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Basic Scientists & Clinicians Find Shared Interests As Partners

By Dan Fost

Basic scientists are finding their way into many parts of UCSF and helping clinicians better understand their patients’ diseases. In turn, basic scientists are learning from the clinicians’ experience with those patients on a day-to-day basis.

“One of the things that is awesome about UCSF is that, although we have nine basic science graduate programs, the faculty that participates in those programs spans more than 30 departments,” said Theresa O'Brien, PhD, Associate Chancellor and Associate Dean for Research Strategy for the UCSF School of Medicine.

That type of collaboration also extends into hiring. Dean Sheppard, MD, Chief of the Pulmonary, Critical Care, Allergy and Sleep division and Director of the Lung Biology Center, said his division recruits basic scientists, “but always jointly with basic science departments. These departments are a little strapped, but they have a joint interest in the scientists we want to recruit.”

Sheppard cited examples including Jason Rock, PhD, in the Departments of Anatomy, Medicine and the Cardiovascular Research Institute; Christopher Allen, PhD, in the Cardiovascular Research Institute, the Department of Anatomy, the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Sandler Asthma Basic Research Center; and Akiko Hata, PhD, in the Cardiovascular Research Institute.

While the trend may be on the rise, it is not especially new. Sheppard said his division has been recruiting both MD-trained and PhD-trained basic scientists for at least the 34 years that he’s been at UCSF, and one-third of the clinicians in his division are engaged in basic research. That track record “has made it easier for me to establish collaborative efforts to recruit people with the basic science departments,” he said. “It’s a winning situation for both sides.”