The Joan and Sanford I. Weill Neurosciences Building opened its doors in July 2021, establishing an innovative all-in-one hub for patients, researchers and clinicians at UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus.
Serving as the operational center for the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Neurosciences Building is designed to foster the collaborations that fuel medical breakthroughs. This ultramodern building unites the UCSF neurosciences community by housing the research and clinical programs in neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry and the basic neurosciences in one location, enabling physicians and scientists to work together seamlessly to accelerate progress against diseases of the brain and nervous system while providing expert, compassionate care for patients.
UCSF Medical Center is ranked No. 1 in the nation for neurology and neurosurgery in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021-2022 Best Hospitals survey.
Precision diagnostics and the most informed, effective treatments
Designed with the patient experience in mind, the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Neurosciences Building provides comprehensive, coordinated neurological care by offering:
- The latest diagnostic technologies
- Convenient access to clinicians, MRI scanners, lab tests, neuro-infusion services and a compounding pharmacy in a single location
- A streamlined intake process, with a neurologist reviewing all records before the first visit
- An integrated team of clinicians, nurses, neuropsychologists, physical therapists and social workers, all focused on neurological health
- On-site access to leading-edge clinical trials
- Design features that accommodate patients with neurological conditions
Multiple specialty clinics under one roof
Within its six floors, the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Neurosciences Building houses several UCSF clinics, including the:
New Neurology Complex Diagnosis Clinic
Memory and Aging Center
Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroinflammation Center
Movement Disorders and Neuromodulation Center
Cutting-edge translational research
Designed to cultivate collaborative research, the state-of-the-art Joan and Sanford I. Weill Neurosciences Building brings together clinical and translational research programs, computational and neuroengineering research laboratories, and the Global Brain Health Institute. A few innovative initiatives are highlighted below.
Movement disorders clinical trials
“The new building is fantastic,” said Jill Ostrem, MD, division chief of the UCSF Movement Disorders and Neuromodulation Center. “Patients can access laboratory and imaging services on the first floor and see their neurologists and neurosurgeons on the second floor. The translational research unit on the third floor enables patients to participate in clinical trials and other translational neuroscience studies.”
Ostrem and her team are conducting dozens of ongoing clinical trials related to movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease (PD). Caroline Tanner, MD, PhD, neurologist and professor of neurology at UCSF, leads the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) 2.0 Clinical – Establishing a Deeply Phenotyped PD Cohort. This landmark natural history study is designed to assess the clinical features, digital outcomes, and imaging, biologic and genetic markers of PD progression in study participants with manifest PD, those with prodromal PD, and healthy controls. The overall goal of the study is to identify markers of disease progression for use in clinical trials of therapies to reduce the progression of PD disability.
“PD prevention is a major focus of our research at UCSF, and PPMI, which launched in 2010, is an excellent example,” Tanner said. Data collected from PPMI is already being used to develop new treatments to slow the progression of PD. “In 2021, we expanded PPMI by launching a large online initiative that will ultimately include at least 100,000 people with and without PD,” she added. “At the same time, we are enrolling new people in the in-person clinical study and continuing to follow those already involved. This study will inform us how to identify people at risk for Parkinson’s disease and develop treatments to prevent disease and slow progression at all stages of the illness.”
With the aim of preventing fractures in people with PD, Tanner is leading an innovative, home-based clinical trial known as TOPAZ (Trial of Parkinson’s and Zoledronic Acid) in partnership with UCSF bone health expert Steven Cummings, MD. “People with Parkinson’s disease are at high risk of fractures,” Tanner said. “The goal of TOPAZ is to test whether the FDA-approved drug zoledronate can prevent fractures in people with PD. Participants are assessed online and receive treatment in their own homes.
“Preventing progressive disability in people with PD is a focus of many of the clinical trials we conduct at UCSF,” Tanner said. “The PASADENA and PADOVA studies test the experimental drug prasinezumab, which directly targets the protein abnormality in PD. The goal of these studies is to stop progressive disability due to PD.” Tanner is also partnering with UCSF neurologist Nijee Luthra, MD, PhD, on the SPARX3 (Study in Parkinson’s Disease of Exercise).
“We have the same goal in the SPARX3 study but, in this case, treadmill-based exercise is the treatment being studied. It builds on early observations suggesting that exercise can slow progression in PD,” Tanner said.
Additionally, Tanner is conducting the Micro-PD (Microbiota Intervention to Change the Response of Parkinson's Disease) study with UCSF neurologist Ethan G. Brown, MD. “Our goal is to reduce unpredictable responses to treatment, or OFF episodes, by resetting the bacteria present in the GI tract – the microbiome,” Tanner said. “Reduction in OFF episodes is also the goal of the BouNDless study, led by Dr. Ostrem, which tests a novel way to deliver levodopa, a primary treatment for PD symptoms, using continuous delivery under the skin.
“We are very excited to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Weill Institute for Neurosciences,” Tanner said. “It provides an unprecedented resource for our research to prevent disability in people with PD and, ultimately, to prevent this devastating disease.”
Restoring limb function in patients with brain injury
Karunesh Ganguly, MD, PhD, is a neurologist and an associate professor of neurology at UCSF. In his research Ganguly studies new treatments, including brain-computer interfaces, for patients recovering from neurological conditions and injuries.
“The aim of my research is to develop technology to help restore limb function in patients with brain injury,” Ganguly said. He is conducting a clinical trial to determine the optimal somatosensory electrical stimulation settings to treat hand dysfunction in patients recovering from stroke. “We are working with chronic stroke patients with upper-limb disability and modulating their sensory inputs to improve limb function,” he said. “Existing markers for measuring recovery of limb function after stroke are quite antiquated and mostly observational. We have developed state-of-the-art methods to capture patients’ movement to quantitatively determine if and how much their limb function is improving. For example, we use computer vision methods to track the details of movements and then use machine learning techniques to precisely quantify changes.”
Ganguly is partnering with Edward Chang, MD, the Joan and Sanford Weill Chair of Neurological Surgery and Jeanne Robertson Distinguished Professor at UCSF, on a study known as BRAVO (Brain-Computer Interface Restoration of Arm and Voice). Using electrode implants, the team developed the first “neuroprosthesis” to enable a man with severe paralysis to communicate in sentences, achieved by translating signals from his brain to the vocal tract directly into words that appear as text on a screen. Aided by this technology, the man is also able to move a robotic arm to manipulate objects.
“We are very excited by the level of success with the BRAVO study,” Ganguly said. “In the future we want to use implantable devices to improve limb function in patients with moderate impairment. We are working toward a closed-loop system, which would be responsive to attempted movements.” In such a system, a weak brain signal would activate an implanted device that would stimulate the brain to increase the signal to the muscle. A recent study testing the use of low-frequency epidural alternating current stimulation to improve dexterity in non-human primates recovering from stroke showed promising results.