Purpose of the NORC

The purpose of the UCSF-NORC will be to promote and grow research in obesity, nutrition, and metabolism at UCSF and throughout northern California. This will be realized by:

  • Maintaining, improving, and promoting the interactions and collaborations of researchers in the field with each other and with those outside the field.
  • Supporting the maintenance and evolution of state-of-the-art Research Cores to meet the needs of obesity, nutrition, and metabolism research.
  • Facilitating the development of new research directions and the entry of new researchers into the field via Pilot & Feasibility opportunities.
  • Enriching the NORC research community through pertinent educational forums and other venues that support the development and maintenance of research interactions.
  • Integrating administrative support to ensure that the infrastructure meets the needs of the local obesity, nutrition and metabolism research community.

Background and Institutional Environment

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is one of the most productive and successful biomedical research and education centers in the world. Each of its four professional schools—Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, and Pharmacy—and the Graduate Division are ranked in the top tier nationally and internationally on the basis of academic quality, publication records, and extramural support for research and education. UCSF also is home to 11 research institutes, 1,500 laboratories, and more than 5,000 ongoing research projects. The scientific environment of UCSF is incredibly diverse, with investigators conducting biomedical research ranging from basic studies to large clinical investigations.

With a campus exclusively dedicated to biomedical research and home to some of the best biomedical researchers in the world, UCSF is well-positioned to harvest major discoveries in basic and clinical research and to translate them rapidly into clinical applications. Obesity and nutrition research has massively grown from a small number of investigators present at UCSF 15 years ago to 44 investigators, who together make-up the research base for this application (Table C). These investigators come from 12 departments or organized research units at 7 UCSF Campuses. This includes 4 junior faculty with independent research programs recruited during the last 2 years.

The key to UCSF’s research success is its trademark culture of collaboration serving to unite these researchers in cross-disciplinary projects. Scientists regularly reach across disciplines to gain insights and new strategies for understanding and treating disease. Senior faculty consider a collaborative spirit crucial in recruiting new colleagues, and many new faculty members cite this collaborative environment as the tipping point that led them to choose UCSF. The researchers within the proposed UCSF-NORC will continue that tradition of strong cooperation and mentoring of junior faculty. Table C shows the extensive co-publications and collaborations on grants amongst the 44 investigators in this application. Naturally, many of those interactions cluster into distinct research areas, which are detailed in the Research Base section of this application. However, it is also apparent that extensive interdisciplinary collaborations span between those areas. The UCSF-NORC will cultivate and grow those extensive interactions while bringing new collaborative research into the fold. Overall, the support provided by the UCSF-NORC will ensure that the entire nutrition, obesity and metabolism research base will total much more than the sum of its individual parts.

Through extensive institutional dedication, there has been a major growth of nutrition- and obesity-related research over the past decade at UCSF. For example, the creation of the UCSF Diabetes Center in 1999 initiated a movement towards obesity research. The proposed Director of the UCSF-NORC, Dr. Christian Vaisse, was one of the first recruits to the Diabetes Center and is now its associate director for obesity research. The first Director of the Diabetes Center, Dr. Jeffrey Bluestone, developed a strategic plan designed to foster a UCSF-wide “neighborhood” of obesity- and metabolism-related research. As a result, more faculty were recruited, and the obesity-related research environment expanded through a number of collaborations between these investigators and/or other UCSF investigators. Dr. Bluestone is now Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of UCSF, and it is safe to say that this remains a priority area for UCSF (see letter of support from Dr. Bluestone). The support for nutrition, obesity, and metabolism research at UCSF continues under the current Diabetes Center Director, Dr. Matthias Hebrok (see letter of support).

More recently, the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI) started a major recruitment effort in metabolism and obesity-related studies. The NORC Associate Director, Dr. Ajay Chawla, was one of the first recruits in that new effort. The proposed NORC will be poised to provide the infrastructure and support for what will be a mixture of junior and senior level recruits to UCSF in this field. The Director of the CVRI, Dr. Shaun Coughlin, will be a member of the UCSF-NORC Internal Advisory Board (see letter of support).

Another major development for nutrition, obesity, and metabolism research at UCSF was the opening of the UCSF Center for Obesity Assessment, Study, and Treatment (COAST) in 2004. COAST has successfully united clinical and translational studies focused on understanding, controlling, and treating obesity and nutrition-related disorders. This strong emphasis on translational research will be a major theme for the UCSF-NORC. The COAST Director, Dr. Elissa Epel, will be the second Associate Director of the UCSF-NORC. Dr. Nancy Adler, who was instrumental in establishing COAST as a cross-disciplinary center to tackle the emerging obesity epidemic, will be a member of the UCSF-NORC Internal Advisory Board (see letter of support).

Translational research is a priority area at UCSF; in 2006, UCSF established a NIH Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) (UL RR024131). The UCSF CTSI is dedicated to research and education in clinical and translational science at UCSF, at affiliated institutions, and in participating communities. As described in this application, the facilities and capabilities of the UCSF CTSI form one of the pillars that the UCSF-NORC will leverage for exciting translational research in all areas of nutrition, obesity and metabolism (see letter from UCSF CTSI Interim Director, Dr. Deborah Grady).