University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Year in Review: 2019

By Karen Gehrman | HDFCCC Communications | December 17, 2019

Year in Review: 2019

The opening of the PCMB led the news at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2019.  Whether through expediting drug discovery, tailoring genomic sequencing, or expanding palliative care, our UCSF cancer community remained committed to improving outcomes for every cancer patient. As the year ends, we reflect on our achievements and anticipate the exciting year ahead. 

The Precision Cancer Medicine Building: Changing the Game

In June, the Bakar Precision Cancer Medicine Building welcomed its first patients. The new building brings together researchers, oncologists, surgeons, and other clinicians to foster new treatments and speed their delivery to patients.

Building Infographictour

Patient-Centered Care

A core philosophy behind the PCMB is putting the patient at the center of our efforts. The expansion of care to the PCMB doubled the efforts of many patient support services such as the Patient and Family Cancer Support Center (formerly the Cancer Resource Center) which now has locations at both Mission Bay and Mount Zion.

In 2019, the Cancer Survivorship and Wellness Institute was established to bring together clinical care, research, and multidisciplinary support services to treat the unique needs of survivors, in partnership with other survivorship resources at UCSF.

The Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC), led by Keren Stronach, MPH, strove to incorporate the patient voice in all aspects of our UCSF cancer community. The PFAC suggested improvements across the patient and caregiver experience at UCSF, such as how to improve MyChart; adding culturally relevant information to our patient online orientations and guidebook; and streamlining online patient information across UCSF websites. 

Additionally, a Cancer Supportive Care Committee was formed by Psycho-oncology Service director Dianne Shumay, MD, and Paul Asfour, of the Patient and Family Cancer Support Center with the goal of sharing information about patient services that many staff and faculty many not be aware of.  By providing a space for employees to share ideas relevant to cancer support services, the Committee aims to improve patient awareness and participation in the full breadth of services.

Inspiring Patient Stories

Will Pearce at UCSF Brain Tumor CenterThe nexus of compassionate treatment, innovative research, and support services were beautifully articulated by two patient stories this year. Will Pearce attributed his recovery from a rare brain cancer to both the excellence of surgeon Dr. Mitchel Berger as well as to the Sheri Sobrato Brisson Brain Cancer Survivorship Program to improve his quality of life after treatment.

Mignon Loh

For infant patient Quincy Lodge, Drs. Mignon Loh and Elliot Steigletz pursued genetic testing through the UCSF500 gene panel which successfully identified a genetic mutation to target, saving their son's life. Both stories exemplify the breadth of expertise and support that we strive to provide.

Research Highlights: Targeted Therapies to Population Health

Exploration continued into targeted therapies for difficult cancers such as glioblastoma, osteosarcoma, and T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). Breast cancer researchers found that blocking the activity of a single enzyme can prevent a common type of breast cancer from spreading to distant organs.  Exciting strides were made towards an experimental cancer vaccine for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and for targeting KRAS in lung cancer patients.

tour tour


New in 2019, our CureTalks podcasts provided a new channel of information between UCSF cancer researchers and the community in the San Francisco area and beyond. Drs. Larry Fong, Laura Esserman, Eric Collisson, and Luke Gilbert offered insights into immunotherapy, precision medicine, and breast cancer clinical trials.
CureTalks Breast Cancer Laura Esserman UCSFCureTalks Precision Medicine Larry Fong CureTalks
Our longest running podcast, the Bay Area Breast Cancer Forum, continued to translate the latest research findings to patients and patient advocates.

UCSF's cross-disciplinary excellence was on display at annual conferences such as AACR, ASCO, ASH, and SABCS where research findings shaped new treatment guidelines.

Population Health: from Local to Global

Teens4Screens SFCAN

Efforts of the San Francisco Cancer Initiative continued to improve the health of the city's residents. The Tobacco-caused Cancers Task Force celebrated the citywide ban on electronic cigarette sales which continued the work of the ban on flavored tobacco. The Breast Cancer Task Force launched the Teens for Screens program, a community-driven intervention to raise awareness about the need for breast cancer screening in low income and underrepresented communities in partnership with San Francisco Unified School District. The Prostate Cancer Task Force has stepped up outreach efforts to improve screening options for African-American men.

Meanwhile our Global Cancer Program empowered partners in Tanzania, Mexico, and Vietnam to reduce cancer disparities in those areas. Participation at the recent AORTIC Conference on Cancer in Africa  provided critical opportunities for collaboration to improve care across the continent.

Key Partnerships

The Cancer Center expanded partnerships in pursuit of research discoveries and precision cancer care. We were excited to announce a partnership with Lazarex to reduce barriers for minority participation in clinical trials. GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK), UCSF, and UC Berkeley are collaborating to build a Laboratory for Genomic Research (LGR) which will use CRISPR technologies to explore how genes cause disease and to rapidly accelerate the discovery of new medicines. In September, the Benioff Initiative for Prostate Cancer Research was launched to address the need to improve personalized therapies for aggressive prostate cancers. Thea Tlsty, PhD, received a Grand Challenge Grant from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) to lead an international team exploring how chronic inflammation causes cancer.  UCSF, UC Berkeley and 3D Printer Carbon, Inc. teamed up to create a drug sponge to absorb excess chemotherapy medication. New industry partnerships leveraged resources in biotechnology and big data to spur advances in personalized medicine.

Our Parnassus symposia series fostered further intra-campus collaboration by joining forces with the It's About A Billion Lives tobacco symposium which will be reprised in Feb 2020.  The Center will continue to coordinate cancer research across UCSF with the 1st Annual ZSFG Cancer Research Symposium in January 2020, and a similar symposium planned for the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

Other highlights amplified our cancer efforts in 2019, such as the launch of the Artificial Intelligence Center to Advance Medical Imaging; and the appointment of Rohit Gupta as UCSF's inaugural Chief Biobank Officer (CBO) to build a biospecimen community dedicated to the common goals of precision medicine. Internally, the Cancer Center’s Office of Education and Training expanded efforts with a robust suite of classes, workshops, and lectures providing faculty and staff  in the Cancer Center with education, mentoring, and career development opportunities.


Our People: Spotlights, Honors, Transitions

Our physicians, scientists, administrators, and staff exemplify the breadth, dedication, and drive of our mission. 
Click the image to read more about the people behind the research.
A.WeissM.WongA.Do2Andrew KoN.ShahJ.LesterThea TlstyL.GilbertM.LohJ.Seuferer

Awards and Honors

In August, US News & World Report once again listed UCSF Medical Center in the top hospitals in the US, and among the nation's most renowned for excellence in 15 adult specialties. From American Cancer Society Professorships to AACR Fellows to Damon Runyon Innovators, Cancer Center members continued to be recognized as national leaders in cancer research. View our list of awards and honors received in 2019.

Transitions: Welcomes and Farewells

Cancer Center Membership grew alongside our industry and health system affiliations, welcoming over 30 new researchers in 2019. Among the many new PCMB staff members, our clinical services added Sherri Pena, MS, LGC, as Administrative Director of the Cancer Survivorship and Wellness Institute; Judy Patt-Smoker, LCSW, as Chief Clinical Social Worker for Outpatient Oncology Social Work; and Dr. Jena Leake as the new director of Art for Recovery. We note the retirement of many dedicated individuals such as Theresa Abts, LCSW, Director of Social Work Services. With gratitude we bid farewell to Art for Recovery founder and director Cindy Perlis, and long time facilities manager Adele Dow, both of whom wrapped up decades of service to UCSF.

In Memoriam.
S. NelsonThe UCSF cancer community mourned the loss of several people who made  a lasting impact on our patients and institution.  Sarah Nelson, PhD, a pioneer in imaging science, an extraordinary leader, innovator, and scholar, passed away earlier this year. 

We also shared the grief of our extended Cancer Center family members who lost loved ones this year. We join our colleagues in remembering those we lost in 2019, and in our resolve to honor their memories.

In Gratitude

We are grateful for the generosity of donors whose foresight in supporting UCSF: The Campaign allowed the Bakar Precision Cancer Medicine Building to come to fruition. In the coming year, exciting and innovative research will continue. Novel approaches to public health are changing the landscape of cancer at UCSF and beyond to provide more personalized approaches to cancer care.

As 2019 closes, we thank our patients, families, and donors whose trust and confidence inspired us this year. We have much to look forward to in the new year as we push forward together toward a cancer-free future.


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