UCSF Works to Speed Discoveries from Lab Bench to Patient's Bedside

By Robin Hindery The pursuit of translational medicine – the conversion of scientific discovery into patient care – has largely defined UCSF’s mission in the 21st century, and is driving its ongoing efforts to create a work environment where clinicians, research scientists and industry leaders interact on a daily basis. The UCSF Mission Bay campus, in particular, was designed with that ambitious goal in mind. And while University officials acknowledge that the process of bringing lab-bench discoveries to a patient’s bedside is complicated, they say UCSF is uniquely qualified to succeed. “What UCSF is particularly good at doing – and I think our opportunity, particularly at Mission Bay – is the partnership of the research scientists and our clinicians with industry,” said Mark Laret, chief executive officer of UCSF Medical Center. “And it’s really the three legs of that stool that make for a great relationship and that are going to be the key to bringing discovery into common use.” “In our times, discoveries go from academic labs to companies that create products and services, which then go back to academic hospitals to evaluate usefulness for patients,” added Regis Kelly, PhD, director of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), which is headquartered at Mission Bay. “That’s why what we’re doing at Mission Bay is so exciting, because we’re really bringing all of these things together.” The University’s focus on translational medicine has intensified over the past several years, thanks in part to a $100 million, five-year grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health in 2006 under its Clinical and Translational Science Award program. The funding led to the creation of the cross-campus UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). CTSI aims to promote research and education in translational and clinical science at UCSF, in partnership with its various training hospitals and other affiliated institutions, as well as the larger Bay Area health care community. “Our institute kind of sits between and beneath all the [University’s] efforts in basic and clinical sciences, and we’re charged with identifying problems, needs and opportunities that cut across this broad spectrum,” said Clay Johnston, MD, PhD, UCSF professor of neurology and director of CTSI. Johnston acknowledged that the bench-to-bedside transition can be “very cumbersome and very inefficient,” but he said he believes CTSI has already made great strides in “working between various groups to solve problems that are shared.” Shortly after CTSI was created, the University unveiled its first-ever strategic plan in mid-2007, officially establishing translational medicine as the new paradigm to guide UCSF’s biomedical research efforts over the next two decades. Many innovative partnerships are already being formed, thanks to the early successes of facilities such as CTSI and QB3, and the recent arrival of pharmaceutical industry heavyweights such as Pfizer, Celgene and Merck to the Mission Bay neighborhood. Laret predicts that trend will only accelerate with the introduction of several cutting-edge research and patient care facilities that are currently in the works. The largest of those projects is the new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, a $1.68 billion project slated for completion in 2014. The complex will consist of specialty hospitals for children, women and cancer patients. “This, in a way, completes the loop and makes us a whole campus – not just research, but research tied to clinical care,” Laret said of the medical center. “And that’s what we think is the greatest potential at Mission Bay and the most important reason to build those [specialty] hospitals.” Of course, simply placing doctors, scientists and industry professionals on one shared campus and hoping for collaboration aren’t always enough. Sometimes they need a friendly push, Kelly said. “There’s a misconception that if you put basic scientists and clinical scientists in close proximity, they’ll talk all the time about their work,” he said. “Proximity is not sufficient by itself; you have to have people whose job it is to help make those connections. You have to nurture those relationships.”

Related Links:

UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay

California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3)

UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI)

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