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Williams Receives President’s Research Catalyst Award to Address Prison Health Care Crisis

UC San Francisco’s Brie Williams, MD, was one of five faculty members across the entire University of California system—and the only one from UCSF—to receive the President’s Research Catalyst Awards, chosen from a pool of almost 200 proposals. UC President Janet Napolitano made the announcement on Dec. 10.

The projects involve multi-campus, multi-disciplinary efforts, incorporating research, teaching and learning for undergraduate and graduate students. The awards are designed to stimulate UC research in areas that could benefit California and the world.

Brie Williams, MD

“I am deeply grateful to President Napolitano for awarding us this honor and a Planning Grant to create the UC Consortium on Criminal Justice Healthcare,” said Willliams, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Geriatrics and medical director of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center Geriatrics Clinic. “This grant is an incredible opportunity to bring together faculty and students from across the UC campuses who are working in partnership with policy makers, advocates, clinicians throughout the criminal justice system, and our communities to create a coordinated, interdisciplinary, statewide research response to address the criminal justice healthcare crisis in California and nationwide.”

Williams’ proposal aims to help California, which has one of the nation’s largest prison population, address the prison health care crisis. The Golden State faces serious challenges in providing adequate health care to inmates, who often suffer from mental illness, addiction and other chronic diseases. The UC Consortium on Criminal Justice Healthcare will bring together experts in medicine, psychology, law, sociology, economics and public policy to develop cost-effective solutions that can also serve as a national model.

The President’s Research Catalyst Awards will channel $10 million over three years to fund research in areas of strategic importance, such as sustainability and climate, food and nutrition, equity and social justice, education innovation, and health care.

“The President’s Research Catalyst Awards will spur UC research and offer our faculty and students new opportunities for cross-campus, multi-disciplinary collaboration,” Napolitano said. “We want to support research endeavors that have real-world impact in areas with critical needs.”

The President’s Research Catalyst Awards will strengthen UC’s research enterprise by promoting projects that take advantage of the shared facilities, expertise and economies of scale available through UC’s 10 campuses and five medical centers. Faculty will benefit from expanded research support, and students will have access to additional training opportunities.

Recipients were chosen through the highly selective Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grants process. Other recipients include:

  • Understanding how California ecosystems will be affected by climate change, led by Barry Sinervo, UC Santa Cruz. ($1.9 million). UC is home to the world’s largest system of university administered natural reserves, offering an opportunity to model how climate change will affect California ecosystems. UC’s nine undergraduate campuses will study the ecological effects of climate change, involving both graduate students and citizen scientists.
  • Advancing physics, materials science and computing through quantum emulation, led by David Weld, UC Santa Barbara. ($300,000). Quantum emulation uses small collections of ultra-cold atoms, ions and molecules to understand the physical properties of the smallest matter in the universe. Through the California Institute for Quantum Emulation, UC will mobilize the theoretical and experimental expertise of early-career faculty at five campuses, enhancing California’s position as a technological leader and advancing research vital to the development of novel materials.
  • Tapping big data to inform questions of health, poverty and social justice, led by Sean Young, UC Los Angeles. ($300,000). Social media offers a rich trove of data about human behavior, beliefs and actions. Experts in computer, social and health sciences from four UC campuses will study how to use this information to address public health issues, poverty and inequality.
  • Using music to better understand the human brain, led by Scott Makeig, UC San Diego. ($300,000). The UC Music Experience Research Community Initiative brings together UC experts on music listening, performance, neuroscience, brain imaging and data science to understand the transformative potential of music for health and cognition.

UC faculty will be invited to apply for the next round of the President’s Research Catalyst Awards funding, with an RFP process beginning later this winter. More details will be posted here.

The awards will be funded through an existing president’s fund used to support systemwide initiatives.

For more internal-facing stories from the UCSF community, please visit Pulse of UCSF.