High points of 2009 range from the volleyball court to the operating room with demonstrations of drive and dedication by UC Irvine students, faculty and staff.

Over the past year, faculty, staff and students have stepped up in the face of budget challenges with innovation, drive and talent that yielded research breakthroughs, athletic success and community outreach in healthcare and education.

Here are some top UCI stories from 2009, listed chronologically by category.

Research breakthroughs

  • Stem cell clinical trial approved: A therapy developed at UCI that made paralyzed rats walk again became the world’s first embryonic stem cell treatment tested in humans. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration in January approved the therapy – based on the work of a research team led by Hans Keirstead of UCI’s Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center – for a clinical trial in patients with thoracic spinal cord injuries. In November, application of the treatment expanded dramatically when it was shown to be effective in cervical spinal cord injuries. See video.
  • Hormone linked to postpartum depression: A study authored by Ilona Yim, UCI psychology & social behavior assistant professor, found that women with higher levels of a corticotrophin-releasing hormone produced by the placenta midway through pregnancy were more likely to develop postpartum depression. The discovery by Yim and colleagues could help identify and treat at-risk women before the onset of symptoms.
  • Farthest-ever supernovae detected: UCI cosmologists announced they had found two supernovae farther away than any previously detected by using a new technique that could help find other dying stars at the edge of the universe. The method could allow astronomers to study some of the very first supernovae and advance understanding of how galaxies form and change and how Earth came to be.
  • Stem cells shown to treat Alzheimer’s: UCI’s Frank LaFerla, Mathew Blurton-Jones and colleagues showed for the first time that neural stem cells can rescue memory in mice with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, raising hopes of a potential treatment for the leading cause of elderly dementia that afflicts 5.3 million people in the U.S. See video.
  • Original source of malaria discovered: UCI biologist Francisco Ayala and colleagues identified what they believe is the original source of malignant malaria: a parasite found in chimpanzees in equatorial Africa. Genetic analyses indicate the deadly parasite was transmitted to humans from chimpanzees perhaps as recently as 5,000 years ago ¬– and possibly through a single mosquito.
  • Chemistry center awarded $20 million: A center that aims to make real-time videos of individual molecules in action was awarded $20 million over five years from the National Science Foundation. UCI’s Chemistry at the Space-Time Limit is one of three NSF Centers for Chemical Innovation. Its scientists hope to become the first to record time-lapse images of single molecules – a feat that has proved elusive because size and time scales are so small. Success would accelerate the pace of nanoscience.
  • Bad driving gene identified: Lousy drivers may in part have their genes to blame, suggested a study by UCI neuroscientists. People with a particular gene variant performed more than 20 percent worse on a driving test than people without it – and a follow-up test a few days later yielded similar results. About 30 percent of Americans have the variant.
  • Large Hadron Collider back in action: Particle beams once again zoomed around the world’s most powerful particle accelerator – the Large Hadron Collider, located at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland – after a year of downtime for repairs. Eight UCI faculty members and many postdoctoral researchers are involved in the project, including Andrew Lankford, deputy director of the LHC’s ATLAS experiment.
  • Research funding: UCI attracted $317,714,124 in research contracts and grants in fiscal year 2008-09. Of that number, $8,734,957 came from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, or stimulus funds.

Community impact

  • Health sciences students open free clinic: In February, UCI health sciences students – tomorrow’s doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals – launched the UC Irvine Outreach Clinic. The Tustin facility provides vital primary and preventive care services and referrals for people without adequate access to healthcare otherwise. See slide show.
  • Lawyers in training: UCI’s Center for Educational Partnerships started the Saturday Academy of Law, which introduces high school freshmen in the Santa Ana Unified School District to the field of law and strengthens their critical reading and writing skills. The program, supported by the UCI School of Law, features guest speakers from the legal profession. See video.
  • First PRIME-LC graduates: Five years ago, eight medical students came to UCI as pioneers in an innovative education program designed to address the unique healthcare needs of California’s largest underserved population. Now the first graduates are on the job. The Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community has sparked other community-based medical education programs across the nation. See video.
  • Stroke expertise recognized: Orange County’s Health Care Agency designated UC Irvine Medical Center a Stroke-Neurology Receiving Center as part of Southern California’s first program to direct patients to hospitals best equipped to provide state-of-the-art stroke care. Paramedics now take stroke patients to UCI, one of six receiving centers that offer high-level neurovascular care 24/7.
  • UC campuses join forces against breast cancer: In October, UCI’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center linked up with UC counterparts to launch the Athena Breast Health Network, the largest study of its kind to improve breast cancer detection, treatment and survivors’ quality of life.

Athletics

  • Baseball comes of age: For the first time in its history, UCI baseball in April was voted No. 1 in the country in the Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball Division I polls. On May 19, Chancellor Emeritus Ralph Cicerone threw the ceremonial first pitch during the dedication of UCI’s baseball field named in his honor. See slide show.
  • Men’s volleyball team wins championship: UCI’s men’s volleyball team defeated USC May 9 in a five-game match in Provo, Utah, to win the 2009 NCAA championship. Head Coach John Speraw and team members Nick Spittle and Taylor Wilson thanked a crowd of about 500 supporters at a victory celebration on campus May 20. It was the team’s second NCAA championship in three years and UCI’s 26th national championship overall. See video.
  • Volleyball Hall of Famer hired: Paula Weishoff was named coach of the UCI women’s volleyball team. The Volleyball Hall of Fame inductee’s resume includes silver and bronze team medals at the Los Angeles and Barcelona Olympic Games, respectively, and numerous MVP awards and championships while playing professionally in Italian, Brazilian and Japanese leagues.

Honors and awards

  • Focus on sustainability: UCI’s new Student Center was awarded Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design gold certification in April by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nationally recognized benchmark for the design, construction and operation of sustainable buildings. Later in the year, Donald Bren Hall and the Anteater Recreation Center received the same designation, bringing UCI’s LEED gold total to five.
  • UC Irvine Medical Center ranked among nation’s best: U.S. News & World Report ranked UC Irvine Medical Center among the nation’s best hospitals, marking the medical center’s ninth consecutive year on the list. Among the top 50 hospitals, UC Irvine was listed 18th for urology and 29th for gynecology.
  • Top trauma center: UC Irvine Medical Center’s trauma center was recertified by the American College of Surgeons. Orange County’s only Level I center opened in 1982, when Orange County started the nation’s first regional trauma system to include all of a county’s hospitals and emergency medical services. The center treats nearly half of the county’s trauma cases each year.
  • Researcher elected to IOM: Douglas C. Wallace, a pioneering UCI genetics researcher whose achievements in mitochondrial medicine are leading to new treatments for diseases like cancer and diabetes, was elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine. Considered one of the highest honors in health and medicine, election to the institute – established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences – recognizes outstanding professional accomplishment and commitment to service.

Campus growth

  • Hospital opens and is renamed: On March 7 and 8, doctors, nurses and support staff wheeled about 180 patients into UC Irvine Medical Center’s new University Hospital from the old 1960s-era building. Featuring larger, state-of-the-art operating rooms, family-friendly private rooms, and improved neonatal intensive care facilities, the hospital began admitting new patients the next day. In May it received a $21 million posthumous gift from the estate of Orange County businessman M.A. Douglas and was renamed UC Irvine Douglas Hospital. See video.
  • Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway finished: The five-story building was completed in the summer, and departments and programs from the schools of social sciences and social ecology settled in for the start of the fall quarter. The structure’s basement boasts instruments and a special echo-absorbing room designed to advance hearing research in the cognitive sciences department.
  • UCI School of Law established: The first new public law school in California in 40 years opened its doors to 61 students Aug. 24, with a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony. Acrivi Coromelas, the first law student to commit to UCI, did the honors. See video.
  • Humanities Gateway dedicated: The Humanities Gateway dedication ceremony Oct. 2 featured readings by English professors James McMichael, Jack Miles and Ngugi wa Thiong’o; music by Hossein Omoumi, Maseeh Professor of Persian Performing Arts; and an exhibit by acclaimed video artist Bill Viola. The new building includes a 110-seat auditorium, film screening room and courtyard for events.

Looking forward to 2010

  • Stimulus funding: Researchers in fields ranging from cancer to economics will be putting to work an additional $35 million of ARRA funding granted in large part by the U.S. Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation in fiscal year 2009-10.
  • New arts dean: Joseph S. Lewis III, a nationally known artist, arts educator and administrator, will join UCI as dean of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, effective March 24. “Joseph Lewis is both a recognized artist and a gifted administrator who has experience with strategic planning, fundraising and stewardship, curriculum and program development, budget management, and community-partnership building,” said Chancellor Michael Drake. “I am excited to welcome this dynamic and energetic leader to our university.”
  • UC student regent from UCI: Jesse Cheng, a third-year Asian American studies major at UCI, will begin his tenure as a nonvoting UC regent July 1. As the designate, he has attended meetings of the UC Board of Regents and galvanized student reaction to recent fee hikes. Cheng is the second UCI student to hold the position.
  • Sue & Bill Gross Hall: A CIRM Institute: The four-story, 100,636-square-foot building – scheduled for completion in July – will house UCI’s Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, dozens of lab-based and clinical researchers, a stem cell techniques course, a master’s program in biotechnology with an emphasis on stem cell research, and programs and activities for patients and public education. The $66.6 million facility was made possible by a $27.2 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which funds stem cell research statewide, as well as generous donations, equipment grants and external financing. It will be named for the couple who donated $10 million in July 2006 to support stem cell research at UCI.
  • Medical center growth: UC Irvine Medical Center will open its Clinical Laboratory Replacement Building. Construction continues on the second phase of UC Irvine Douglas Hospital, which includes additional patient rooms, more operating suites and a basement radiology lab. The Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and University Tower’s emergency department and labor and delivery unit will be remodeled.
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