2019’s Highlights from Across UCSF

By Nina Bai and Mike Billings

It was an eventful year in every corner of UC San Francisco.

In the lab, we took steps to restore speech, engineer “smart cells,” and solve the mysteries behind some of the most perplexing illnesses. In the classroom, we launched innovative new programs and celebrated the graduation of our first Dreamers. In the clinic, we provided state-of-the-art and compassionate care. In the community, we strengthened the fight to end homelessness, rallied behind immigrant patients, and continued to lead the way in LGBTQ health care.

With a community of 30,000-strong, it would be impossible to list all the moments, big and small, that made UCSF such an incredible place to be in 2019. Here, are just few:



Thea Tlsty in lab talking to a researcher

Thea Tlsty (left), PhD, works in the lab with Daniela Martinez, a visiting graduate student in the Department of Pathology.

Funding Streak: UCSF remained the top public recipient of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the 12th year in a row and second among all institutions for the eighth year in a row.

Challenge Accepted: Thea Tlsty, PhD, was a winner of Cancer Research UK’s “Grand Challenge” competition, which aims to answer some of the biggest open questions in cancer. Tlsy’s international team will receive $26 million to uncover how chronic inflammation drives cancer.



portrait of Tejal Desai in her lab

Tejal Desai, PhD

HIVE Mind: Tejal Desai, PhD, was named to lead the new Health Innovation Via Engineering (HIVE) program, which will bring together engineers from across UCSF to address unsolved challenges at the intersection of engineering and health.

Mayoral Visit: San Francisco Mayor London Breed visited the Mission Bay campus for a discussion with Chancellor Sam Hawgood about leadership and health in San Francisco.

Smiles for Kids: The Community Dental Clinic, run by students from the School of Dentistry, in February expanded its clinics to serve pediatric patients. The clinic, which has operated since 1993, is open once a week, and faculty, students and staff provide care for underserved populations in San Francisco.


David Wu delivers his award-winning 2019 Grad Slam presentation

David Wu, winner of the 2019 Grad Slam

Head of the Class: This year’s U.S. News & World Report survey of Best Graduate Schools included the news that UCSF was the only medical school to rank in the top five nationwide in both research and primary care, including top-five rankings in all eight specialty areas surveyed. Later in the year, the University’s research also ranked among the top 10 globally in nine subject areas according to U.S. News’ Best Global Universities.

Slammin’ Science: Top prize in this year’s Grad Slam went to David Wu for his talk on “A Blood Test to Uncover Concussion,” which also took second place in the UC-wide competition. In September, Ishan Deshpande, PhD, won the Postdoc Slam for his talk, “From One-Eyed Sheep to Anti-Cancer Drugs.”



Ron Vale, PhD

Ron Vale, PhD

Hail to Vale: Ron Vale, PhD, was named a winner of the prestigious 2019 Canada Gairdner International Award for his discovery of the motor protein kinesin, which transports molecular cargo inside cells.

Speech Prosthesis: In a step toward one day restoring voices to people who have lost the ability to speak, UCSF neuroscientists developed a new brain-machine interface that can generate speech by using brain activity to control a virtual vocal tract.

Arts & Sciences: Three faculty members, Alan Ashworth, PhD, Yifan Cheng, PhD, and Holly Ingraham, PhD, were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which convenes leaders from diverse fields to respond to challenges facing the nation and the world.



Academy of Sciences: Allan Basbaum, PhD, FRS, who studies the pathways underlying pain and itch, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

doctor talks with a patient

Margot Kushel, MD

Ending Homelessness: A $30 million gift from Marc and Lynne Benioff launched a new initiative, led by Margot Kushel, MD, to reduce homelessness by studying homelessness and intervention strategies, and translating policies into action.

Talking Population Health: The School of Medicine in May launched the first in its series of colloquiums addressing timely issues in population health and health equity, including immigrant health, data science, and population health science approaches to guns, obesity, and opioids.



portrait of Hana el-Samad in laboratory

Hana El-Samad, PhD

Unlocking LOCKR: UCSF bioengineers led by Hana El-Samad, PhD, showed that a new synthetic protein called LOCKR can be used as switches in cellular circuits, opening the possibility of programming “smart cells” to treat disease.

New Cancer Center: The UCSF Bakar Precision Cancer Medicine Building opened its doors to deliver a new generation of precision medicine to adult patients, including immunotherapy and molecular profiling of tumors.

Dreams Come True: Among the 2019 graduating class of the schools of dentistry, medicine, and pharmacy, were several undocumented students, including Dreamers with DACA status. José Carrasco Sandoval gave the student address at the School of Dentistry commencement in June, and Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn just weeks earlier in May became the first undocumented student to graduate from the School of Medicine.

commencement ceremony

Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn (left), the first undocumented student to graduate from the School of Medicine.

Nursing Stars: Four UCSF faculty – Monica McLemore, PhD, MPH; Linda Park, PhD, MS, FNP-BC; Sandra Staveski, PhD, RN, CPNP-AC; and Joyce Trompeta, PhD, PNP – were inducted into the 2019 class of fellows of the American Academy of Nursing.

Responding to Zika: Arthropod-borne diseases like  Zika and Lyme disease were the focus of a symposium organized by UCSF’s Quantitative Biosciences Institute. A special photography exhibit on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) response to Zika outbreaks set the stage for the symposium.



a doctor adjusts a prosthetic leg for a patient

Osseointegration patient Carol Davis meets with Matthew Garibaldi, MS, CPO, director of the UCSF Orthotic and Prosthetic Centers, at the UCSF Orthopaedic Institute at Mission Bay in San Francisco.

Elite Hospitals: UCSF Medical Center once again ranked among the top 10 hospitals in the nation and best in Northern California in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals survey. In June, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals ranked fifth nationwide and best in the West in neonatology in the survey of Best Children’s Hospitals.

New Leadership: UCSF welcomed several new appointments to leadership roles over the summer, including Won Ha, vice chancellor for Communications; Francesca Vega, vice chancellor for Community and Government Relations; Corey Jackson, JD, chief human resources officer; Brian Smith, JD, MBA, chief ethics and compliance officer; and Raphael Hirsch, MD, chair of the Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals.

Portrait of Zach Knight in his laboratory

Zachary Knight, PhD

Presidential Honor: Zachary Knight, PhD, who studies the neural mechanisms that control our basic needs, like hunger, thirst and thermoregulation, received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

In Memoriam: The UCSF community mourned the loss beloved figures, including neuroscientist Rahul Desikan, MD, who battled ALS in both work and life; Henry Wachs, graphic designer who created the UCSF logo; and Herb Sandler, philanthropist and longtime champion of UCSF’s basic science and neurosciences research.



exterior of the Tidelands housing building

The Tidelands

PRIMEd to Learn: August launched the first School of Medicine class of the San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education. The program is designed for future physicians who are committed to providing medical care that addresses the Valley’s unique health needs.

Moving In: The University opened the doors of its newest student housing – the Tidelands. Located a few blocks from the Mission Bay campus, the housing when fully operational will nearly double UCSF’s inventory of housing for students, postdoctoral scholars, clinical fellows and medical residents.



David Julius at Breakthrough Prize gala

David Julius, PhD, accepts his award during the Breakthrough Prize gala, held on Nov. 3 in Mountain View, Calif. Photo by Getty Images

Breaking Through Pain: David Julius, PhD, received a 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, including a $3 million award, for his work deciphering the mechanisms behind our sense of touch and perception of pain, which could uncover better ways to treat pain.

#SaveIsabel: The UCSF community in September rallied around UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital patient Isabel Bueso, who is receiving life-saving treatment in Oakland and faced deportation due to changes in federal immigration policy. After a groundswell of support, it was announced in December that Bueso received a two-year reprieve and is able to stay here for treatment. The support for Bueso built off earlier work from the UCSF Advocates program, which in June rallied over 160 students, staff, faculty and alumni to call and email their congressional representatives to support the American Dream & Promise Act, which Congress passed later in June.

Isabel Bueso

Isabel Bueso outside of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Lifesaving Genetic Test: Clinicians used UCSF500  – one of the most comprehensive cancer gene panel tests available — to find a treatment for 4-month-old Quincy, who was dying from an aggressive blood cancer. The case was published in September in the journal Leukemia, highlighting how the test uncovered a genetic alteration in Quincy’s cancer that made it treatable with a medicine that had only been used in adult cancer patients.

A Highly-Ranked Speaker: Rear Admiral Timothy Ricks, assistant surgeon general and chief dental officer of the U.S. Public Health Service, gave a much-anticipated speech at UCSF, discussing the current issues in dental public health.



Parnassus Plan: The Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan, which outlines organizing concepts and design principals to reshape the campus over the next several decades, was released in October. Based on more than a year of exploration by internal and external stakeholders, the plan presents a bold vision to transform Parnassus into a premier health sciences and community destination.

Alicia Fernandez with a patient

Alicia Fernandez (right), MD, leads the Latinx Center for Excellence.

Latinx Center Anniversary: The UCSF Latinx Center of Excellence, which is primarily focused on career development for populations underrepresented in medicine, marked its first year of programs. The center, housed in the School of Medicine, launched with a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Rewarding High-Risk Research: Three researchers received National Institute of Health awards from the High-Risk, High-Reward Program. Faranak Fattahi, PhD; Alexander Pollen, PhD; and Vasanth Vedantham, MD, PhD, received the New Innovator Award, which supports early-career investigators.

Cracking a Medical Mystery: Researchers found the clearest evidence to date that a common seasonal virus causes acute flaccid myelitis – an illness that causes permanent, sometimes life-threatening paralysis in young children. The research team found enterovirus remnants in patients’ spinal fluid using a technique called phage display.

Diversity mural unveiled in School of Nursing building

The “Difference is Power” mural is unveiled on Oct. 2 in the School of Nursing building.

Commemorating Diversity Champions: The School of Nursing unveiled its new “Difference is Power” mural, which commemorates nurse heroes whose tireless advocacy and perseverance revolutionized health care and paved the way for greater diversity and inclusion. More than 100 faculty, staff, students and alumni joined State Sen. Scott Weiner and San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee in unveiling the mural on the school’s third-floor corridor.

Pharmacist of the Year: Lisa Kroon, PharmD, was awarded the 2019 Pharmacist of the Year Award, the most prestigious award offered by the California Society of Health System Pharmacists. The group annually awards one member who has made significant and sustained contributions to pharmacy practice in California.

Promoting Pronouns: In a year when Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year was "they" as a personal pronoun, the LGBT Resource Center advanced its Pronouns Matter campaign with trainings, tip sheets, posters and tabling on International Pronouns Day, the third Wednesday of October.

Leader in LGBTQ Health Care: UCSF Health for the 12th straight year was named a “Leader in LGBTQ Health Care Equality,” receiving a perfect score on the recent national Healthcare Equality by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

National Honor: Four faculty members – Julia Adler-Milstein, PhD; Laura M. Gottlieb, MD, MPH; Diane Havlir, MD; and Kristine Yaffe, MD – were named to the National Academy of Medicine – one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.



Shuvo Roy holds a prototype of the artificial kidney

Shuvo Roy, PhD, holds a prototype of the world’s first artificial kidney.

Artificial Kidney Milestone: The Kidney Project, a UCSF-led national project developing the world's first implantable artificial kidney, announced that it successfully implanted a prototype containing functional human kidney cells in large animals without significant safety concerns – an important milestone on the way to future human trials.

HIV/AIDS Achievement: The UCSF School of Dentistry received a Gies Award for Achievement, honoring the 40 years of contributions to advancing our knowledge of HIV/AIDS. The William J. Gies Awards are administered by the ADEAGies Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American Dental Education Association, and they honor the efforts of individuals, institutions and organizations to meaningfully advance oral health and dental education.

Undocumented Student Support: UCSF announced that it has doubled the loans and scholarships for its undocumented students, who are ineligible for federal grants and loans. Student Financial Services and the Office of Diversity and Outreach worked together to better understand the unmet financial needs of undocumented students and to advocate for their support.



woman puts a sign up on the window

UCSF School of Medicine student Jazzmin Williams hangs a sign before a gathering marking the fifth anniversary of White Coats for Black Lives on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, at the Parnassus library.

#WhiteCoats4BlackLives: Students on Dec. 12 marked the fifth anniversary of the White Coats for Black Lives die-in. The 2014 protest to raise awareness of – and compel action on – health care disparities, structural racism, and police violence, sparked a nationwide movement.

First in Class: The first cohort of the School of Nursing’s Doctor of Nursing program completed their studies in December. The degree program, the first of its kind in the University of California system, prepares clinical experts and leaders to be at the top of the nursing profession in advancing patient care and policy in an increasingly complex health care environment.

Combatting Childhood Trauma: A screening tool developed by pediatricians and researchers from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and the UCSF School of Medicine was selected by the state for Medi-Cal patients to help pediatricians identify Adverse Childhood Experiences, which can lead to increased health risks in patients.

Specialized Neurology Clinic: An $18 million gift from Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem will launch a new neurology clinic at UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay for patients with difficult to diagnose cases.

Year in Review

In 2019, UCSF drove advancements in care delivery, scientific discovery, education, public service, and more. See the highlights