UC San Francisco Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, announced March 13 that Edward Chang, MD, will be the inaugural William K. Bowes Jr. Biomedical Investigator, in recognition of his groundbreaking research to unlock the brain’s secrets, his inventive approach to neuroscience, and his compassionate care of his patients.
A renowned neurosurgeon, Chang will be the first recipient of the endowment creating the Bowes Biomedical Investigator Program, established to fulfill the late William K. Bowes Jr.’s long-held philosophy to support scientists spearheading high-risk, high-reward research. Bowes, who was a Distinguished Director of the UCSF Foundation Board of Overseers, created the $50 million endowment to provide select scientists with a five-year funding stream to further their research and drive discovery.
The gift exemplifies an overarching theme of UCSF: The Campaign to support brilliant minds and provide sustained support for research typically not funded through traditional channels. A dedicated clinician-scientist, Chang is pushing the boundaries of neuroscience through his determination to find the source of human suffering and treat it.
“Dr. Chang is standing at the dynamic convergence of Silicon Valley and UCSF,” said Chancellor Hawgood. “Eddie brilliantly combines his scientific expertise, innovative technology and the Bay Area’s pioneering spirit to fearlessly go wherever the science takes him.”
Finding Neural Codes While Curing Patients
Trained at UCSF, Chang is among an emerging cadre of elite scientists at the forefront of medicine and its intersection with biology and engineering. Known for melding novel technology with cutting-edge clinical care, Chang and his team are among the first scientists to discover the neural code of speech – how the brain processes speech through electrical impulses.
Eddie brilliantly combines his scientific expertise, innovative technology and the Bay Area’s pioneering spirit to fearlessly go wherever the science takes him.
His method of discovery was unique, an indication of his eagerness to explore new ways of treating old problems. While performing brain surgery on patients with uncontrollable epileptic seizures, Chang implanted electrodes on the surface of their brains to discover the source of the seizures. Knowing that those same sites could also be responsible for depression, anxiety and speech, Chang was able to study his patients’ moods, emotions and speech patterns – with their consent – as they underwent treatment.
This groundbreaking research is paving the way for the next wave of medical devices that seek to translate the electrical impulses of our thoughts into action. While his work promises to restore speech to those who have lost it, the impacts go beyond vocalization. Finding the neural basis of words and sentences may allow restoration of neurological function for patients who are paralyzed. Chang is also working to discover the cause of human suffering. His research into shifting brain circuity could help “unlearn” the altered neural patterns that underlie depression, anxiety and chronic pain.
Mentoring the Next Generation of Leaders
An eminent scholar, Chang also actively mentors students and grooms younger colleagues to be the next generation of medical leaders. Investing in the next generation was a lesson he learned from Bowes.
“Bill taught me how to appreciate the lack of fear in young scientists and especially their enthusiasm,” Chang recalls. “Those are the kinds of qualities that have been critical ingredients to our work, and the traits I try to cultivate for our team.”
Chang and Bowes struck up a friendship about five years ago over a shared interest in biomedicine. The two began meeting for breakfast every few months, providing the perfect opportunity for Chang to benefit from the older man’s breadth of experience as a successful venture capitalist and visionary leader in business and medical research.
“Starting a lab has some parallels to starting a company,” Chang says, “and as I was just setting up my lab, I looked to him for guidance. His advice about finding talent and assessing project risks was invaluable. Doctors don’t normally receive such training, and I really cherished the opportunity to get Bill’s feedback.”
Chang said he knows exactly how he wants to use Bowes’ last endowment.
“I want to invest his funds in people – he taught me that,” Chang says. “Our work is so multifaceted, and it takes very special people to excel in several disciplines. In order to get the very best, you must train and support them in the right way. That’s how I want to use these resources: to provide great training opportunities for my team and to create an environment where we are constantly exposed to diverse ideas.”
Honoring a Historic Legacy
The $50 million investment in one of UCSF’s core strengths – its engine of young scientists – was the most recent and largest of the gifts Bowes made to UCSF over the years. Announced shortly before his death in December 2016, the gift brought his total giving to UCSF to nearly $100 million.
“Bill and Ute’s tremendous philanthropy empowers UCSF to seize opportunities to solve the most challenging and devastating disorders in human health,” Chancellor Hawgood noted. “Their gift will build a cohort of innovative investigators, creating a community of scientists whose work undoubtedly will further the Bowes’ impact on UCSF and our patients for decades to come.”