New Innovators Thrive at UCSF Mission Bay

By Jeffrey Norris

The UCSF Mission Bay campus has since its inception been a magnet for younger research faculty. Each year extraordinary scientists start up new labs on the campus.

Consider this evidence for the talents of young UCSF researchers: Year after year, young UCSF faculty have competed successfully for the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award, one the most prestigious awards granted by the federal government’s leading biomedical research agency. The prizes are for high-risk, high-reward research, and each winner receives up to $1.5 million over five years.

These awards, established in 2007, “support exceptionally creative new investigators who propose highly innovative projects that have the potential for unusually high impact,” according to the NIH.

In their investigations, the latest five UCSF awardees will be creatively applying or developing new technologies to probe lung cancer; asthma; schizophrenia; inborn blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia and “bubble boy disease;” and the couplings of proteins that drive all cellular and intercellular actions within the organism, in health and in disease.

The five researchers all are based at the Mission Bay campus:

  • Ann Zovein, MD, studies stem cells with the goal of creating a more promising source of cells for bone marrow transplantation.


  • Christopher Allen, PhD, aims to better understand asthma triggers by examining immune cells interacting in real time under the microscope, using new techniques.


  • Vikaas Sohal, MD, PhD, is exploring nerve-circuit-based ways to understand schizophrenia and related disorders, instead of conventionally focusing on excesses or deficiencies of particular chemicals in the brain.


  • Trever Bivona, MD, PhD, uses new techniques to identify more advanced treatment strategies to target lung cancers that continually evolve genetically to develop drug resistance.


  • Xiaokun Shu, PhD, is tackling the challenge of mapping the “interactome,” an atlas of how proteins interact with one another to drive and control biological events.


Recent Years’ UCSF New Innovators:

NIH Fosters High-Risk, High-Reward Innovation at UCSF (2012)

UCSF Competes Successfully for Young Innovator Awards (2011)

UCSF Tops California Universities with Four NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards (2010)