Pelosi Sees "Evidence of Greatness" at UCSF, Heralds New Era of Support for Science

By Robin Hindery Declaring that “a new day has dawned” in terms of America’s commitment to science, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded UCSF’s global leadership in scientific discovery and innovation during a tour of the state-of-the-art Mission Bay campus on Friday.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Deepak Srivastava, M.D., director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, and professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Biochemistry & Biophysics at UCSF, talk about advancements in stem cell research during a tour of Srivastava's lab Friday.

“I wish my colleagues [in Congress] could have walked through these labs with me,” she said after meeting with researchers specializing in stem cells and genomics. “What they would have seen is a vision of the future.” Pelosi, a Democrat who has represented the city and county of San Francisco in Congress since 1987, said Friday’s visit to UCSF marked the beginning of a new era for science and medicine – a time when the federal government has made a major commitment to investing in research and to transforming health care from top to bottom. “Science is really in a hurry, and the federal government was not keeping pace,” she said. “But we’re back.”

Jonathan Weissman, PhD, professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, (left) and Speaker Pelosi with postdoctoral scholar Polly Fordyce, PhD, during a tour of the UCSF Center for Advanced Technology.

One sign of that renewed support came on Feb. 17, when President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The $789 billion economic stimulus plan includes $10.4 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to be spent entirely before October 2010. More than $8 billion of that funding will go toward supporting scientific research priorities, while the remainder will finance facilities expansion, construction and other material needs, both within and outside the NIH. UCSF has consistently been among the top recipients of NIH support. In 2008, the University was the nation’s second-largest recipient of NIH research dollars, to the tune of more than $444 million. To ensure that trend continues, a stimulus response team consisting of prominent UCSF faculty and administrators has been formed to coordinate grant application efforts and monitor the NIH as it finalizes its plans for distributing the economic recovery funds.

Joe DeRisi, PhD, a UCSF professor and renowned molecular biologist (left) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the UCSF Center for Advanced Technology at UCSF Mission Bay on Friday.

At a press conference during Pelosi’s UCSF visit on Friday, UCSF Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, MD, said he believes that UCSF researchers “have been good stewards” of the funding they have received from the NIH and that the University is doing important, groundbreaking work that “simply could not be done without federal funding.” On Friday, Pelosi got a glimpse of some of the most exciting examples of that work. Her tour started in the stem cell lab at the UCSF-affiliated J. David Gladstone Institutes, where Deepak Srivastava, MD, a UCSF professor and director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, showed her a computer monitor displaying beating heart cells that were created using stem cells derived from a patient’s skin. “We’ve been fighting this fight for a long time in Congress,” Pelosi said of stem cell research, which experienced tight restrictions under the Bush administration – restrictions that were lifted by Obama on March 9. “For the last eight years, we’ve been told, ‘Faith or science, take your pick,’” Pelosi added, referring to religion-based opposition to embryonic stem cell research. “Today, we’re saying science is the answer to our prayers.” UCSF has a long history in the stem cell field, dating back to 1981 when researcher Gail Martin, PhD, co-discovered embryonic stem cells in mice. Today, the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF is one of the largest and most comprehensive regenerative medicine research enterprises in the country.

Joe DeRisi, PhD, a UCSF professor and renowned molecular biologist, at a press conference following Speaker Nancy Pelosi's tour of UCSF Mission Bay and the J. David Gladstone Institutes on Friday.

The speaker’s next stop on Friday was the UCSF Center for Advanced Technology, a collection of highly advanced equipment available to researchers throughout the University. She was greeted by Joe DeRisi, PhD, a UCSF professor and molecular biologist, and several graduate students and postdoctoral candidates from his lab, which focuses on genomic approaches to the study of infectious disease. Pelosi praised the collaborative environment of the Center for Advanced Technology, noting that interdisciplinary fellowship is one of the defining features of UCSF and part of the reason for its continued success and world-class reputation. “It’s remarkable to see the intellectual exchange that happens in a lab without walls,” she said. “I have seen the evidence of greatness, some of it springing from federal investments.” Pelosi said she believes that continued investment in and commitment to science hold the key to solving problems as varied as disease, climate change and the current economic crisis. “Science can make Americans healthier, the economy stronger and national security stronger, as well,” she said. Photos by Susan Merrell

Related Links:

DeRisi Lab at UCSF

Srivastava Lab at J. David Gladstone Institutes

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

J. David Gladstone Institutes

UCSF Responds to American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

Lifting of Stem Cell Ban Affects UCSF and Research Community
March 9, 2009