Unified Research Themes
Pioneering research for the benefit of humanity
Health Equity and Translational Social Science (HETSS)
DGSOM’s newest research theme aims to create equity-centered patient care models. Under the leadership of co-chairs Rochelle Dicker, MD and Helena Hansen, MD, PhD, the theme, established in 2020, continued inspirational work to transform healthcare knowledge and practice and shift to a sociomedical paradigm.
- The HETSS Seminar Series. Co-sponsored by the Rangell Social Medicine Grand Rounds, the seminar series featured more than 20 presentations on topics ranging from “Structural Racism in Biomedical Research” to “Addressing Historical Trauma in Marginalized Communities.” View the recording on our Youtube Playlist.
- In June 2022, HETSS collaborated with the Lancet Commission on U.S. Public Policy and Health to launch the Health Justice Seminar Series. Recordings of this series can be found here.
- Social Medicine Collab. In partnership with Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, the Collab uses human-centered design to engage low-income transitional-age youth (18-25 years old) in South L.A. in redesigning health services to be delivered in communities where they congregate. The design process has yielded plans for services at youth-serving organizations in South L.A. via a Charles R. Drew University mobile health clinic van. The clinic service sites will host peer health workers and wellness workshops embedded in art and athletic events, as well as musical and dance performances that are focused on mental health, sexual health, and addictions.
- HETSS Newsletter. The newsletter disseminates information regarding health equity resources, funding opportunities, event announcements and features a community spotlight.
- Health Justice Internship. HETSS worked with UCLA medical students to help launch this compensated opportunity for underrepresented minority high school students in California interested in healthcare careers.
- HETSS Seed Grants. The 2021 UCLA DGSOM/CTSI/HETSS Seed Grant Program provided seed grants to four projects.
- Dr. Priyanka Fernandes, Dr. Grace Deukmedjian, and Dr. Kelly Fong for their project entitled “Reducing Disparities in Maternal and Child Health Outcomes: Using Qualitative and Quantitative Data to Assess the Current Landscape of Health-Related Experiences for Black Mothers in Los Angeles and Inform a Community-Activated Lactation Clinic.”
- Dr. Catherine Julliard, Dr. Vickie Mays, Dr. Jordan Rook, and Dr. Jesus Ulloa for their project entitled “Implicit Bias in the Trauma Resuscitation Bay: Disparities in Care for Marginalized Groups.”
- Dr. Shamsher Samra, Dr. Vincent Chong, Dr. Enrico Castillo, Dr. Hannah Janeway, Abhinaya Narayanan, Mark Anthony Clayton-Johnson, and Ji Seon Song for their project entitled “Re-envisioning Care Spaces and Safety through Community Partnerships.”
- Dr. Breena Taira, Dr. Annette Dekker, Dr. Vincent Chong, Dr. Natasha Thomas, Dr. Dorit Saberi, Dr. Adrian Yen, Dr. Jesus Torres, and Dr. Rose Diaz for their project entitled “Evaluation of Trauma Recovery Center Implementation for Underserved Victims of Crime.”
The UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC), since its establishment in the late 1960s, has focused on paradigm-shifting cancer research, including basic, translational, clinical, and population science with the mission to accelerate research to prevent and cure cancer.
In 2022, JCCC was ranked 5th in the nation for cancer care and 1st in Los Angeles and California by U.S. News & World Report’s annual Best Hospital Specialty Rankings issue. Throughout the year, JCCC teams of investigators conducted groundbreaking cancer research effecting patient outcomes.
- Showing that men with prostate cancer who are receiving radiation often benefit from adding androgen deprivation therapy, a form of medication that reduces testosterone.
- Demonstrating that organoids — lab-grown collections of cells that mimic a patient’s tumor — are a promising avenue for drug discovery to improve outcomes in patients with cancer.
- Identifying that a germline biomarker signature predicts which patients will suffer serious side effects during anti-PD1/PDL1 therapy.
- Concluding that higher levels of an inflammatory marker, C-reactive protein (CRP), are related to breast cancer survivors who report cognitive problems.
- Testing whether either traditional lung cancer surgery or Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) is best for treating stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer.
Cardiovascular theme members established sophisticated new models for studying cardiac disease.
The theme created core services for performing injury models and hemodynamic measurements of cardiac function in pre-clinical models of cardiac disease. The theme established a human cardiac muscle core to distribute pluripotent stem cell-derived heart muscle cells to UCLA cardiovascular researchers for identifying new drugs and other therapeutics for heart muscle abnormalities. The initiation of the core services is expected to accelerate team science and make UCLA more competitive for large grants related to cardiac disease.
- Creating the first detailed anatomical atlas of innervation of the heart’s pacemaker.
- Identifying a new class of anti-arrhythmic agents targeting the L-type calcium channel.
- Establishing that dynamic changes in chromatin occur in the heart and are strongly associated with the development of heart failure.
- Enhancing understanding of cardiac repair, and cholesterol and triglyceride metabolism.
- Pinpointing gender-specific differences that may contribute to heart disease and the cardiac response to COVID-19.
Immunology, Inflammation, Infection and Transplantation (I3T) theme members collaborated across disciplines to advance COVID-19 research.
Members of the I3T theme collaborated with other themes and disciplines to make critical contributions to understanding the fundamental virology and immunology of SARS-CoV-2 and to uncovering translational insights and potential therapies.
- The outcomes of 50 children treated with gene therapy for a lethal form of inherited immune deficiency were published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM); this clinical trial reports greater than 95% event-free survival and 100% overall survival.
- A DGSOM Seed grant was awarded to I3T faculty to support novel PET imaging approaches to measure responses to viral gene therapies.
- A team of UCLA immunologists and transplantation surgeons reported how T cells respond in patients who have received a hand transplant.
The Metabolism Theme established new core facilities to promote research and discovery. The new cores support Mitochondrial Imaging and Mitochondrial Biochemistry and are joining the already established cores of Bioenergetics and Metabolism, Metabolomics, Lipidomics, and Physiology. The cores are providing expertise, training, technical experimental consultation, and leading-edge equipment.
The theme continues to run its interactive activities which include the Know-Your-Colleague series, the Metabolism Interest Group, Super-Mito events, and the UCLA Mitochondria Symposium.
- The Covarrubias lab found that metabolic reprogramming regulates critical aspects of senescence in the immune system, unraveling a novel concept of aging.
- The Bertholet lab revealed how uncouplers work to induce energy expenditure by mitochondria.
- The Goldstein lab identified mitochondria lipid metabolism to be a key player in prostate cancer progression, a discovery that points toward a new therapeutic target.
- The Reue lab identified X chromosome genes that escape inactivation are highly expressed in females, and lead to characteristic metabolic differences between the sexes long before sex hormones are even produced.
- The Lusis lab identified a sex difference in mitochondrial function that influences susceptibility to heart failure.
- Two new biotech companies were established based on the technology of the Metabolism Theme, one focused on mitochondrial quality control and the other on lipid metabolism in cancer and in virus-infected cells.
- Thirty members of the metabolism theme traveled together to Israel to attend a Conference in Ein Gedi and were hosted by the Weizmann institute for the UCLA-Weizmann Mitochondria-Cutting Edge event.
The Neuroscience Theme continues to support interactions and research of neuroscientists across DGSOM departments as well as the campus. The goal of the theme is to support research from basic to clinical and to facilitate interactions between scientists and physicians working at different levels.
Neuroscience Theme members have collaborated to obtain funding from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the BRAIN Initiative, government support, and private philanthropy.
A central goal of the theme is the recruitment of impactful scientists. In 2022, the first successful search was for computational neuroscience. The second search, in collaboration with the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, will begin this year for a scientist working on neurodegeneration.
The theme continued programs to introduce neuroscience to the public and the scientific community.
- In partnership with the Brain Research Institute and the Interdepartmental Program for Neuroscience, the theme held an event highlighting our graduate student program, introducing five students and their trajectories followed by an animated Q&A session.
- The theme partnered with Women in Philanthropy to highlight women neuroscientists in a webinar program titled “Breakthroughs in Brain Development Through the Lifespan.”
- The theme participated in LABEST in May 2022 to showcase UCLA neuroscience research to colleagues at other biomedical research centers as well as pharma and biotech in Southern California.
- CIRM was renewed in 2020 through Proposition 14 and included a $1.5 billion commitment for mental health research. To help educate the public and scientists in California, the Neuroscience Theme partnered with the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center, the Depression Grand Challenge and the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior to present a broad program from basic science to clinical research. The symposium, titled “Human Neuropsychiatric Disorder Research: From Bench to Population,” is anticipated to aid CIRM in setting important goals and priorities for their efforts in research related to mental illness.
- The theme has partnered with the Department of Neurobiology to support research initiatives in Parkinson’s Disease through Seed Grants, with funds provided by a generous donation from Laurie and Steven Gordon. Theme members collaborated with scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science to increase communication between neuroscientists at these two institutions. Five collaborative grants were awarded to five pairs of scientists. Two projects were chosen for additional funding, one in neural repair and the other in brain imaging to explore mechanisms of learning. This program has been generously supported from funds provided by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation as well as Laurie and Steven Gordon. The theme continues to work with basic and clinical departments to raise funds for transformational neuroscience research to understand human brain vision.
UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center investigators collaborate across disciplines and schools, including Medicine, Engineering, Dentistry, Public Health, and the College, to build a strong foundation for the translation of stem cell discoveries to clinical fruition.
Theme members secured funding to establish a stem cell training program for UCLA undergraduate students, further solidifying the theme’s commitment to train the next generation of stem cell researchers. The Alpha Stem Cell Clinic, which operates under the Center’s umbrella, received funding that will enable UCLA stem cell scientists to include a wider cross-section of Los Angeles’ diverse population in innovative and potentially lifesaving medical research.
- In 2022, Center investigators were awarded $19 million in grants from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state’s stem cell agency, to advance the development of therapies for type 1 diabetes, pulmonary arterial hypertension, ovarian cancer, blood cancer, blood disorder alpha thalassemia, immune system disorder DOCK8 deficiency, blinding eye disease caused by dominant optic atrophy, chronic wounds, and neuromuscular disorders.
- Center Director Dr. Thomas Rando was one of two scientists in the world to receive the prestigious NOMIS Foundation’s Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award to study stem cell quiescence.
- Center investigators created the first comprehensive map of human blood stem cell development, a resource that could help expand treatment options for blood cancers and inherited blood disorders.
- Center investigators developed a blueprint for turning stem cells into sensory interneurons, which could represent an important step toward the development of cell therapies that restore sensation in people with spinal cord injuries.
- Center investigators discovered that the use of early-stage stem cells is a key to producing lab-grown brain organoids that are reliable models of disease.