A New Hope


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


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.

Sustainable LA Grand Challenge
Mark Esguerra
UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge aims to make Los Angeles the world’s first sustainable megacity.

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% renewable energy (including wind and solar), 100% local water and enhanced ecosystem health.

The ambitious project’s Five-Year Work Plan lays out more than 100 innovative research recommendations critical to achieving the Sustainable LA 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.


Operation Mend
Eric Mencher
UCLA surgeons Reza Jarrahy (right) and Christopher Crisera with Operation Mend patient Jason March.

Serving Those Who Served


UCLA’s commitment to veterans started when the University of California’s “Southern Branch” opened in 1919 with a student population that included disabled veterans. That commitment continued to grow as thousands of veterans attended UCLA in the post–World War II era and beyond.

Today, veterans can avail themselves of services at the Student Veterans Resource Center, the Brain Injury Research Center and Operation Mend, a program established to treat the wounds of war. Faculty members at the David Geffen School of Medicine train doctors at the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center; university health professionals treat thousands of veterans every year; and UCLA social work, nursing and public health students train and conduct research with the goal of serving veterans.

In the last 18 months, the partnership between the university and the veterans community has expanded significantly. UCLA has committed $16.5 million over 10 years to fund a series of programs designed to address a unique set of needs. The UCLA VA Veteran Family Wellness Center opened in August 2017, and in its first year, it served more than 7,000 veterans and their families through coaching and programs on topics such as communication, goal setting and resilience training. Some of the clients described the services as “lifesaving.”

The UCLA School of Law Veterans Clinic opened on the West L.A. VA campus at the same time, assisting more than 230 veterans in its first year with a variety of legal issues. The clients, says co-director Will Watts, understand that “there is someone in the trenches with them.” And UCLA is developing a third center to address homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues.

The partnership is a win-win for local veterans and hundreds of UCLA students, researchers and health-care providers who are gaining clinical experience and acquiring new areas of expertise, along with a greater understanding that “service” addresses issues of mind, body and spirit.


Changing the Cityscape


UCLA faculty and alumni artists have changed the cityscape. Consider Urban Light: The iconic sculpture at LACMA is the work of Chris Burden, a professor of art at UCLA from 1986 until his retirement in 2004. Burden found the first street lamps for the assemblage in 2000. Urban Light has appeared in films, on television and in innumerable social media postings. Few would dispute its status as the most popular piece of public art in Los Angeles.

The most ubiquitous public art in L.A. is Metro station art, and dozens of UCLA alumni have contributed to it. Union Station offers a stunning mural showcasing the diversity of Los Angeles: City of Dreams/River of History. A pair of Bruins, Richard Wyatt ’78 and May Sun ’76, collaborated on the mural. Wyatt, who grew up in Compton, met the Shanghai-born Sun when both were UCLA art students.

But art isn’t the only department with work on display. The radiant Inner Child mural at the Robert F. Kennedy Community School was created by a design media arts graduate, Allison Torneros ’08. She calls herself “Hueman”: Working on large-scale artwork outdoors restored her humanity, she explains.

On the same community school campus are inspiring murals by Judy Baca. Perhaps best known for her epic portrayal of California history in the San Fernando Valley’s Great Wall of Los Angeles, Baca is a tenured professor in the Department of Chicana/o Studies as well as in the Department of World Arts and Cultures. Her work has consistently embraced collaboration, community empowerment and engagement with young people.

Refik Anadol M.F.A. ’14’s data sculptures, though not on permanent display, etched themselves into public memory when Anadol created stunning motion graphics on the exterior of downtown’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. The weeklong WDCH Dreams installation, projected onto the building’s skin from Sept. 28 to Oct. 6, 2018, was part of the kickoff to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s centennial celebration.

WDCH Dreams
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Refik Anadol’s “WDCH Dreams” at downtown’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.


Making the Grade


An “A” grade sign posted at a restaurant is reassuring, showing that the establishment has passed rigorous health and safety inspections. Those grades have roots at UCLA.

In 1998, Jonathan Fielding became the founding director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH), which tackles foodborne illness, infectious disease outbreaks, toxic exposures, natural and man-made disasters, and more. Fielding — a UCLA professor of pediatrics and of health policy and management and co-director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities — is an expert in these areas.

When an investigative report revealed serious health and safety code violations in L.A. restaurants, DPH was charged with informing the public and correcting problems. In response, DPH established the rating system, dropping the percentage of low-grade restaurants from 15% to 1.5% and decreasing the incidence of foodborne illnesses in L.A. County. Today, the grading system is used statewide and in other states as well.


Looking Out for Our Neighbors


How does the 101 Freeway affect the city’s wild animal population? UCLA researchers published a study about this in the journal Conservation Biology. The study, which focused on seven species chosen as representative of local wildlife, found a large amount of genetic diversity within groups separated by the freeway.

“To better comprehend how wildlife will respond to climate change, it is important to look at ecosystems as a whole in addition to zeroing in on specific species,” says Tom Smith, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the Center for Tropical Research.

In addition to gathering genetic information, the researchers cross-referenced the genetic findings with environmental variables — temperature, elevation and vegetation — to look for patterns. The study also identifies areas with the largest number of species and most genetic diversity within individual species.

By focusing on a small, environmentally diverse area of the Santa Monica Mountains, one can discover 70% to 80% of the genetic variation in a species native to that area, says Assistant Adjunct Professor Ryan Harrigan, a co-author of the study.

Knowing how animals respond to changes in temperature or elevation tells scientists how the species could react to climate change. If our planet warms two degrees Celsius by the end of this century, as many climate scientists predict, wildlife will have limited options, Harrigan says.

In response to climate change, many animals may move up the mountains to cooler territory but find that there’s nowhere to go at the top. This may result in some species becoming extinct, while others may adapt to the new reality.


When you don’t know where you’ll get your next meal or where you’ll sleep each night, it’s hard to focus on your health.”

Linda Sarna

Dean of the UCLA School of Nursing

Health of the Homeless


Thirty-six years ago, when the Union Rescue Mission asked whether the UCLA School of Nursing would consider offering care to its residents, the school took a leap into uncharted territory.

Little was known then about the health issues facing the homeless. Skid Row, only 15 miles to the east of UCLA, felt like a world away. But the endeavor fit with the School of Nursing’s mission of transforming nursing care in a rapidly changing and diverse environment.

The partnership resulted in the UCLA School of Nursing Health Clinic at the Union Rescue Mission, a nurse-managed clinic providing acute and primary care, on-site medications and basic lab work. One of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country, the clinic serves as a national model for delivery of health care to the poor and the homeless.

It remains one of only a few full-time clinics in the Los Angeles area to serve these populations. Two nurse practitioners and two licensed vocational nurses staff the facility, providing care alongside UCLA nursing and medical students who receive valuable training during their tenure at the clinic.

Since its founding, the clinic has logged more than 250,000 patient visits. Last year alone, staff cared for more than 2,500 men, women and children. Many clients suffer from medical conditions exacerbated by their time on the streets. Harsh environments and a lack of regular care often lead to complex health conditions and such chronic diseases as diabetes and high blood pressure.

“When you don’t know where you’ll get your next meal or where you’ll sleep each night, it’s hard to focus on your health,” says Linda Sarna ’69, M.N. ’76, dean of the School of Nursing. “The clinic takes people who have been marginalized in the health-care system and provides them with a holistic approach to care.”


Black Truths Matter


Filmmaker Charles Burnett ’69, M.F.A. ’77 grew up in Watts, in South Los Angeles. “Downtown Watts was a mecca back then,” Burnett recalled in UCLA Magazine. “You had black businesses all over. It was like being in Harlem. It was a really fun place.”

Charles Burnett
Everard Williams
Charles Burnett was a leader of L.A. Rebellion in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

However, by the time Burnett enrolled at UCLA in 1967, his community had changed. Watts was the scene of the most iconic of urban riots that roiled American cities during the Civil Rights era. Burnett was soft-spoken and gentlemanly, hardly the image of a revolutionary. And yet he became arguably the most visible member of L.A. Rebellion, a small group of African-American and African student filmmakers who arrived at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television in the early 1960s. The most widely known L.A. Rebellion film is Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, the story of a physically and emotionally exhausted slaughterhouse worker and his family who try to live with dignity amid crushing poverty.

The group also included Haile Gerima ’72, M.F.A. ’76 (Bush Mama), Larry Clark M.F.A. ’81 (Passing Through), Billy Woodberry M.F.A. ’82 (Bless Their Little Hearts), Ben Caldwell M.F.A. ’77 (I and I), Alile Sharon Larkin M.F.A. ’82 (A Different Image), Julie Dash M.F.A. ’85 (Daughters of the Dust) and Jamaa Fanaka ’73, M.F.A. ’79 (Welcome Home, Brother Charles).

These storytellers didn’t see their stories and experiences on the screen, particularly in the popular “blaxploitation” Hollywood studio films that were being marketed to urban African-American audiences. The filmmakers set out to tell stories that reflected their lives and communities.

Burnett’s masterpiece is regarded as one of the most significant first features in American cinema. Many of the group’s other works made history but never made it to mainstream American theaters.

Says UCLA Film & Television Archive director Jan-Christopher Horak, “To my knowledge, it is the only movement of filmmakers that has come out of a film school.”