Discoveries result from a mix of smarts, creativity, grit, collaboration, serendipity and time. But when scientists must constantly apply for funding, that last factor can be hard to come by.

The Arc Institute, a privately-funded research organization in Palo Alto is hoping to fill that gap with guaranteed funding for up to eight years. This year, it will give nine UCSF faculty members more time to doggedly pursue their boldest research plans.

The institute, which operates in partnership with UCSF, UC Berkeley and Stanford, was founded in 2021 to pioneer new ways of supporting science.

Hani Goodarzi, PhD, UCSF professor of biophysics and biochemistry, was named a core investigator and will relocate his laboratory to the Arc Institute’s campus on the peninsula, while retaining his faculty appointment at UCSF. He will receive full funding for eight years for his research group, as well as access to cutting-edge technology centers.

My goal on the Arc team is to help build a foundation for bringing AI and machine learning to underexplored areas of research in life sciences.”

Hani Goodarzi, PhD
UCSF professor of biophysics and biochemistry, Arc Institute core investigator
Headshot of Hani Goodarzi.

New frontiers in AI and discovery science

Goodarzi has made progress against cancer and neurodegeneration since joining UCSF’s faculty in 2016, examining cells and molecules to discover new patterns of activity. He is using computational methods to analyze the many genes, proteins and cell types that interact during disease. Artificial intelligence helps make sense of huge amounts of data.

“My goal on the Arc team is to help build a foundation for bringing AI and machine learning to underexplored areas of research in life sciences,” Goodarzi said. “I have learned to also leave room for discoveries that arise from interactions between multidisciplinary teams working together – to be surprised by the unknown unknows.”

Goodarzi joins fellow UCSF faculty member and Arc Core Investigator Luke Gilbert, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology on the blossoming Arc Institute team, which is expected to grow to as many as 15 Core Investigators by 2025.

“I can’t wait to join a group of young and ambitious scientists who are rethinking how science can be done,” Goodarzi said. “I’m also excited to take part in shaping the next generation of scientists who will join Arc and our broader research community in the Bay Area, from UCSF to UC Berkeley and Stanford. Our collaborations will be crucial to our long-term success.”

Environment, mutations and the immune system

UCSF’s Isha Jain, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics; Anna Molofsky, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry, and Jimmie Ye, PhD, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, were named innovation investigators at Arc. Each will receive $1 million over five years to fund their research and will maintain their labs at UCSF.

Innovation Investigators at Arc Institute

Jain wants to understand how such factors as oxygen and vitamins affect the body. Both can be toxic if there’s too little or too much, and she wants to explore the potential for treating disease by dialing them up and down.

Molofsky, a neurobiologist, is enabling researchers to visualize how the immune system interacts with the brain in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and long COVID. In collaboration with Wendell Lim, PhD, director of UCSF’s Cell Design Institute, she will develop new cell-based tools to map the routes immune cells use to enter the brain. These tools will reveal how often helpful immune cells visit the brain and how harmful ones manage to slip past the brain’s defenses.

Ye, a computational biologist, compares the genomes of healthy and diseased patients to understand how DNA encodes the biology of health and disease. He will layer AI on top of this work, allowing him to model the functions of specific DNA sequences. These models can then be used to identify specific mutations that can lead to disease. This knowledge can guide the the engineering of immune circuits for future personalized medicines.

Five other UCSF researchers were runners-up for the Innovation Investigator awards and will receive $100,000 each for their work. They are Faranak Fattahi, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology; Martin Kampmann, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics; Alexander Marson, PhD, director of the Gladstone-UCSF Institute of Genomic Immunology; Alex Pollen, PhD, professor of neurology; and Andrew Yang, PhD, professor of anatomy.

“Each of these scientists has already made an impressive mark on fundamental biomedicine,” said Silvana Konermann, PhD, Arc’s executive director. “The Arc Institute’s ongoing commitment to our talented researchers holds immense promise for advancing tomorrow’s science and health care.”