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UCSF School of Pharmacy leads in NIH funding for 38th year
By Grant Burningham and Levi Gadye, PhD / Mon Mar 12, 2018
In 2017, and for the 38th consecutive year, the UCSF School of Pharmacy received more research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) than any pharmacy school in the nation. The School’s $34,307,790 in funding approximated that of the second- and third-ranked pharmacy schools combined.
UCSF as a whole received $593.9 million in grants in 2017, which places it as the top NIH-funded public institution and the second-ranked institution among all schools, private or public. School rankings are compiled by the independent Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, based on the most current NIH data.
The School took the top spot in funding despite having a smaller faculty than many of its peers. “The NIH ranking is really a surrogate marker for our scientific mindset,” says UCSF School of Pharmacy dean, B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD. “It’s a clear indicator of the quality of our faculty.”
Top School recipients of NIH funds
School faculty members receiving the five largest NIH funding totals during 2017 represented all three School departments.
Ruth Greenblatt, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, $4,122,513
As one of the nation's leading experts in HIV, Ruth Greenblatt, MD, leads research that has helped to define distinct types of HIV disease in women. Her main grant supports her ongoing work on the Women’s Interagency HIV Study, which investigates the progression of the disease and has created one of the most extensive clinical pharmacologic datasets available for an NIH-funded study.
Kathleen Giacomini, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, $2,506,218
As an expert on membrane transporters (the “doors” of cells that allow drugs to enter), Kathleen Giacomini, PhD, has directed her research to dangerous drug interactions. When a patient takes multiple medications, one drug can inhibit the absorption or elimination of another, making an otherwise helpful dose dangerous.
An NIH grant is supporting work by Giacomini and her collaborators—Andy Greenberg, MD, at Tufts University and John Newman, PhD, at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)—to study how drugs interact with vitamins. The team hypothesizes that certain prescription drugs may reduce the absorption of vitamins in the intestine by inhibiting intestinal transporters.
The results of many of these NIH-funded projects have the potential to completely shake up their fields of study.
—B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD
Shuvo Roy, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, $2,342,670
Shuvo Roy, PhD, works to create implantable devices that reproduce most of an organ’s natural functions without triggering immune system responses. Although primary research in the Roy Lab continues to focus on the development of a surgically implantable bioartificial kidney (which is nearing the first stage of human trials this year), a 2017 NIH grant is funding the lab's work on an artificial pancreas.
The team is now investigating the feasibility of putting stem cells inside a credit-card-sized device to produce the human hormone insulin. This artificial pancreas, which could be used to treat diabetes without injections or drugs, was designed using the same silicon-based technology as the artificial kidney.
Lei Wang, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, $2,037,521
Lei Wang, PhD, investigates ways to use light to control living cells. One of Wang’s projects deals with engineering novel ways of sticking light-sensitive molecules to proteins, using a type of chemical bond known as a covalent bond. This advance is the first example of creating synthetic covalent bonds to proteins in living cells.
Beyond enabling the control of proteins using light, this work will open the door to other types of chemical modifications of proteins, and could transform synthetic biology—a field that aims to design and build core components of new biological parts and systems or redesign those that already exist naturally.
Nadav Ahituv, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, $1,516,199
One of the NIH grants that Nadav Ahituv, PhD, received in 2017 funds the study of “enhancers”—pieces of DNA that help to activate genes. Of the 3 billion base pairs that make up the human genome, just one percent are genes, which contain the instructions for building proteins. The rest of the genome, which does not code for proteins, was previously considered to be “junk DNA”. It’s now appreciated that this “non-coding” part of the genome plays an important role in controlling gene expression. When DNA bends in a prescribed way, a piece of non-coding DNA, known as an enhancer, can come into contact with an inactive gene and help activate it. So far, only a small number of these enhancers have been proven to regulate gene expression. Ahituv’s team is probing, for the first time, the function of 100,000 candidate enhancers in the genome, aiming to prove that this non-coding DNA isn’t junk at all.
QBI director is top UCSF recipient of NIH funds
The top NIH-funded UCSF faculty member in 2017 was Nevan Krogan, PhD, who received $7,665,115. One of Krogan’s NIH grants is being used to map the signaling networks that allow cancer cells to communicate and spread. Another project is aimed at understanding what happens at the molecular level during the disease progression of AIDS.
Krogan is a faculty member in the School of Medicine, holds a joint appointment in the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and directs the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI), where he fosters collaborations across the biomedical and physical sciences. QBI is a University of California organized research unit that reports to Guglielmo, as dean of the School of Pharmacy.
A culture of discovery
“The NIH research funding stream fuels the School’s success in far-reaching ways,” says Guglielmo. “Recipients collaborate with researchers across campus, and they bring innovative ideas to our students—inspiring them to think big. The results of many of these NIH-funded projects have the potential to completely shake up their fields of study.”
About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy is a premier graduate-level academic organization dedicated to improving health through precise therapeutics. It succeeds through innovative research, by educating PharmD health professional and PhD science students, and by caring for the therapeutics needs of patients while exploring innovative new models of patient care. The School was founded in 1872 as the first pharmacy school in the American West. It is an integral part of UC San Francisco, a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide.