UCSF at Dreamforce 2014: Revolutionary Research Powered By Technology

By Kathleen Masterson

Attendees of Dreamforce 2013 listen to UCSF experts discuss how technology is changing health care. 

A chip can solve cases of mysterious infectious diseases by applying innovative, rapid DNA sequencing technology. New genomic techniques are aiding in identifying genes that contribute to autism and other disorders. Video games designed with neuroscience can actually make you smarter.

Join UCSF at Dreamforce 2014

Register for free to the UCSF Unusual Thinkers track
Wednesday, Oct. 15
12 to 6 p.m.
Intercontinental Hotel Grand Ballroom A/B

Buy tickets to the Dreamforce Concert

These are some of the revolutionary research discoveries and inventions that UC San Francisco scientists will explore at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at Dreamforce 2014’s UCSF Unusual Thinkers track. The session is open to public with free registration, and UCSF faculty, staff and students are encouraged to attend.

Dreamforce runs Oct. 13 to 16 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. This is the 12th consecutive year it’s being hosted by Salesforce.com. The company’s founder, Marc Benioff, and his wife, Lynne, donated $200 million to help build a new children’s hospital at UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay and strengthen the existing talent and programs at both UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland in a partnership announced earlier this year.

The UCSF session kicks off with a discussion of leadership in health led by UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood and Mark Laret, chief executive officer of UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.

The discussion is followed by four unique talks – followed by a panel discussion on digital health led by UCSF Medical Center's Chief Medical Information Officer Michael Blum, MD – that showcase research that's leading the way in several health areas:

Video Games to Boost your Brainpower – and Health

Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD

It sounds like something a teenager would tell his mother, but these video games can make you smarter. Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, is a neurologist and cognitive neuroscientist who studies myriad aspects of the brain, including gaming and multitasking; how aging affects the brain; and designing video games to enhance brain function and even treat psychiatric conditions.

Gazzaley will address his lab’s work creating video games that improve cognitive abilities, including those that decline with age. Gazzaley also will discuss how video games can be integrated with new technology such as virtual reality headsets, motion capture and EEG – electrodes on the scalp that measure the brain's electricity activity – to create a personalized learning environment where the games respond to our brain signals. 

Much of gaming technology is geared toward entertainment, but Gazzaley said we can “reimagine a lot of these devices and software as scientific tools to improve how our brain functions.”

In addition, he said, some day scientists may be able to develop video games that reduce our reliance on non-specific drugs to treat neurological and psychiatric conditions, instead targeting learning in specific brain information processing systems. 

Creating a DNA Test That Can Identify… Anything?

Joe DeRisi, PhD

Imagine going to the doctor’s with a mysterious stomach bug, fever, or a persistent cough, and the doctor runs just one test to learn what’s making you sick. Joe DeRisi, PhD, says with the rapid development of genetic sequencing, this idea is no longer so farfetched. 

DeRisi is an expert in applying genomic technologies to the rapid detection of previously undiscovered infectious disease agents in humans and in organisms ranging from bees to snakes to parrots and beyond. Recent advances in “next-generation” DNA sequencing technology have reduced the cost for sequencing literally millions of DNA and RNA fragments from any biological sample.

In his talk the MacArthur “Genius” Fellow will discuss how the use of next-generation DNA sequencing has brought the concept of a “universal” diagnostic test for infectious disease into the realm of possibility.

Pinpointing the Genetic Roots of Autism

Matthew State, MD, PhD

After a frustrating two decades, scientists are finally beginning to identify genetic clues related to autism, and the results so far have challenged long-held notions about neurodevelopmental disorders in general and autism in particular. 

Matthew W. State, MD, PhD, is a leading child psychiatrist and an internationally recognized authority on the genetic bases of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and Tourette syndrome. Advances in technology, such as sequencing the human genome, and most recently sequencing subportions, have allowed scientists to identify multiple genetic mutations associated with autism, State said. Many of these newly discovered mutations are tiny – a single letter off out of a 3 billion letter code of DNA.

“Suddenly with this intersection of technology and societal forces and massive data sharing, we’ve now unlocked this treasure trove of information,” said State.

These genetic and molecular clues lays the groundwork to begin to understand where in the brain autism resides and are key steps toward thinking in creative ways about how to intervene, said State.  

In his talk State will also discuss how some of these same genes are also associated with schizophrenia, language problems or ADHD. These findings have begun to provide clues to the biology underlying human social communication and disability.

Why the Environment Matters for Healthy Babies

Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH

Industrial chemicals are found in everything from potatoes to plastics – they are in food, water, air and consumer products, in our environment, and in our bodies, too. Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, studies how prenatal chemical exposures affect child development.

Woodruff has studied many chemicals that we've learned are better to avoid – flame retardants, phthalates, Bisphenol A,  pesticides – and many others that we didn’t even know were lurking in our bodies undetected. Industrial chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment, found in cleaning products, in food, in makeup and grocery receipts.

At the UCSF Dreamforce track, Woodruff will talk about the latest science on the link between our environment and our reproductive health, including how chemicals in the bodies of pregnant women today can have intergenerational adverse health impacts – and what we can do to reduce exposures to everyone and improve our health.