Ali Khademhosseini, PhD
Levi Knight Professor, Department of Bioengineering, Department of Radiology, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Director of the Center for Minimally Invasive Therapeutics
Dr. Khademhosseini has a joint appointment in the schools of engineering and medicine, and he specializes in bridging the gaps between those worlds. His research explores new technologies to create minimally invasive therapeutics. One current project involves 3D printing of different types of human tissues. The technique could one day be used to create organs for transplantation. In a related project, he is developing “organs on a chip,” in which cell types from various human organs are 3D-printed in microscale onto a single platform. The system could be used to model diseases and to test how drug candidates might affect different organs.
In Their Words:
“Through the Center for Minimally Invasive Therapeutics, I’m trying to bring people together — to brainstorm the problems facing clinicians, have engineers think about solutions and then work together to address the problems. Given the proximity and quality of faculty, UCLA is ripe for that type of collaboration. For me, innovation is more than just doing something new. It’s about being able to do things that are new, but also see them through translation to real-world applications.”
Donald Kohn, MD
Distinguished Professor, Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics; Pediatrics (Hematology/Oncology); Molecular and Medical Pharmacology
Dr. Kohn studies the biology of blood stem cells in the bone marrow. Over more than three decades, he worked to develop a treatment for adenosine deaminase-deficient severe combined immunodeficiency (ADA-SCID). Children with this so-called “bubble baby disease” are born with a defective gene that leaves them without a functioning immune system. Untreated, these children often die within the first few years of life.
Dr. Kohn’s gene therapy treatment collects a patient’s own blood stem cells, adds in the missing gene and infuses the cells back into the patient. He began the research at his previous institution but relocated to UCLA in 2009, drawn by the strength of the university’s stem cell research. The move paid off. In clinical trials, he has successfully cured more than 50 children of ADA-SCID. Now he and his collaborators have launched a company to further develop the treatment and are seeking FDA approval so that this lifesaving therapy can reach more ill children around the world. Recently, his team used a similar gene therapy technique to correct a genetic mutation that causes sickle cell disease, a life-threatening autoimmune syndrome.
In Their Words:
“Our goal was always to develop a therapy that would be available like any other medicine. Now there are 50-plus children walking around healthy because of [the ADA-SCID] treatment, and hopefully, it will be available for many more kids in the future.
“What attracted me to UCLA was how collaborative things are across the board, from basic scientists to physicians and physician-scientists in between. There are no barriers. UCLA very actively fosters innovation.”
Clara Lajonchere, PhD
Deputy Director, UCLA Institute for Precision Health
Dr. Lajonchere has a background in cognitive neuroscience. She has studied post-traumatic stress disorder in children, overseen the creation of a research database containing clinical and genetic information from families with autism, and created an autism treatment network of children’s hospitals and academic medical centers.
Since joining UCLA, she has helped create a new graduate training program for genetic counselors. She’s also involved in the launch of the UCLA AtLAs California Health Initiative, a program to collect biological samples from thousands of UCLA patients. That biobank of genetic data will enable researchers to develop new precision therapies that deliver the right treatment to the right patient, every time.
In Their Words:
“I’ve always wanted to make sure the work I do has an impact, but I know the slow pace at which academia often works. I took a leap of faith when I came to UCLA, and I saw immediately that the leadership was standing behind this precision health initiative. I see a very necessary cultural paradigm shift toward innovative technology, which will ultimately have a direct impact on health care. You can be a leader or you can be a follower; UCLA is choosing to lead in precision health.”
Daniel Low, PhD, DABMP
Vice Chair and Director of Medical Physics, UCLA Radiation Oncology
An expert in medical physics, Dr. Low studies techniques to make radiation therapy safer and more precise. Much of his research focuses on modeling the motion of human breathing to develop new methods for delivering radiation therapy with precision.
Dr. Low helped UCLA become the third institution in the world to acquire the ViewRay™ image-guided radiation therapy system. The system combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with radiation therapy. Using this technology, clinicians can fine-tune treatment in real time to deliver radiation precisely and minimize side effects.
In Their Words:
“Many institutions use a single type of radiation therapy machine. At UCLA Health, the radiology department decided to invest in a diverse set of machines. It’s about improving clinical care but also about investing in academic research and education. But innovation isn’t just about what you can buy. Our department and the hospital also provide resources and flexibility so that those of us who have the knowledge can invent new techniques that can lead to significant improvements in practice.”
Jennifer McCaney, PhD
Director, UCLA Biodesign
Dr. McCaney oversees UCLA Biodesign, a program that accelerates innovation by bringing together engineers, physicians, research scientists and business leaders. Her goal: To help people from different disciplines learn to speak the same language so that they can identify clinical needs, design solutions and bring those solutions to market.
An essential piece of that project is teaching entrepreneurial skills to students in the engineering, business and medical schools. The program offers fellowships to graduate students, medical residents and early-stage career professionals who spend a year working as part of a team to prototype and develop technologies to solve challenging health care needs.
In Their Words:
“UCLA Biodesign is about creating the infrastructure to unite the health system with the schools of medicine, engineering and business. We’re trying to accelerate innovation by bringing together the people that need to be in the room at the same time. We want to widen the funnel at both ends so that we have more ideas going in — and more new medical technologies coming out.”