Biomedical Innovation

New technologies that solve problems and improve patient well-being

Innovations in biomedical technology come naturally to UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. We embrace new technologies that solve problems and improve patient well-being. We regularly communicate with biomedical companies and startups to adopt leading-edge technologies and tools.

In many cases, the newest tools are designed right here, in labs at UCLA’s medical school and across campus. Our clinicians and faculty are committed to discovery and collaboration. At UCLA, it’s easy to work together: One large campus houses the UCLA Medical Plaza and the schools of medicine, dentistry, business, engineering, nursing and public health. The result is an academic medical center where teamwork and innovation are the norm.

For decades, UCLA has been a leader in biomedical technology innovation. Here are some of our greatest hits.

Targeted drug therapies

UCLA researchers are furthering the field of targeted therapies for cancer. Unlike traditional chemotherapy, targeted cancer treatments are designed to disrupt specific molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer.

UCLA faculty contributed to the development of several groundbreaking targeted therapies:

  • Gleevec® (imatinib): Gleevec is a targeted therapy that is extremely effective in treating cancers such as chronic myelogenous leukemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST). Discovery of this pioneering medication paved the way for future targeted cancer therapies. 
  • Herceptin® (trastuzumab): Research at UCLA uncovered the link between breast cancer and a gene known as HER2. About 25 percent of women with breast cancer have a gene mutation that causes them to produce elevated levels of the HER2 protein. That discovery led to the creation of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug that has impressive outcomes in women who test positive for HER2.
  • Xtandi® (enzalutamide):‎ Xtandi is a leading drug for the treatment of advanced prostate cancer. The treatment offers new hope to men whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body and no longer responds to treatments that lower testosterone.

Cancer immunotherapy

Recent advances in cancer immunotherapy are transforming cancer treatment. Immunotherapy treatments stimulate a person’s own immune system to fight cancer.

UCLA researchers played a role in creating and testing these life-saving immunotherapy treatments:

  • Keytruda® (pembrolizumab): This breakthrough immunotherapy treatment blocks the pathway that allows some cancer cells to hide from the body’s immune system. As a result, the immune system can recognize and attack the cancer cells. The treatment is FDA approved to treat several cancers, including advanced melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer.
  • CAR T-cell therapy: Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is personalized medicine at its best. The process removes a patient’s immune cells and genetically alters them to recognize cancer cells. The modified cells are infused back into the patient, where they attack the cancer. The FDA approved the first CAR T-cell therapies for treating lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. More of these therapies are being developed and tested. UCLA Health is one of the few centers in the nation to offer all FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapies, making us a destination of choice for patients receiving immunotherapy.

Stem Cell Therapy

The UCLA Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research aims to revolutionize the treatment of disease. Our work seeks new, personalized cellular therapies and regenerative medicine techniques.

At the Broad Stem Cell Research Center researchers are investigating stem cells to better understand and treat a wide range of diseases and disorders, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and infertility. Much of this work is made possible by the UCLA Human Gene and Cell Therapy Facility. In this state-of-the-art, Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) laboratory, researchers can develop sensitive gene and cell therapies free from outside contamination.

Working in this lab, UCLA researchers developed a stem cell gene therapy to cure “bubble baby disease.” Also known as adenosine deaminase-deficient severe combined immunodeficiency (ADA-SCID), the life-threatening condition leaves babies without a functioning immune system. Using the technique developed at UCLA, more than 50 babies appear to have been cured of the disease so far. Researchers have launched a company to further develop the treatment and make it available to patients around the world.

Imaging Breakthroughs

UCLA has long been a leader in developing and adopting new technologies to see inside the human body. UCLA biophysicist Michael Phelps, PhD, invented the first positron emission tomography (PET) scanner. This technique enables doctors to look inside living patients to see processes such as blood flow, metabolism and gene expression.

Research at UCLA has also contributed to indispensable imaging systems such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Today, imaging is essential to modern medical practice and medical research. UCLA faculty continue to push imaging boundaries:

  • The UCLA Brain Mapping Center uses leading-edge brain imaging techniques to better understand brain structure and function.
  • UCLA Radiology is considered one of the world’s leading radiology departments. It maintains robust research programs in biomedical physics, computer vision, minimally invasive therapies, and clinical and translational research.
  • UCLA Health was the third institution in the world to offer the ViewRay™, an image-guided radiation therapy machine. The system helps clinicians target radiation more precisely.

Transplant Innovations

UCLA Health has a long history as a leader in transplantation. In 1964, UCLA professor of surgery Paul Terasaki developed the tissue-matching test that makes organ transplants possible. Four years later, UCLA Health was one of the first institutions in the world to perform a bone marrow transplant. Since then:

  • Our physicians have performed well over 5,000 bone marrow/stem cell transplants.
  • We have been a leader in kidney transplants. Our experienced kidney transplant surgeons have performed more than 8,000 kidney transplants since the program began in 1965.
  • UCLA Health also offers the first face transplantation program in the western United States.
  • UCLA scientists are exploring novel tissue engineering techniques to replace and regenerate damaged tissues. Using 3D bioprinting, researchers have created bone-like and heart-like tissues in the lab.