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UCSF School of Pharmacy leads in NIH funding for the 40th straight year
By Levi Gadye / Thu Apr 2, 2020
In 2019, and for the 40th consecutive year, the UCSF School of Pharmacy received more funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) than any other pharmacy school in the country. Projects spanning the School’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, and Department of Clinical Pharmacy were awarded a total of $25,104,305 in grant funds.
The School’s NIH-funded researchers are probing the genomics of disease, developing new strategies for fighting pathogens, and ensuring that drug combinations do not lead to adverse outcomes for patients.
“Our relentless pursuit of biology and health once again provides hope for the patients of today and tomorrow,” said B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, dean of the UCSF School of Pharmacy. “The success in NIH funding is not only a testament to the School’s expertise, but also to the commitment of our faculty, staff, and students in taking on the most challenging problems of our day.”
UCSF claimed the top spot among public institutions in NIH funding overall, netting $684.4 million.
Top School recipients of NIH funds
Nadav Ahituv, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, $2,215,327
Mutations in genes can lead to disease. But Nadav Ahituv, PhD, knows that genes aren’t the whole story. In 2019, Ahituv continued his study of enhancers, or short pieces of DNA that help control how genes are expressed. Recent work has shown that mutations in enhancers themselves can lead to disease, but little is known about the majority of enhancers. Using data provided by the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) consortium, Ahituv has developed tools to study thousands of enhancers at one time. In one ongoing project in his lab, he’s pursuing a lead on an enhancer mutation that appears to be associated with scoliosis, a rare condition of the spine that can ultimately hamper one’s ability to breathe. Ahituv is also working on computational models that can predict how mutations in enhancers disrupt gene expression and lead to disease.
Adam Renslo, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry: $1,411,577
Adam Renslo, PhD, studies the role of the essential nutrient iron in biology and disease, with a focus on using small molecules to investigate how various pathogens use the metal to promote disease. He is currently looking at how the dependency of these bacteria on iron might be exploited to make safer and more effective antibiotics. In its latest project, the lab is exploring how blocking a particular enzyme in the malaria parasite could enhance the effects of antimalarial drugs the lab is also developing.
Kathy Giacomini, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences: $1,238,792
Kathy Giacomini, PhD, is interested in how interactions between drugs can harm patients. Oftentimes, one drug interferes with the movement and metabolism of a second drug in the body, leading to adverse drug events. Her recent work extends the concept of drug-drug interactions to include drug-nutrient interactions, and she has found that a number of prescription drugs inhibit a particular vitamin B1 transporter, resulting in low levels of thiamine, an essential vitamin.
Giacomini is vice chair of the Pharmacogenomics Research Network (PGRN), an NIH-funded organization that brings scientists together to better understand how genomic variation influences the effectiveness of drugs. She is also using some of this grant money to convert the PGRN into an independent scientific society when the organization’s NIH funding ends in June 2020.
Tejal Desai, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences: $1,205,419
In addition to chairing the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, Tejal Desai, PhD, oversees the development of new biomedical devices and the training of tomorrow’s bioengineers. Her lab is engineering new, injectable materials, known as polymeric microrods, that can dampen the production of detrimental scar tissue during heart failure. She is also using NIH funding to sustain the cross-bay, joint UCSF/UC Berkeley graduate program in bioengineering, which allows graduate students to rotate through labs and take classes on both campuses, harnessing the expertise of both institutions.
Tanja Kortemme, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences: $953,965
Tanja Kortemme, PhD, studies how cells and organisms juggle all their necessary biological functions, like metabolism and DNA repair. She is using engineering approaches to study the biological “switches" behind these functions, which go haywire in diseases such as cancer. One of these projects uncovered a new way in which cells control these biological switches, opening the door to targeting them using new small molecule drugs. A portion of Kortemme's 2019 NIH funding will also support the UCSF Biophysics Graduate Program, which Kortemme oversees as director. The program trains scientists at the interfaces of fields as diverse as biology, physics, and mathematics, preparing them for multidisciplinary careers in biomedicine.
QBI Director leads dozens of labs in groundbreaking collaborations
When Nevan Krogan, PhD, founded the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) less than four years ago, he set the ambitious goal of building multidisciplinary teams, across labs and universities, to overcome some of biomedical science’s biggest challenges. In 2019, the fruits of these efforts continued to pay off, with Krogan earning $18,004,706 in NIH grants as the main principal investigator (PI), and another $5,501,936 as co-PI—in sum, the second highest total of any PI at UCSF.
These funds support QBI’s numerous collaborative research efforts, which use quantitative methods to better understand biology and human health—and ultimately seed research destined to produce new disease therapies. By way of example, QBI’s Psychiatric Cell Map Initiative has brought together neuroscientists, structural biologists, and statisticians to finally make headway on complex conditions like autism, and is one of a half-dozen similar initiatives funded, in part, through Krogan’s grant awards.
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 QBI. QBI is a University of California organized research unit that reports to Guglielmo through the School of Pharmacy.
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.