2009 Year in Review

By Robin Hindery

For UCSF, 2009 was a year of leadership changes, exciting scientific breakthroughs and meaningful advances in patient care.

The University welcomed its first female chancellor, celebrated its fourth Nobel Prize-winning scientist, and made great strides in critical areas such as cancer treatment and stem cell research.

The year also brought its share of challenges as UCSF felt the ill effects of a statewide budget crisis and a national recession that spurred layoffs, salary cuts and furloughs.

The year also brought new opportunities as the University began to receive millions of dollars for research from the National Institutes of Health as part of the federal economic stimulus plan, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as well as money for student financial aid.

Through it all, UCSF maintained its commitment to providing high-quality service to its patients; a world-class education to its students; and a stimulating, supportive environment to its faculty and staff.

In her first campus update of 2010, UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, said that looking ahead, she finds “many reasons for optimism given the passion and talent on our campus. I remain inspired about our collective ability to innovate and contribute to delivering on our mission of advancing health worldwide.”™

Here’s a look back at some of the highlights that helped define 2009 at UCSF:

University Developments

Changes in Leadership:

  • Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, arrived on campus on Aug. 3 to become UCSF’s ninth chancellor and the first woman to serve at the helm. Desmond-Hellmann, a physician, pioneering cancer researcher and former biotechnology executive, wasted no time laying out ambitious goals for the University and defining her top five priorities: patients, discovery, education, people and business. Read more.
  • After 27 years at UCSF, Sam Hawgood, MBBS, took over in September as the new dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs. Hawgood, a world-renowned expert in neonatology, had served as interim dean of the medical school since December 2007. Read more.
  • In October, Carol Moss assumed the position of vice chancellor for University Development and Alumni Relations, a new post at UCSF. Moss, the former chair of Institutional Relations and Development at the Cleveland Clinic, is responsible for vital fundraising efforts for projects including the planned medical center complex and neurosciences building at Mission Bay. Read more.
  • UCSF School of Nursing dean Kathy Dracup, RN, announced her decision to relinquish her position and return to the faculty in October 2010. Dracup will deliver her state-of-the-school address on Friday, Feb. 19.
  • Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Eugene Washington, MD, informed the University community that he had accepted the position of dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine and vice chancellor for Health Sciences at UCLA, a position that will take effect on Monday, Feb. 1.

Faculty Receive Top Prizes:

  • Molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, became UCSF’s fourth scientist to receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her co-discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that plays a key role in normal cell function, as well as in aging and most cancers. Read more.
  • Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, a UCSF professor of anatomy and a leading researcher at the UCSF-affiliated J. David Gladstone Institutes and at Kyoto University, received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for his stem cell discoveries that open the door for the development of patient-specific cell lines that can be used to unravel disease mechanisms, to discover new targets for disease treatment, and ultimately to provide patient-tailored cell therapies. Read more.

National Recognition:

In a survey of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report, UCSF Medical Center was named the seventh-best hospital in the country and No. 1 in the Bay Area. In 11 medical specialties, UCSF placed among the top 10 medical centers nationwide. In a separate set of pediatric specialty rankings released in June 2009, UCSF Children’s Hospital was ranked among the nation’s best children’s hospitals in nine pediatric specialties, making it one of the top-ranked facilities in California.

First-of-Their-Kind Degrees:

From left, Setsuo “Ernest” Torigoe, Aiko “Grace” Obata Amemiya and Edith Oto, who also celebrated her 90th birthday on Dec. 4, received their honorary degrees from UCSF nearly seven decades after they were sent to internment camps during World War II. Photo by Susan Merrell

  • On Dec. 4, UCSF became the first public university in California to provide honorary degrees to Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals whose educations were interrupted when they were sent to internment camps during World War II. The University honored 67 former students in the schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry and pharmacy, including three who were able to attend the special ceremony and accept diplomas on their own behalf. Read more.
  • UCSF graduated the country’s first-ever class of Master of Science degree students in global health on July 24. The UCSF Master’s Program in Global Health Sciences combines classes and fieldwork to prepare participants for leadership careers in international health policy, health care, and health research and development.

Transformative Donation:

UCSF received one of the largest gifts in its 145-year history —$125 million— as the lead funding for a state-of-the-art medical center at the Mission Bay campus. The gift came from longtime UCSF supporter Charles F. Feeney through the foundation he created, The Atlantic Philanthropies. The 289-bed UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, slated for completion in 2014, will consist of specialty hospitals for women, children and cancer patients. Read more.

Improving Safety:

As part of a nationwide effort to improve emergency response capabilities on university campuses, UCSF introduced a new mass communication alert system, WarnMe, in April. The system allows members of the University community to self-register to receive timely warnings via text or voice of any emergency situation or disaster on or near campus. Read more.

First Joint Department:

The UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, which links the School of Medicine and the School of Pharmacy, was the first joint department between schools at UCSF and the first of its kind in the United States. Read more.

Global Health:

  • UCSF houses the administrative headquarters of the UC Global Health Institute, a 10-campus initiative launched in November. The institute comprises three multi-campus, multidisciplinary centers of expertise, including the Center of Expertise on Women’s Health and Empowerment, co-led by UCSF. It will also offer a variety of education programs, beginning with a one-year master’s degree program that is expected to enroll students in 2011.
  • UCSF signed memoranda of understanding with Aga Khan University to promote equitable human advancement and social justice in the less privileged parts of the world and with King’s College London to explore opportunities for scholarly interaction, cooperative research, faculty and student exchange.
  • UCSF participated in the first meeting of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health held at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, where more than 250 researchers, professors, administrators, and students talked about the challenges facing the field of global health.

Research and Patient Care Developments


  • In June, UCSF celebrated the opening of the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building at Mission Bay, a state-of-the-art facility that doubled UCSF’s existing laboratory space exclusively devoted to cancer research. The building will ultimately house about 400 researchers working on the entire gamut of modern cancer research — from cancer prevention to the search for new techniques for cancer treatment.
  • An Oct. 21 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association co-authored by UCSF cancer expert Laura Esserman, MD, MBA, set off national debate by arguing that 20 years of screening for breast cancer have not generated the anticipated decline in deaths. Instead, the authors concluded, overall cancer rates are higher, patients are being overtreated and the incidence of aggressive or later-stage disease has not been significantly reduced.
  • A UCSF team developed a new prostate cancer risk assessment test that gives patients and their doctors a better way of gauging long-term risks and pinpointing high-risk cases. The test, known as CAPRA, accurately predicted the incidence of bone metastases, prostate cancer deaths and deaths from other causes.
  • UCSF became the host campus for the ATHENA Breast Health Network, an unprecedented UC collaboration targeting breast cancer. The project will initially involve 150,000 California women who will be screened for breast cancer and followed for decades at UCSF and the four other UC medical centers. The project is expected to generate a rich collection of data and knowledge that will revolutionize breast cancer care.

Stem Cells/Neuroscience:

  • Two teams of UCSF scientists reported the first direct evidence that a tiny filament extending from cells, known as primary cilia, may play a role in the most common malignant brain tumor in children and in a type of skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma.
  • A UCSF-led team of scientists discovered the first gene involved in regulating the optimal length of human sleep, offering a window into a key aspect of slumber and the possibility of future interventions to alleviate pathologies associated with sleep disturbance.
  • Researchers at UCSF found that fruit flies with a mutated form of a gene called “happyhour” were relatively resistant to the intoxicating effects of alcohol. The finding could have implications for treating alcoholism, as people with more resistance to alcohol’s effects are believed more likely to become alcoholics.
  • A collaboration between scientists at UCSF and Vanderbilt University led to the first direct information about the molecular structure of prions, the infectious proteins responsible for numerous nervous system disorders in mammals. Stanley Prusiner, MD, who led the UCSF arm of the study, received a Nobel Prize in 1997 for the discovery of prions.
  • A UCSF team found that inexpensive, high-flow oxygen is an effective treatment for cluster headache pain. Nearly 80 percent of study participants who received oxygen treatment reported being pain-free or having adequate pain relief within 15 minutes of treatment.


Researchers began enrolling patients in UCSF’s first stem cell clinical trial in cardiology. The early-stage clinical trial, part of a multi-center national study, will evaluate the safety and efficacy of an adult stem cell therapy for patients who have just experienced their first heart attack. The experimental therapy is intended to combat the symptoms related to heart damage that continue to develop following a heart attack, including low pumping capacity, inflammation and increased scar tissue.


The UCSF Orthopaedic Institute, which officially opened in October, marked the first time clinical services for patients were made available at Mission Bay. The all-in-one research and patient care facility offers customized outpatient services to individuals looking to prevent injuries, improve performance or speed recovery.

California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3):

The California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) joined with the City of San Francisco and FibroGen Inc., to launch the QB3 Mission Bay Incubator Network, an effort to spur growth in the bioscience industry. The project, which kicked off with five startup companies, builds upon the success of the QB3 “Garage” as an incubator and support system for biotech entrepreneurs.

Less Invasive Surgery:

In May, UCSF performed San Francisco’s first single-incision gallbladder removal, representing a significant advance in the field of minimally invasive surgery.


UCSF researchers identified a new potential drug target for the herpes virus that causes Kaposi’s sarcoma, re-opening the possibility of using the class of drugs called protease inhibitors against the full herpes family of viruses. The drug target, which is known as a protease dimmer, could serve as a model for developing new therapeutics for diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.

Synthetic Biology:

UCSF scientists genetically encoded mouse cells to respond to light, marking the first time researchers have been able to import a light-controlled “on-off switch” from plants into a mammalian cell to instantly control a variety of cell functions. The team’s findings could have various therapeutic applications down the road and offer a new approach for scientific research into the complex regulatory processes involved in diseases like cancer and inflammation.

Improved Access to Care:

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors in July unanimously approved a helipad for the planned UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, to be used to bring critically ill newborns, children and pregnant women to UCSF from outlying community hospitals to receive the most advanced, life-saving care.

New Partnership:

In August, UCSF announced a new affiliation with Hill Physicians Medical Group in San Francisco, marking an end to the University’s longstanding relationship with Brown & Toland Medical Group and affecting HMO members whose primary care provider was based in San Francisco. On Jan. 1, 2010, all doctors who were members of UCSF Medical Group became participating physicians with Hill Physicians.

Related Links:

Chancellor’s Year-End Update [PDF]
January 18, 2010

2008 Year in Review
UCSF Today, December 30, 2008