Imagine wearing long-sleeved shirts when Sacramento temperatures reach triple digits. It sounds uncomfortable, but that's just what Duane Wright did for nine years. Burned over 40 percent of his body on the job as a California Department of Forestry firefighter, Wright endured years of insecurity over the resulting scars on his arms. It was only after a combination of expert burn care at the UC Davis Regional Burn Center and emotional support provided by the Fire-fighters Burn Institute (FFBI) did he find the confidence to wear short sleeves.
UC Davis' burn center, where Wright was treated, was established in 1974, two years after a devastating plane crash at a Sacramento ice cream parlor killed 22 people and severely burned dozens more. That tragedy identified a critical need for specialized burn care. Sacramento Fire Department captain Cliff Haskell mobilized community firefighters to raise funds for a specialized burn unit in UC Davis Medical Center. The effort also launched the non-profit Firefighters Burn Institute.
Today, the UC Davis Regional Burn Center is one of only two burn units in Northern California, and one of only 42 nationwide, verified and certified by the American Burn Association.
The firefighters institute is still partnering with UC Davis more than 30 years later to provide the most up-to-date specialized burn services possible. The institute recently donated $1 million to help build a new Regional Burn Center within UC Davis' new Surgery and Emergency Services Pavilion. The institute has committed to raising an additional $1 million.
The new burn unit will occupy 9,000 square feet, double the current space, and consolidate burn services, such as physical and occupational therapies. The pavilion is scheduled to open in 2008.
"The efforts of the Firefighters Burn Institute – and countless Northern California firefighters and community members – will help us forge vital discoveries in burn care and treat an even greater number of critically injured patients," said David Greenhalgh, chief and professor of burn surgery at UC Davis.
"FFBI is dedicated to assuring that the best possible burn treatment and recovery programs are available in Northern and Central California," said Brian Rice, president of the Firefighters Burn Institute's board of directors and fire captain at Sacramento Metro Fire Department.
That's something to which burn survivor Wright can attest. It was within the comfort zone of the institute's retreat for burn survivors that he first rolled up his sleeves.
"The partnership between UC Davis and the institute is invaluable to burn survivors like me," he said. "Between the quality of burn care provided by UC Davis and the emotional support I've received through FFBI's burn survivor programs, they gave me my life back beyond my wildest dreams."
How you can help
UC Davis Health System plays an important role in improving the quality of life in the Sacramento region and beyond by providing high quality, compassionate health care and conducting cutting-edge research. To help support its Burn Center or other UC Davis Health System programs, please contact Health Sciences Advancement at (916)734-9400 or at www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu. To contribute to the Firefighters Burn Institute fund-raising efforts, contact the institute at (916) 739-8525 or at www.ffburn.org.
Back to top
A new analysis of research on fragile X prevalence indicates that the genetic mutation may be present in as many as one in 129 women, significantly higher than the previous estimate of one in 259. Randi Hagerman, medical director of the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute and an endowed chair in fragile X research, spearheaded the study.
Fragile X – a genetic mutation that causes developmental, physical and behavioral impairments – may impact more than 1 million men, women and children in the United States, based on the new analysis from Hagerman's team.
The study was made possible in part by funding from Hagerman's endowed chair, which has allowed her to devote more time to research and to her clinical duties instead of spending time on applying for grant funding. "I have the time to develop cutting-edge treatment programs to help children, adults and their families and to develop public health advances, such as newborn screening for fragile X," she said.
Though it is linked to a single gene, fragile X has many expressions, which will require continued and significant investigation. "We have a long way to go before we fully understand all of its outcomes — and we've just begun to see the kinds of neuro-developmental and medical issues fragile X can cause," Hagerman said.
Hagerman's discoveries are leading researchers one step closer to better treatments and a cure for fragile X. "We can provide the best clinical care in the world for families because of our research and the high quality of our clinical and molecular team," Hagerman said. "This would not have been possible without the endowed chair."
Back to top
Virtual reality technology, popular in the computer gaming world, offers fascinating advantages for medical researchers and students.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences faculty Mark Servis, Peter Yellowlees, Marty Leamon and Don Hilty are using Internet-based virtual reality technology to train medical students, residents, nursing students and other medical staff in the hallucinogenic symptoms of schizophrenia. Students observe common hallucinations, such as voices, music and morphing written words, reconstructed in a simulated psychiatric inpatient ward.
The virtual environment opens doors for researchers and patients as well. While educational materials about schizophrenia often emphasize the frightening or disturbing nature of hallucinations, many patients believe that their experiences are not well understood. The simulated environment has helped patients feel their hallucinations are represented accurately. By better understanding the symptoms, researchers are able to develop better treatments for schizophrenia.
Simulation systems also have been shown to be effective for treating phobias and other anxiety disorders. Simulated environment tools could be extended to post-traumatic stress disorders, addictions and other psychiatric illnesses where re-experiencing and re-immersion have been shown to provide therapeutic benefit.
The virtual hallucinations project at UC Davis is funded in part by the Roy Brophy Chair in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Named in honor of former University of California Regent and Sacramento builder Roy Brophy, the endowed chair also has allowed Servis to bring in a national expert to facilitate an annual faculty development session in medical education and a retreat for psychiatry faculty to help them develop a strategic plan for educating medical students, residents and faculty.
Discovering ways to treat musculoskeletal disorders, particularly for people who have cystic fibrosis, is a major focus of UC Davis professor David Fyhrie's orthopaedic research laboratory thanks to endowment funding from UC Davis Health System's largest donor, Lawrence J. Ellison, founder of Oracle Corp.
Fhyrie's laboratory is funded in part by the David Linn Chair, one of four endowments created by Ellison's $6 million contribution. The Linn chair enabled UC Davis to recruit Fyhrie as director of the laboratory, set up his lab space and purchase equipment. It also allowed Fyhrie to allocate career enhancement funds to students and junior faculty, like post-doctoral fellow Damian Genetos and doctoral candidate Ron June.
Genetos is studying why cystic fibrosis patients develop osteoporosis with age. He has gathered preliminary data that suggests the genetic mutation that causes cystic fibrosis also directly impairs the ability of bone-forming osteoblasts to maintain normal skeletal structure. This research may pave the road toward better osteoporosis treatments for cystic fibrosis patients. June, a biomedical engineering doctoral candidate, is studying the molecular structure and mechanical behavior of articular cartilage – soft tissue that helps distribute the load between contacting bones in a joint and allows for very low-friction motion. The analysis, made possible through the use of specialized equipment such as a dynamic mechanical analyzer, may yield insight into future treatments for cartilage diseases such as osteoarthritis.