Sickle Cell Gift Adds $2M to Oakland Hospital’s Growing Program

Support for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Aims to Improve Treatments for Debilitating Disease

By Lorna Fernandes

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland has received a $2 million anonymous gift to support research, clinician education and clinical care for sickle cell disease at the hospital’s Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center of Excellence.

The support builds on significant investments and growth in the sickle cell program in Oakland, including new research grants and $1 million in extra funding from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals President Matthew Cook earlier this year. The hospital, which has been a leader in the field of sickle cell research and care for nearly 50 years, announced $17 million in new grants this month to fund a clinical trial using CRISPR technology to cure the debilitating disease.

“This is an exciting time for the sickle cell program at BCH Oakland, as we are on the cusp of a potential cure for this devastating disease,” Cook said. “This support will enable us to advance our research into new sickle cell therapies, while expanding our outreach and education for patients, communities and clinicians throughout Northern California.”

The gift has been designated for expanding the center’s clinical laboratory database for future research, developing clinical services and tools to better manage patients’ symptoms, and funding patient navigators and technicians to provide resources and closely monitor patients at risk of suffering a stroke.

This support will enable us to advance our research into new sickle cell therapies, while expanding our outreach and education for patients, communities and clinicians throughout Northern California.

Matthew Cook, President of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals

Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disorder that affects approximately 100,000 Americans and millions worldwide, with a disproportionate effect on the Black community. The disease affects the structure and function of hemoglobin, which reduces the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen efficiently, causing intense pain and chronic vascular disease.

Under the leadership of Elliott Vichinsky, MD, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland houses the largest and most comprehensive sickle cell program in the Western United States. Among its historical accomplishments is establishing the first not-for-profit sibling donor cord blood bank.

The gift is a welcome sign in a field that historically has not received significant philanthropic support, Vichinsky said, despite affecting 430,000 newborns each year worldwide.

“This is a watershed moment. Philanthropy is a driving force for research, but sickle cell has not received the funding of other diseases,” he said. “This will help us continue to grow our sickle cell program in Oakland at a critical time and will have a real impact on our patients’ lives. We hope this support will encourage others to contribute similarly to studying and treating this devastating disease.”

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals are among the nation’s leading pediatric specialty hospitals, according to U.S. News & World Report rankings. Their expertise covers virtually all pediatric conditions, including cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders, pulmonology, diabetes and endocrinology, as well as the care of critically ill newborns. The two campuses in San Francisco and Oakland are known worldwide for basic and clinical research and are at the forefront of translating research into interventions for treating and preventing pediatric disease. They are part of UCSF Health, whose adult hospital ranks among the top 10 medical centers nationwide and serves as the teaching hospital for the University of California, San Francisco, a national leader in biomedical research and graduate-level health/sciences education.