IMAGINE LIVING IN A WORLD where there is no need for organ transplants – because failing kidneys and faltering hearts can be induced, through stem-cell therapy, to heal themselves.The dedicated women and men who conduct research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Health System have imagined such a world, and the work they are engaged in today is laying the solid scientific foundation for a future in which such miraculous self-repair is commonplace.
Little more than half-a-century ago, routine transplantation of organs seemed equally farfetched, but that did not deter a group of researchers at UCLA from envisioning such a world – and preparing for it by developing a method of tissue-matching that reduces the likelihood a donated organ will be rejected. Some 4,300 successful transplants of organs taken from 2,190 donors were performed in this country in the first two months of this year alone. All of those recipients were indirect beneficiaries of basic research conducted at UCLA in the 1960s.
At a time when we are celebrating the expansion of translational science at UCLA, and nationally, these heartening statistics remind us of the value and vitality of the fundamental research being conducted in our laboratories.This research undergirds and guides everything we do here at UCLA. It not only feeds our translational pipeline, it also underpins our efforts to educate leaders in the health sciences, to transform patient care, and to promote healthy communities.
Fortunately, we are building for the future on the bedrock of a rich history of biomedical discovery, aided by a faculty of basic scientists who are collectively committed to the School of Medicine’s new strategic plan to “discover the basis for health and cures for disease.” I could cite a dozen examples of basic research being conducted at UCLA that foster this plan, but I think that one will suffice, both because of its novelty and because of its potential application to a wide range of human cancers.
A group of researchers at the School of Medicine has succeeded in using genetically modified human stem cells to target melanoma, the least common but most deadly form of skin cancer.This cancer kills one American every hour, and the incidence of melanoma is rising faster than the rates for the seven most common cancers – up 60 percent in the last 30 years.
The stem cells used in this experiment were genetically altered to recognize and kill melanoma cells in mice with human immune systems. Treatment with these specialized cells led to a dramatic decrease in the size of melanoma tumors in the mice. Obviously, this new approach to targeting solid-tumor cancers is still in its infancy, but we can imagine a world in which many cancers will be treated in this way – with pinpoint effectiveness and without the onerous side effects of standard chemotherapy.
In pursuing our vision to “discover the basis for health and cures for disease,” we are recommitting ourselves to basic research, building an efficient infrastructure to facilitate that research, optimizing the use of laboratory space, and recruiting outstanding faculty members. Today’s medical reality is being auspiciously altered through the efforts of our biomedical scientists – men and women who keep UCLA in the vanguard of the basic science that will yield tomorrow’s medical reality.
A. Eugene Washington, M.D., M.Sc.
Vice Chancellor, UCLA Health Sciences
Dean, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Gerald S. Levey, M.D., Endowed Chair