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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

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UC Davis Health System is recognized as a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) public charity by the Internal Revenue Service.

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News & Features

Prostate cancer survivor, Rollie Swingle (with Dr. Primo Lara)  

Cancer survivor stories  

Patients tell their own stories about cancer treatment and recovery.

Landgraf Foundation 

Cancer donor stories  

Donors share their inspirational stories of why they support UC Davis Cancer Center.

Giving to Cancer Center

Dr. Kung

Under the direction of Hsing-Jien Kung, who developed an international reputation at Case Western Reserve University for his work in cancer genetics, the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is quickly emerging as a leader on the frontiers of cancer discovery.

UC Davis is a top-20 research university, producing more Ph.D.s in biological sciences than any university in the country. The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has been an international leader for nearly a century, and its work in environmental toxicology, nutrition, and plant biology have important implications for the understanding and treatment of cancer. Oncologists at the School of Veterinary Medicine are world-leaders in their field, and, through the UC Davis Center for Comparative Medicine, their work provides valuable insights into the understanding and treatment of human diseases.

At the heart of the Cancer Center's efforts in basic science is the goal of translating new insights into the mysteries of cancer's molecular and chemical origins into the development of new prognostic markers and increasingly effective therapies and diminished side effects.

The function of the Cancer Center's Basic Science division is twofold:

  • Working closely with our clinical physicians in real time to refine existing and experimental therapies, our researchers on the medical center campus play a vital role in patient care;
  • Collaborating with microbiologists, plant and animal geneticists, pharmacologists, nutritionists, and toxicologists in the dozens of laboratories of UC Davis and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, our researchers pursue meaningful insights into the origins, mechanics, and possible cures for the many complex forms of cancer.

Conducting basic science research is expensive, but the cost of not pursuing basic science is even greater. A great many major medical breakthroughs in the last 200 years — the germ theory, x-rays, antibiotics, radiation therapy, genetics — were discovered or developed by basic scientists. Having entered the age of sub-cellular and genetic medicine, the advancement of health science is more dependent than ever upon microbiology, chemistry, physics, and, increasingly, information technology.

Basic science, while absolutely essential to the advancement of our understanding of cancer and other diseases, its conjectural, exploratory nature limits its appeal to outside revenue sources, whose interests are typically biased toward research with demonstrable, proven applications.

The dynamic collaborative spirit that exists between our clinical and basic science departments in particular, and among the Cancer Center, the University, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in general, bestows the Cancer Center with extraordinarily promising institutional advantages that endowment dollars will only enhance.

The Basic Science Endowment will aid the Cancer Center in attracting and supporting a noted junior or senior researcher who will:

  • Conduct research and attract outside research funding,
  • Attract other promising researchers, and
  • Work collaboratively to help leverage the university's considerable research capacities for the pursuit of cancer breakthroughs.

If you have questions, please contact Krista Rindell at (916) 734-9433 or e-mail krista.rindell@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

Dr. Lam

Clinical science is the front line of cancer treatment, where laboratory research and technology are skillfully applied to produce effective treatments for all cancers. We routinely see patients who have exhausted all conventional therapies for their condition, those for whom hope resides only in novel treatments. As part of a dynamic research hospital built on a history of clinical excellence, the Cancer Center provides exceptional patient care and vitally important access to promising new therapies, many of which are being developed and improved in our research laboratories. New treatment options mean new promise for our current patients as well as promise for the thousands of people who are diagnosed with cancer each day.

The Cancer Center's clinical research division has three objectives, all of which directly translate into better patient care and outcomes. Our clinical research physicians:

  • Develop drug therapies that interact with newly discovered proteins governing the growth and death of cells,
  • Lead and conduct a growing clinical trials program, and
  • Enhance programmatic collaboration between basic and clinical scientists.

Dr. Kit Lam, chief of the Division of Hematology-Oncology, pioneered the development of the one-bead, one-compound laboratory technique that has led to phenomenal gains in the speed and number of compounds tested for their potential therapeutic effects. Just a decade ago, a traditional chemist in a pharmaceutical firm could create little more than 100 bioactive compounds in a year at a cost of thousands of dollars each, and the entire library of potential therapeutic compounds studied by the National Cancer Institute numbered 10,000.  With the advent of combinatorial chemistry, based on the one-bead, one-compound process (OBOC), over 100,000 chemical compounds can be created and tested within one month in a single laboratory.

The use of targeted peptides has made it possible to retrieve and identify the presence of cancerous cells that more conventional diagnostic methods cannot detect. Using combinatorial chemistry techniques, specific targeted peptides have been developed and tested for the treatment of a wide range of cancers (lymphomaovarianbrainlungbreast, and pancreas). Such new drug treatments can be tailored to individuals quickly and inexpensively through the use of biochips printed with targeted peptides.

The bulk of cancer research funding flows to the further development and study of treatments that have successfully demonstrated their promise or efficacy as a therapy. Funding for more novel, "outside the box" investigations is vitally important in the pursuit of breakthrough discoveries and treatment — particularly for an institution with the kind of proven research potential as UC Davis.

The Clinical Research Endowed Chair will aid the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center in attracting and supporting a noted physician-researcher who will:

  • Provide exceptional patient care and clinical leadership,
  • Lead and conduct clinical and translational research and attract outside research funding,
  • Attract other promising researchers, and
  • Work collaboratively to help leverage and expedite the University’s considerable research capacities for the pursuit of cancer breakthroughs.

If you have questions, please contact Krista Rindell at (916) 734-9433 or e-mail krista.rindell@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

Cancer cell

In the 1940s, when the link between prostate cancer and testosterone was discovered, physicians believed that medicine had turned the corner on this prevalent and fatal disease, and that hormones were the key to understanding and treating cancers. The dramatic "curative" effect of early hormone therapies gave physicians and their patients cause for such optimism. But after a period of regression, sometimes lasting years, the cancers invariably returned with fatal consequences.

After lung cancer, prostate cancer remains the most fatal form of cancer among males, and prostate treatment and research represent the only organ specific program in the Cancer Center. At the Cancer Center, there are five current research projects devoted to explaining why prostate cancers are hormone resistant.

The current prostate cancer program was started with a gift from a private donor of $100,000. From this start the program has grown dramatically. Of the 28 physician-researchers in the program, 20 have peer-review funding providing more than $4 million a year in prostate-specific grants. This very fine program is now positioned to become one of the most comprehensive in the country.

As one would expect, this program stretched from efforts to prevent prostate cancer to diagnosing it earlier to improving local treatment, and to understanding why cells become hormone resistant. When this knowledge is gained, we will then develop new therapies against these newfound targets.

Our chemo-preventive program involves our colleagues at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. Jointly we are developing an animal-based model on which to rapidly obtain evidence-based data that chemo-preventive agents actually work. This is a dynamic program. We already are embarking on our fourth clinical trial in patients with the hope of initially slowing down the progression of early prostate cancer and then switching to actually trying to prevent it.

Radiation therapy is presently the most effective and common approach for men diagnosed with localized prostate cancer, yet this therapy does not kill 100% of the cancer. We have been working to overcome this by employing two different strategies. The first is to identify the molecular targets that prohibit the cells from dying after therapy. As these targets are being identified, we are treating them with drugs, gene therapy, and new methods of silencing genes.

The other way to increase cancer kill is by increasing the dose of radiation therapy. A method of achieving this is the use of proton beam accelerators. The current technology cost $100 million and takes up a space larger than a basketball court, greatly limiting its availability. With our colleagues at Lawrence Livermore, we are going to build a table-top proton beam accelerator. We are already 50% of the way towards this target. This truly will revolutionize radiation oncology.

For patients who fail local therapy or develop metastatic disease, we have a rich program of chemotherapy and molecularly directed therapies, going all the way from the most experimental to Phase III trials. And for the patients we regrettably fail to cure, we have palliative care and simultaneous care that are second to none.

An endowed chair for the study of prostate cancer is key to allowing the Cancer Center to solidify and grow this prostate program into one that will be as good as any in the nation, and it will do so by helping the Cancer Center attract dedicated researchers to the continuing study of prostate
cancer.

An endowed chair for the study of prostate cancer will aid the Cancer Center in attracting and supporting a noted physician-researcher who will:

  • Lead and conduct clinical and translational research and attract outside research funding,
  • Attract other promising researchers,
  • Work collaboratively to help leverage the university's considerable research capacities:
    • To better understand the origins of the disease,
    • To develop preventative strategies for the disease,
    • To improve existing therapies and outcomes.

If you have questions, please contact Krista Rindell at (916) 734-9433 or e-mail krista.rindell@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

Dr. Chew

All women are at risk for breast cancer. It is the most common cancer diagnosed in American women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Steady and dramatic improvements in the early detection of breast cancer over the last 30 years have resulted in equally dramatic improvements in outcomes for hundreds of thousands of women. In the last decade, advances in surgical techniques and post-operative treatments have greatly reduced the physical and emotional impact wrought by this disease.

However, more than 200,000 new cases (1/3 of all cancers) of breast cancer are seen each year in the United States. In spite of marked improvements in treatments and outcomes, the tremendous efforts devoted to identifying the common link to the many varieties of malignancies have largely yielded more questions.

Under the direction of Dr. Helen Chew, the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center has developed a highly successful, multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of breast cancer. Our clinical programs include the Breast Health Center, which works with a network of primary care physicians with particular interests in women's health; the Breast Cancer Clinic, a multi-disciplinary team that coordinates care of the Cancer Center's breast cancer patients; and the Cancer Genetics Clinic, offering genetic counseling to families at high-risk for breast cancer.

Our strong clinical trials program in breast cancer includes breakthrough technologies with profound implications for the treatment and diagnosis of breast tumors.

Less invasive breast cancer surgery

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center radiologist Karen Lindfors, M.D., is one of the lead investigators in a national study involving 2,500 women in the Sacramento area that is comparing the effectiveness of newly developed digital mammography to the conventional film-screen technique. Screening conventional mammograms for breast tissue abnormalities requires uncanny skills and experience, and when lesions are detected and removed, the majority proves non-cancerous.

Digital mammography, developed by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, relies on powerful computing technology and high-resolution displays to help physicians in two important ways: identify tumors earlier and distinguish between threatening and non-threatening lesions. In other words, women with cancerous tumors will be treated earlier; and women with benign growths will be spared the emotional and financial costs of invasive biopsies.

New mammogram technology

Radiology professor and biomedical engineer, John Boone, Ph.D., shares Dr. Lindfors' aspirations for more effective breast imaging, although his groundbreaking work takes a different tack. He will be among the first to tell you that the mammogram's increasingly widespread use has greatly contributed to the dramatic and steady decline in the number of breast-cancer related deaths over the last 20 years, yet Professor Boone also appreciates that we may well be nearing the time when a new technology makes the mammogram, an imaging technology that relies on x-rays and is uncomfortable for the patient, obsolete.

The x-ray reliably detects breast tumors when they have reached 11 mm in diameter. Prof. Boone understood that newer imaging technologies, like the CT scan, could detect significantly smaller growths—tumors that would not have shown up on a mammogram for 12 to 18 months.

Practical considerations, however, argued that the increased radiation exposure of computed tomography made it unsafe for the routine screening of breast tissue. Prof. Boone, compelled by the fact that the CT scan could detect tumors months if not years before a mammogram, revisited the question of how CT could be advanced specifically for breast screening in a way that minimizes radiation exposure.

With the support of the California Breast Cancer Research Program, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and UC Davis, Prof. Boone and his fellow researchers have developed a prototype CT scanner, now being tested, that minimizes exposure to radiation while accurately detecting tumors as small as 3- to 5-millimeters, a stage that adds significant hope for successful outcomes. Initial clinical trials for the CT breast scanner will commence in early 2004, and, pending favorable results, a commercial version could be in use by the end of the decade.

Progress, innovation, and improved outcomes

Progress, innovation, and improved outcomes have been the marks of success in the treatment of breast cancer, but much remains to be done to diminish the effects of this disease.

An endowed chair for the study of breast cancer will aid the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center in attracting and supporting a noted physician-researcher who will:

  • Provide exceptional patient care and clinical leadership,
  • Lead and conduct clinical and translational research and attract outside research funding,
  • Attract other promising researchers, and
  • Work collaboratively to help leverage the university's considerable research capacities
    • To better understand the origins of the disease,
    • To develop preventative strategies for the disease,
    • To improve existing therapies and outcomes.

If you have questions, please contact Krista Rindell at (916) 734-9433 or e-mail krista.rindell@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

Dr. Gandara

At the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, lung cancer patients from across the continent and beyond are finding not merely compassionate care and leading-edge treatments but also cause for hope and encouragement. Under the direction of Dr. David Gandara, a nationally recognized leader in cancer research and treatment, UC Davis has developed a collaborative treatment model for thoracic cancers that is being emulated at hospitals around the country. Here, lung cancer patients benefit from a team-based approach: the entire staff of thoracic cancer physicians meets weekly to review each patient's highly individualized treatment regimen, an approach that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the risks of the many trial therapies administered by the Cancer Center.

Cancers of the lung and bronchus take a terrible toll in lives. Accounting for only 13% of cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. annually, thoracic malignancies are responsible for 30% of all cancer-related deaths. Though the rate of incidence among males has steadily declined since 1990 (consistent with trends in smoking cessation), lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death among men. The incidence of lung cancer among women has steadily risen for several decades, and the fastest growing segment of new lung cancer victims are young, non-smoking women. In 1987 lung cancer eclipsed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

The nature of lung cancers and the organs they affect makes early detection difficult, and, in contrast to other cancers, early detection has yet to demonstrate improved outcomes. Typically, by the time such cancers are diagnosed, they have progressed to other organs, the conventional treatments for which include chemo- and radiation therapy. Very recently however, a number of new targeted-drug therapies such as Iressa have shown promising, even dramatic, outcomes where before there was meager cause for optimism.

For a great many lung cancer patients, hope comes largely in the form of experimental treatments. Thanks to our leadership in research and clinical care, and our collaborative efforts with the University of Southern California and City of Hope, the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center has received two multi-year grants from the National Cancer Institute to evaluate the efficacy of some of the newest drugs and treatment regimens available—treatments that are available nowhere else in Northern California. Lung cancer patients are enrolled in a total of 17 distinct clinical trials at the Cancer Center.

Recent breakthroughs in the development of targeted-drug therapies make this an auspicious time for the Cancer Center to strengthen its program by pursuing additional clinical trials and attracting more patients.

An endowed chair for the study and treatment of lung cancer will aid the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center in attracting and supporting a noted physician-researcher who will:

  • Provide exceptional patient care and clinical leadership,
  • Lead and conduct clinical and translational research and attract outside research funding,
  • Help meet growing patient demand, and
  • Work collaboratively to help leverage the university's considerable research capacities:
    • To better understand the origins of the disease,
    • To develop preventative strategies for the disease, and
    • To improve existing therapies and outcomes.

If you have questions, please contact Krista Rindell at (916) 734-9433 or e-mail krista.rindell@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

Researcher

Children's cancers are different from those found in adults. The causes and contributing factors of childhood cancers are unknown, and it is not clearly understood why the risk of childhood cancers, while very low, peaks between ages 1-5. The good news is that childhood cancers generally respond well to chemotherapy, and mortality rates for children's cancers have improved markedly since the 1970s.

The highly trained and experienced pediatric cancer team at UC Davis Children's Hospital represents the most advanced, comprehensive care for the children in our region. Each year our pediatric oncologists treat over 50 new cases, and our clinics log in excess of 2,500 patient visits. At any one time, 50 clinical trials, which have been linked to improved outcomes, are open for children with cancer as part of the federally funded Children's Oncology Group cooperative research program.

The key ingredients for a dynamic research program in pediatric cancer at UC Davis are well within reach. Gene specific therapies are being successfully administered to children and adults, and our transplant program rivals that of Stanford, UCSF, and Oakland Children's Hospital. But due to pressing clinical demands and strained resources, our physicians have little opportunity to conduct research.

An endowed chair in pediatric cancer would make possible the recruitment of a dedicated physician-researcher to form the nucleus of a pediatric cancer research team at UC Davis. A fully funded research program in pediatric cancer will contribute to the overall strength of the Cancer Center and improve our level of service to the families of Northern California. When the life expectancy of a cured child is considered, the impact of a gift in support of this program is profound.

An endowed chair for the study and treatment of pediatric cancers will aid the Cancer Center in attracting and supporting a noted physician-researcher to:

  • Provide exceptional patient care and clinical leadership,
  • Lead and conduct clinical and translational research and attract outside research funding,
  • Work collaboratively to help leverage the university's considerable research capacities,
  • Better understand the origins of the disease,
  • Develop preventative strategies for the disease, and
  • Improve existing therapies and outcomes.

If you have questions, please contact Krista Rindell at (916) 734-9433 or e-mail krista.rindell@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

Cancer cell

Physicians have known for more than a century that exposure to chemicals, radiation, and viruses can lead to cancer. Physicians also learned from mounting epidemiological evidence that certain cancers seemed to be "passed" from parent to child.

Beginning with Watson and Crick's 1953 discovery of the chemical structure of DNA and its role in cellular development, our understanding of the make-up and function of genes has rapidly progressed, illuminating the fundamental link between genetics and cancer: malignant tumors are the result of DNA damage.  A deeper understanding of molecular biology revealed a more precise connection between cancer and genetics: specific cancers develop in relationship to damage to a specific chromosome, or group of chromosomes — five to ten genetic mutations in a single cell, be they inherited or the result of chance or environment, can set the stage for a cancerous growth.

Geneticists, immunologists, and molecular biologists at UC Davis are working to discern exactly how the complex molecular functions regulating the growth and death of normal cells are altered to trigger the growth of tumors that multiply and spread according to their own logic. Two forms of genetic mutations seem to come into play in the formation of cancer: the oncogene, which drives the formation of tumors by creating abnormal amounts of growth-stimulating proteins, and the altered tumor suppressor gene, the complement to the oncogene, which hinders or eliminates a cancer cell's otherwise natural "brake system," and so too contributes to the breakaway growth of tumors.

While many questions about the mechanics of cancer remain unanswered, the extraordinary efforts to unravel these complexities have led to significant and promising improvements in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

Genetic research has made clear links between a number of specific genes, that when mutated, tend to result in cancers. Among them are the retinoblastoma gene, two breast cancer genes, the genes involved in most colon cancers, and the genes involved in a number of Wilms' tumors.

Based on this kind of knowledge, physicians and patients can work together in new ways to greatly minimize the risks of developing these cancers. These same advances have led to the development of experimental but promising gene therapies, which involve the replacement of missing genes or the repair of damaged genes by supplying new genetic material to the patient.

Physicians and researchers, using the same insights and techniques developed in gene therapy, are also exploring ways to enhance the immune system's cancer fighting capacity as they learn more about the complex proteins that control the normal life and death cycle of the cell.

Huge strides have been made in the field of cancer genetics in just the last two years. For example, research has led to the development of such drugs as Gleevec, the first FDA-approved, molecular-targeting drug. Gleevec has been dramatically successful in treating pediatric chronic myelogenous leukemia and a rare stomach cancer by effectively switching off the cancer's growth proteins.

While the process of discovering, testing, and producing a new drug like Gleevac is enormously risky and costly, the success of such drugs, as limited as it may be, gives impetus and hope to physician-researchers like those at the UC Davis Cancer Center, who believe that the field of cancer genetics is the most important frontier in the war on cancer. Whether it is genetic counseling for those who have inherited cancer-causing genes, cancer immunology, which fights cancer and improves other therapies by working with the body's immune system, or stem cell transplants to replace or repair missing or malfunctioning DNA, hope lies ahead.

In recent years, stem-cell research, a branch of human genetics, has emerged as one of the most promising frontiers in medicine. While UC Davis does not have a human genetics program at present, the university and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are national leaders respectively in plant and animal genetics and human genetics. The ideal program would be driven by the holder of an endowed faculty chair, supported by two junior researchers, who can work collaboratively with UC Davis, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Cancer Center physicians and scientists to advance the understanding of cancer genetics and potential gene-based therapies.

If you have questions, please contact Krista Rindell at (916) 734-9433 or e-mail krista.rindell@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

Researcher

Among the newest and most promising areas of cancer research, immunotherapy (or biological therapy) seeks to make use of the body's natural immune function to fight cancer or to lessen the side effects of chemo- and radiation therapies.

The relationship between cancerous tumors and the immune system is not fully understood. It is possible that cancers may develop when the immune system either breaks down or fails to function normally. Unlike other diseases, cancer cells "mask" their presence to the immune system and grow unchecked.  Researchers and clinicians in the field of immunology are developing therapies for repairing, stimulating, or enhancing the immune system's response to cancerous cells.

Immunotherapy has tremendous therapeutic promise: it is free of the harmful side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation, free of the risks and consequences of surgery, and, because immunotherapy utilizes the body's "built in" cellular disease-fighting mechanisms, it has the potential to combat malignancies, detected and otherwise, anywhere in the body.

Immunological therapies are alike in that they approach disease at the sub-cellular level, where cell function is continually regulated and cell health is maintained. A number of approaches are being explored to enhance the efficacy of the body’s own antibodies in fighting cancers.

Biological Response Modifiers (BRMs): Biologists and chemists in recent years have learned how to replicate a number of components (such as antibodies and cytokines) that are produced by the immune system. These substances are given to cancer patients to boost, direct, or restore the body's ability to fight disease. BRMs have many potential uses, such as reversing the process of pre-cancerous cells, making cancer more easily recognizable to the immune system, preventing the spread of cancer, or simply helping healthy cells recover after chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Some of these treatments are now standard for some cancers; most are still only being administered as part of clinical trials.

Tumor cell vaccines: Doctors have been successful in creating antigens (the chemicals that call antibodies into action) from cancerous tissue from the patient or from cancerous tissue derived elsewhere. Clinical trials are underway using tumor cell vaccines to treat a number of cancers: melanoma, kidney, ovarianbreastcolorectallung, and leukemia.

Antigen vaccines: Genetic research has unlocked the codes of many antigens that can now be mass-produced. This makes it possible to treat a patient with large numbers of antigens with the purpose of stimulating an immune response to a specific cancer. Some antigens produce immune reactions to more than one form of cancer.

DNA vaccines: These have an advantage over antigen and tumor cell vaccines in that they instruct the cell to continually produce a specific disease-fighting antigen.

Other DNA therapies involve the direct treatment of cancer cells by actually replacing damaged genes or adding new genes to make cancer cells more responsive to cancer drugs.

At the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, under the direction of Dr. Fu-Tong Liu, important breakthroughs are being made towards the development of biological therapies. Dr. Liu, Chairman of the Department of Dermatology and noted allergy and immunology researcher, discovered a family of proteins, galectins, which have been found to have key roles in asthma, as well as melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.

In initial clinical trials, Galectin-3 has proven to be an extremely accurate marker in distinguishing cancerous from benign nodules in the thyroid. While this diagnostic procedure is still being tested, it suggests that thousands of patients may be spared unnecessary surgeries. It has also been shown that Galectin-7 plays an important role in "switching off" the cell, a normal part of the cellular life cycle that malfunctions in cancers.

Further applied research could result in the development of targeted drug therapies that interact with galectins to treat cancer.

At present, the UC Davis Medical School faculty does not have an immunologist fully dedicated to cancer research. The ideal program would be driven by the holder of an endowed faculty chair, supported by two junior researchers, who can leverage the exceptional immunological resources in the health system's North-Central California Center for AIDS research, the California National Primate Research Center, and the UC Davis Center for Comparative Medicine.

If you have questions, please contact Krista Rindell at (916) 734-9433 or e-mail krista.rindell@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.