• The Parnassus Campus
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The Parnassus Campus

History of Parnassus

From its origins following the California Gold Rush, UCSF established itself along Parnassus Avenue in 1898 on land donated by San Francisco Mayor Adolph Sutro. At the time, Parnassus Heights was in the remote western part of San Francisco, but its medical facilities suddenly became a central player in saving lives when the 1906 earthquake and fire struck. With much of San Francisco — even its hospitals — destroyed in the disaster, a tent city arose in Golden Gate Park, housing 40,000 people near the growing health sciences institution. 

Tent city in Golden Gate Park after the great 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.

In 1914, the prestigious Hooper Foundation for Medical Research selected Parnassus as the site for its research work, creating the first medical research foundation in the United States incorporated into a university. Hooper investigators contributed to an expanding research enterprise on Parnassus that led to a 1949 vote by the UC Board of Regents designating the campus, rather than UC Berkeley, as the main site for all medical science.

The 20th century was a period of remarkable growth, with the addition of new research institutes and facilities, culminating in administrative independence and the selection of John B. de C.M. Saunders, MD, as UCSF’s first chancellor in 1964. 

The Campus Today

Many departments in the School of Medicine, ranging from Anesthesia and Perioperative Care to Surgery, call Parnassus home, and it is the base for the School of Dentistry. Many departments from the schools of nursing and pharmacy also are located on “the hill.”

Kalmanovitz Library

The UCSF Parnassus campus is home to a network of comprehensive patient care services for adults through the UCSF Helen Diller Medical Center at Parnassus Heights, Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital and Clinics, and the UCSF Dental Center. The facilities treat both inpatients and outpatients.

The UCSF research enterprise spans many locations, but the Parnassus and Mission Bay campuses are the two principal sites for the majority of the distinguished research for which UCSF is known. In addition to laboratories that are distinguished for their leading work in basic science, Parnassus is the site of a number of centers and institutes that focus on specific areas within the health sciences, uncovering the ways the human body works and discovering ways to combat many illnesses.

Other facilities and services on Parnassus include the Kalmanovitz Library, the University’s bookstore, a lively food court, a conference and fitness center at Millberry Union, and a child care center.

Much of the public art that has become a UCSF hallmark over the years can be found on the Parnassus campus, including sculptures by Beniamino Bufano and Jim Campbell and a mural by Douglas Cooper.

A Vision For the Future

Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

The Parnassus campus has grown to become a city within the city, with an average daily population of 16,000 people, including faculty, staff, students, patients and visitors. 

The campus continues to thrive, and in February 2011 celebrated the grand opening of the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regeneration Medicine Building, the new headquarters of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF. Designed by internationally renowned architect Rafael Viñoly, the building provides a dramatic statement of UCSF’s commitment to the Parnassus site.

The $123 million building, paid for by state and private funds, is designed to foster intensive collaboration and a cross-pollination of ideas among scientists representing a broad spectrum of labs and disciplines. The researchers’ goal is to develop strategies for treating a variety of diseases and conditions, such as birth defects, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injury and cancer.

Since the opening of the new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay in 2015, clinical care on Parnassus has transitioned into focusing on high-end adult surgical and medical services, including emergency medicine, while UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion has become a major outpatient hub, offering advanced diagnostic and therapeutic services. In 2018, the clinical complex was renamed the UCSF Helen Diller Medical Center at Parnassus Heights to recognize the Helen Diller Foundation's landmark $500 million commitment to support the planning of a new hospital, which is expected to open its doors to patients before 2030.


From the work of Nobel laureates to lifesaving discoveries, UCSF’s internationally renowned research has flourished in the labs of its Parnassus Heights campus. Researchers from all UCSF schools – dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy – have contributed to the University’s status as one of the world’s leading biomedical research institutions.

The research enterprise spans many University locations, but the Parnassus Heights and Mission Bay campuses are the key sites for the majority of the cutting-edge basic science research for which UCSF has earned global recognition and prestige.

Parnassus programs cover research into a range of ailments, with the aim to uncover the ways the human body works and discover ways to combat many illnesses.

In some cases, research is carried out through dedicated centers such as the UCSF Diabetes Center, UCSF Airway Clinical Research Center and the UCSF Sandler Asthma Basic Research Center, which work to develop new therapies and improve quality of life for those with debilitating disorders. The roster of centers also includes the California Center for Pituitary Disorders, which provides high-level neurosurgical and neuroendocrine care and research into the body’s master gland that regulates hormone levels.

Some of the noteworthy research taking place on the Parnassus campus includes:

Stem cells: Embryonic stem cells – tiny yet potentially powerful tools – were co-discovered in mice and named at UCSF in 1981 by Gail Martin, PhD. Today, the University boasts one of the largest stem cell programs in the United States at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research.

UCSF scientists are studying how embryonic and adult stem cells and related cells could be used to rejuvenate damaged tissues, such as those of the heart, pancreas and brain. With lab breakthroughs, scientists move closer to the day when they could transplant stem cell-based cells into patients to regenerate damaged tissues, use them as vehicles for delivering drugs into diseased tissues, and use them as the basis for testing drugs in the culture dish.

Children’s dental health: At the Center to Address Disparities in Children’s Oral Health, known as CAN DO, research funded by the National Institutes of Health has helped reduce and prevent oral health disparities, including the prevalence of early childhood caries.

Chronic pain: Through her research, Christine Miaskowski, RN, PhD, associate dean, professor and Sharon A. Lamb Endowed Chair in Nursing at the UCSF School of Nursing, has demonstrated that chronic pain is a medical condition and not just a symptom.

In ongoing studies, she is addressing a range of questions surrounding the mysteries of pain, including gender differences in how people experience pain, why some cancer patients experience certain pain and others do not, why some types of pain respond to medication and others to placebos, and how military personnel who suffered a traumatic injury in Afghanistan or Iraq experience changes over time in pain, fatigue and sleep disturbances. Miaskowski is particularly interested in how symptoms such as pain, fatigue, depression and sleep disturbances interact.

Drug metabolism and clearance: How does a body dispose of, or clear, a drug? How can a researcher arrive at the proper dosage of a drug? These are among the questions that drive Leslie Z. Benet, PhD, a pharmacology pioneer in the UCSF School of Pharmacy who established the foundation for much of what is now known about the rate at which drugs are metabolized in the body.

Benet’s research is now focused on what he calls a “man on a chip,” in which a lab solution mimics the human bloodstream and provides fast and accurate indications of the metabolism and elimination of pharmaceuticals. The concept has the added benefit of reducing the need to use animals in drug testing.

Understanding immune cells: Lewis Lanier, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine, has discovered the genetic basis for the ability of certain kinds of immune cells, known as NK killer cells, to recognize and defend against viral infection and cancer. In ongoing research, Lanier’s team is investigating how these immune soldiers recognize and eliminate cells that have become transformed or infected by viruses. The new understanding offers major therapeutic promise.