vaccine and No. 5 artificial growth hormone. Between 2000 and 2012, 747 (US) and 1,588 (foreign) UCSF patents were issued, more than any other UC campus.

Nobel laureates – Five UCSF scientists have been honored with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.


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