Chancellor Maps Out an Exciting Course for the University

School of Medicine

Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann opened her fourth annual State of the University speech with what she called “some good news,” the launch of the Discovery Fellows Program, thanks to a significant donation from Sir Michael Moritz and his wife, Harriet Heyman.

This program, funded by a gift of $60 million, will create the largest endowed program for PhD students in the history of the University of California system. It will ensure that UCSF can attract top PhD candidates and allow students the flexibility to work on more risky and innovative projects.

UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann delivered her fourth annual State of the University address on September 24. In a new format, she focused on headlines of the past year as a way to highlight individuals and initiatives at the university.

In addition to the latest fund-raising success, Desmond-Hellmann talked of the achievements of UCSF in the field of precision medicine.  Most notably, the Chancellor spoke about the OME Precision Medicine conference held at UCSF last year that included the heads of the National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration and the Institute of Medicine, as well as California Governor Jerry Brown and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“What UCSF does really well,” she said, “is convene.”

Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann continued this theme of collaboration as she pointed out the achievements of “[some people] you should know,” individuals who are making great contributions to the UCSF community.

Dr. Hana El-Samad was featured in the area of research. Dr. El-Samad is using engineering and mathematical tools to understand how cellular systems behave. This inherently interdisciplinary study is manifested in Dr. El-Samad’s work. As Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann quipped, “Almost everyone on the fourth floor of Byers Hall was a co-author” on Dr. El-Samad’s last paper.

Next, the Chancellor showcased Dr. Jeff Olgin’s work on expanding the Framingham Heart Study — which yielded many of the now classical risk factors for heart disease — into the modern era. To do this, Dr. Olgin created the eHeart program, by partnering with private industry and entrepreneurs to create mobile technology that will make it possible to monitor the hearts of one million people.

Finally, in education, the Chancellor highlighted the work of Dr. Elizabeth Watkins, Dean of the Graduate Division and Vice-Chancellor for Student Academic Affairs. Dr. Watkins’ unique background as an historian of science allows her to manage this dual role and integrate all of the professional education programs.

Along with these great achievements, Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann discussed some of the more challenging headlines of the year. Sequestration has taken a major toll on basic research funding, causing many researchers to scale back projects; the chronic decrease in funding from the state has made it difficult to maintain a world-class educational enterprise; and the imminent implementation of the Affordable Care Act is putting pressure on the Medical Center.

However, the Chancellor sees UCSF enacting solutions in all three of these areas by increasing our lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., to ensure that legislators understand the importance of basic science research; creating new team-based and technology-oriented curricula that will create more value in education; and creating a UCSF Accountable Care Organization to improve efficiency at the Medical Center.

Though these are certainly difficult times, Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann nevertheless sees opportunity in them, because of the people who make up UCSF. In her closing remarks, she emphasized the role that each member of the UCSF community has to play in the success of the campus, saying, “All of our stories are what make up [this] great institution.”