University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Scientific Community at Mission Bay Fosters Research Breakthroughs

By Jeffrey Norris | | January 23, 2013

Scientific Community at Mission Bay Fosters Research Breakthroughs

Charles Craik, PhD, the first UCSF scientist to move into the Mission Bay campus, poses at Genentech Hall in 2011.

With UCSF Mission Bay gleaming brighter every day, it's easy to forget a time when some UCSF researchers did not want to leave the hive of activity on the Parnassus Heights campus for entirely new labs across town in a once-forsaken neighborhood.

In January 2003, Charles Craik, PhD – then one of UCSF's youngest faculty members after training in the lab of William Rutter, PhD, the former head of the UCSF Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and founder of Chiron Corp – became the very first to move to Mission Bay. The decision to depart the flagship campus came mostly out of necessity.

Because Craik had so little space on the overcrowded Parnassus campus for his research, students and postdoctoral fellows, he had been using a janitor's closet as an office to provide more space in the lab.

"I came to UCSF because of the potential to do research that had relevance to human health," Craik said, "so being close to the hospital [at Parnassus] was important. But programs were being choked, because they could not grow."

Craik's new digs were on the top floor of the 435,000-square-foot Genentech Hall, the first Mission Bay campus research building.

"It was pretty lonely at first," Craik said. "But it was exciting to know that we had the space to expand our research programs."

In a building explicitly designed to foster collaboration, with labs arranged in 14 neighborhoods containing both open and closed labs, offices, and library, lounge and lunch areas, Craik soon had many colleagues to keep him company.

Today Craik is a professor and senior scientist, part of a vibrant Mission Bay research community led by hundreds of principal investigators, including all three UCSF Nobel laureates that remain on the faculty – trailblazers recognized for seminal discoveries who have laid the groundwork for the emergence of new research fields.

This thriving research community also includes all five of the most recent UCSF recipients of the prestigious National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award – junior faculty members who are thinking outside the box to better understand and treat disease.

New, young faculty members are continually coming aboard. In every research building, each principal scientific investigator works with several postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and technicians, and a visitor can't tell where one lab ends and another begins. Scientific ideas and camaraderie are nurtured in the interactive environment.

The proximity to clinical colleagues that Craik and many others value is increasingly available at Mission Bay. Several clinics are located there already, and just across 16th Street, UCSF is completing construction of hospitals focused on pediatrics, cancer and women's health needs – the first new medical center to be built in San Francisco in three decades.

Cancer and Aging Research
Like the prototypical UCSF scientist, Craik not only generates original ideas and experiments, but also often seeks out collaborators to move research forward more rapidly.

Colleagues esteem Craik as a leading expert on proteases, enzymes used by living organisms and the cells within them to complete many everyday physiological tasks. Proteases help by cutting up other proteins. These enzymes have become popular targets for drug development to combat diseases ranging from parasitic infection to cancer.