UCSF’s dedication to treating people with diabetes and to finding a cure is manifest in many of its educational programs, which involve all four schools: dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy. And the UCSF commitment to translational medicine is helping to draw from across the country graduate students who want to see a connection between their work in the laboratory and potential treatments to benefit patients.

“This is something that really makes UCSF stand out,” says Mark S. Anderson, MD, PhD, who teaches graduate students, medical students, postdoctoral fellows and endocrinology subspecialty fellows. “The opportunities to engage in translational medicine are attractive to graduate students who want to do their research and their science training in an environment where they can see the direct application of their work in patients with the disease.”

Training materials help educate future experts.

Anderson cites as an example an advanced course that he directs in UCSF’s innovative Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Graduate Program, which is targeted to immunology graduate students. “We teach them the translational aspects of autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and lupus,” he says. The students learn the state of the art in science, such as “where we are with understanding the disease,” he adds. And they hear directly from patients and learn the latest in patient care. 

The course is designed for student researchers who often spend many hours “sitting at the lab bench executing detailed protocols and experimental work," Anderson says.  "At times it can appear to be narrow in scope:  how molecule A interacts with molecule B for example.  However, they come to the course and see the broad implications of what they have been doing."  The students love it, he says, because “they can see the direct application of basic science to a clinical problem.”           

“This is one of the most exciting times right now to be a physician-scientist because you can take the rapid advances in genetics and apply them to complex problems like autoimmunity,” Anderson says. “The problem we have right now nationally is getting enough bright young people to get a taste of that, although UCSF is doing a good job.”

UCSF’s reputation as a leading institution in health sciences education encompasses its training programs in immunology.  The 2010 US News & World Report survey on the nation’s best graduate schools ranks UCSF training in immunology and infectious diseases as No. 2 in the country. The survey is based on expert opinions about the quality of a school’s training programs, on measures of the caliber of its faculty and students, and on its research quality and productivity.

The UCSF Department of Microbiology and Immunology is one of the largest in the country, with 45 faculty members, and UCSF faculty  have written several of the leading immunology textbooks used nationally in graduate and medical education.

Students learn through academic programs, but they also learn about emerging insights in immunology from UCSF scientists, many of whom have made fundamental advances that define current understanding in the field, including Anderson, who defined a master gene that controls autoimmune T cells.

Graduate education in immunology is organized through the innovative Biomedical Sciences 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. The course is designed to integrate knowledge at these different levels and help students develop an understanding of the living system beyond its individual functions.

The program’s 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, hands-on, a range of experimental approaches, and to help them choose a laboratory and a project for their PhD research.

Anthony DeFranco, PhD, Professor of microbiology and immunology, with graduate students Linda Lee and Matthew Wheeler.

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. The course deals not only with autoimmune mechanisms, but also with the pharmacology of immunosuppressive drugs for organ transplants, inspiring broader understanding of diseases and their treatment.

Another new course developed by microbiology and immunology faculty provides “cross-fertilization” between PhD and MD students, says Anthony DeFranco, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology. The advanced immunology course is coordinated with second-year medical student instruction, bridging basic science and clinical research insights.

The course invites patients into the classroom to boost PhD students’ awareness of the impact of diseases, and also to advance medical students’ understanding of the science that underlies disease. The course includes discussions about novel therapies with a senior scientist at Genentech.

In addition to the programs taught to UCSF students, the University maintains a Diabetes Teaching Center focused on patients because diabetes, more than most diseases, requires patients to manage their own treatment.

The teaching center is led by Martha Nolte Kennedy, MD, who emphasizes that “the delivery of diabetes care is and continues to be a multischool endeavor.”

The teaching center was originally hosted by the School of Nursing, Kennedy says, and has had participating professors from the pharmacy and dentistry schools as well as the nursing and medical schools. The center is now sponsored by the School of Medicine, and it provides nursing continuing medical education credits. It also is part of School of Pharmacy training programs, and it provides training for nutritionists. Many doctoral fellows also rotate through the center as part of their training.