Master of Translational Medicine program gets final UC approval

Master of Translational Medicine program gets final UC approval
August 9, 2012 - 9:07am

Two years after launching as a pilot effort, an innovative graduate curriculum in translational medicine jointly offered by UCSF and UC Berkeley has received final approval from University of California President Mark Yudof as a master’s degree program.

Until now, the joint effort had been granting Master of Science degrees in bioengineering “with coursework and project emphasis on translational medicine.” The program is run by the UC Berkeley Department of Bioengineering and the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences (BTS), itself a joint department of the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine.

“It was a way to test out the curriculum and get the program in place so we could actually do it when it was approved,” says Tejal Desai, PhD, UCSF BTS faculty member and vice chair for education, who co-directs the program along with Song Li, PhD, UC Berkeley bioengineering faculty member.

The translational medicine program trains students from varied backgrounds—basic scientists, clinicians, and engineers—to bring innovative treatments, ranging from drug delivery or imaging technologies to new medical devices or pharmaceuticals, into clinical use.

The approved Master of Translational Medicine (MTM) program will become a professional degree program akin to the well-known Master of Business Administration (MBA), with somewhat more emphasis on professional development, business, and leadership than the Master of Science program.

“What we really emphasize is … taking something that has demonstrated feasibility and figuring out how and if it can be used clinically,” says Desai. “How to get technology that is poised to leave either a small company or academia and get it into the clinical marketplace.

“What are the key steps, including needs assessments, regulatory, cost analysis, intellectual property—addressing the challenges to translation.”

The graduate program is one of a mere handful worldwide and is distinguished by the breadth of treatment modalities it covers, the variety of students it seeks to attract, and its cross-disciplinary approach, which includes courses from Desai and Li’s departments as well as UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and the UCSF Clinical & Translational Science Institute.

The intensive 11-month program’s requirements include a capstone project, undertaken by a cross-disciplinary team that is co-advised by a technology-oriented faculty member as well as one who is clinically oriented. Examples of such projects so far have included:

  • developing a dual-filtration system for a stage of the artificial kidney project of UCSF School of Pharmacy faculty member Shuvo Roy, PhD.
  • designing a diagnostic test for schistosomiasis, a devastating parasitic disease that is widespread in tropical developing nations, under the direction of UC Berkeley Bioengineering faculty member Amy E. Herr, PhD. The test provides on-site results at remote locations.

Now entering its third academic year, the program was originally kick-started by a $1.5 million gift from former Intel Chief Executive Officer Andrew Grove. It will become financially self-sustaining and confer the MTM degree starting with next year’s class of 2014.

The official approval means the program will grow significantly, roughly doubling in size to about 30 students by 2015-16. That growth will, in turn, potentially support additional faculty members, plus the development of courses such as newly created offerings in device innovation and health care finance.