100 Ways: Health


Published May 13, 2019 1:34 PM

Also in this section: stories on the LA Rebellion, veterans and climate change.

A New Hope

Cutting-Edge Medicine

Entertainment executive Jonathan Koch nearly lost his life to a sudden, rare disease. He did lose part of a leg, all of his toes, and parts of the fingers on his right hand. But a complex, 17-hour transplant operation gave him a new left hand. His indomitable spirit gave him the will to fight through a long and difficult recovery.

In 1956, the year after UCLA Medical Center admitted its first patient, a team of doctors at the newly minted hospital performed the first open-heart surgery in the western U.S., and a precedent was set: In the 63 years since, one of the nation’s youngest academic medical centers has continued to host some of the most remarkable and impactful medical breakthroughs.

In 1964, for example, UCLA’s Paul Terasaki ’50, M.A. ’52, Ph.D. ’56 developed the test that would become the international standard for matching organ transplant donors with recipients. More than a half-century later, the tissue-typing procedure is still enabling one of medicine’s greatest miracles. UCLA’s transplantation programs are international leaders, but a main limiting factor is the shortage of available organs. Last year, a team led by UCLA bioengineer Ali Khademhosseini developed a technique that uses 3-D printing to build therapeutic biomaterials. One day, that could mean on-demand printing of tissues for transplants.

UCLA has also housed pioneers in biomedical imaging. William Oldendorf, a neuroscientist, conducted research in the late 1950s and early 1960s that laid the groundwork for computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans and, ultimately, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In 1978, Michael Phelps, co-inventor of the positron emission tomography (PET) scanning technique, established the first clinical PET center at UCLA to diagnose cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and other illnesses.

Murray Jarvik M.A. ’45, the UCLA pharmacologist whose seminal research identified nicotine as the cause of addiction in cigarette smoking in 1970, went on to invent the nicotine patch, which became available for smoking cessation in 1992. Louis Ignarro won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1998 for his discoveries of the important role of nitric oxide in the cardiovascular system — findings that led to the development of the first anti-impotency drugs.

On June 5, 1981, UCLA physician Michael Gottlieb published the first report of an as-yet-unnamed disease affecting the immune systems of a cluster of young men. It was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. The same year, UCLA epidemiologist Roger Detels began one of the earliest and most important studies tracking the disease. Detels continues to head the Los Angeles site of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, which has contributed key insights by following approximately 2,000 gay and bisexual men since those first AIDS cases.

Beginning in the early 1980s, Dennis Slamon led studies that culminated in 1998 with the introduction of the breast cancer drug Herceptin, which has saved thousands of lives by targeting a specific genetic alteration. Herceptin has been cited as the first triumph in a wave of more effective therapies designed to fight cancer at its genetic roots. More recently, Antoni Ribas and other UCLA cancer researchers conducted the laboratory research integral to the development of drugs that use the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Many believe the next revolution in health care will involve more of these types of treatments — so-called personalized medicine, tailored to individual differences in genetic and other factors. Befitting its history, UCLA is pushing the envelope on that front with the establishment in 2017 of the Institute for Precision Health. Among other things, the institute supports UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge, a massive initiative to get at the root causes of depression and find new prevention and treatment strategies for a condition that is responsible for 1 million suicides every year. This is the largest and most in-depth study of the illness in history.

All bold undertakings, to be sure. But the UCLA Health enterprise has never shied away from a challenge.

Declaration of Independence

Sustainable LA Grand Challenge

The water you drink probably comes from somewhere else. Most of the energy you use also comes from far away. Los Angeles does not control its own sustainable destiny.

But soon it will. And UCLA is writing the blueprint.

The university’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which launched in 2013, unites dozens of UCLA faculty, researchers, students and collaborators to create a road map that will make Los Angeles the world’s first sustainable megacity — and a model for others around the world. UCLA is developing the technologies, policies and strategies to transition L.A. County to 100 percent renewable energy (including wind and solar), 100 percent local water and enhanced ecosystem health.

The ambitious project’s Five-Year Grand Challenge goals by 2050. This research is already informing policy decisions in the region and will form the basis for a comprehensive Implementation Plan that UCLA will develop in collaboration with key partners and stakeholders by 2020.

From understanding future climate patterns and maximizing the region’s solar potential, to understanding how gender plays a role in reducing our daily water use and revolutionizing plant and animal conservation management, the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge team is spearheading the research necessary to define the region’s pathway to sustainability. This monumental effort will require our region to address its troubled transportation systems, stanch the loss of wildlife habitat, and tackle unsustainable water and power demands.