$25 Million From Oberndorf Foundation To Advance UCSF Psychiatry, Neuroscience Research

By Jennifer O'Brien

stock illustration of a brain

UC San Francisco has received an unrestricted $25 million commitment from the Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation to advance basic research in psychiatry and the behavioral sciences. Over the next decade, this science promises to revolutionize our understanding of the most serious psychiatric illnesses, including autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, depression and anxiety.

“UCSF has long been committed to supporting the integration of basic and clinical research to discover new and more effective therapies for psychiatric illnesses,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “The Oberndorfs’ support will allow us to dramatically expand our efforts to recruit and retain the very best basic scientists who are devoted to unlocking the secrets of psychiatric illness and transforming our ability to treat and cure these conditions.”

The Oberndorfs have been strong supporters of UCSF for more than two decades, including Bill Oberndorf’s contribution as chair of the UCSF Board of Overseers, Hawgood said. In addition to this volunteer leadership, the couple has invested in several keystone projects, including UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, the Sandler Neurosciences Center, and the UCSF Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building.

“The Oberndorfs’ remarkable vision and capital investments have provided vital momentum for transforming the footprint and capacity of this institution,” Hawgood said. “Their new commitment will lead to better understanding of psychiatric disorders, which, in turn, will help to end the marginalization of psychiatry within medicine and erase the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.”

The new grant builds on an earlier $5 million gift from the Oberndorfs to create a distinguished professorship in psychiatry, which aimed to expand UCSF’s leadership in the field and provide the resources to create a world-class program on campus. That support enabled UCSF to recruit Matthew W. State, MD, PhD, a renowned child psychiatrist and internationally recognized expert on the genomics of autism and Tourette syndrome, and has galvanized many other philanthropic investments in UCSF neuroscience.

Matthew State, MD, PhD

State, now chair and Oberndorf Family Distinguished Professor in Psychiatry at UCSF, performs studies that exemplify the tight integration of basic and clinical research that will be supported by the new Oberndorf gift. His research teams have identified more than 60 genes involved in autism, a crucial first step in developing new and better therapeutics. Other UCSF neuroscientists are making pioneering discoveries in both the molecular and circuit-based underpinnings of a range of other psychiatric afflictions, each offering different inroads to cures.

[This gift will give our scientists] the freedom they need to pursue work that promises not only to unlock biological secrets, but to change the way that society views mental illness.
Matthew State, PhD

“UCSF is determined to be at the forefront of this revolution, creating a community of the very best young minds focused on this mission, and allowing them to do their most creative work, embedded in an extraordinarily strong and collaborative neuroscience community,” said State. “An unrestricted gift of this magnitude will be a game-changer in our ability to recruit and support outstanding scientists in what is an extremely challenging funding climate. We will be able to give them the freedom they need to pursue work that promises not only to unlock biological secrets, but to change the way that society views mental illness,” said State.

“Susan and I are very pleased to make this investment in an area of basic medical research for which there is great need. It is our hope that this gift will help to alleviate the pain in the lives of those who suffer from psychiatric and behavioral disorders as well as mitigate the impact such diseases can have on those in their lives,” Bill said.

Susan added, “We have met so many brilliant young researchers in the neurosciences at UCSF. We are confident Dr. State will continue to build a team that will make tremendous gains in the field.”

The Oberndorfs have long been active philanthropists, focusing on education, health care, and other public policy issues. In addition to serving as chairman of the UCSF Board of Overseers, Bill is chairman of Oberndorf Enterprises, LLC, his family’s holding corporation. Susan is president of the Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation and serves on numerous nonprofit boards.

UC San Francisco (UCSF) is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences; and a preeminent biomedical research enterprise. It also includes UCSF Health, which comprises top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland – and other partner and affiliated hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the Bay Area.