The University of California, Davis plans to invest $4 million over three years to launch four new research centers that will address some of society’s greatest challenges and needs. That includes everything from improving agriculture to finding out why some people have a tendency to get sicker than others.

Known as the IMPACT (Inter & Multidisciplinary Program to Accelerate Convergence & Translation) Program, the UC Davis Office of Research initiative is designed to promote new and sustainable research activities.

Two of the centers – the Gene Therapy Center and the Perinatal Origins of Disparities Center – are located at or affiliated with the UC Davis Health campus in Sacramento.

Gene Therapy Center

The field of gene therapy is changing the face of health care, offering the potential to provide cures that extend a lifetime and curtail the costs of ongoing treatments. The UC Davis Gene Therapy Center will establish a center of excellence to target genetic diseases through multidisciplinary research, education and manufacturing. It brings together a growing network of expertise and equipment at UC Davis Health. 

For example, the unique good manufacturing practice (GMP) facility housed at the university’s Institute for Regenerative Cures in Sacramento has amassed nearly a decade of experience in research-related work. By leveraging these types of resources and investing in strategic opportunities, the center will help usher new therapies through the complex FDA approval process for clinical trials.

Led by Jan Nolta, professor of cell biology and human anatomy, the center’s team will offer highly experienced consultations, in vitro and in vivo study models, state-of-the-art equipment, manufacturing, regulatory expertise, patent and licensing resources, and specialized on-site cellular and gene therapy operations.

“Some of the most promising and exciting research right now comes from the field of gene therapy,” said Nolta, who also directs UC Davis’ Stem Cell Program. “The IMPACT grant and our new center will enable us to enhance gene therapy research and develop effective treatments and, hopefully, ‘cures’ for patients who have rare diseases and other conditions.”

Perinatal Origins of Disparities Center

Despite impressive advances in health care technology, health outcomes in the U.S. are often more dependent on zip code than DNA code. The Perinatal Origins of Disparities (POD) Center will investigate why and how some groups of people are more likely to be sicker than others.  The team will then develop ways to prevent those disparities when they often begin, from pre-conception to infancy. The POD center is led by Janine LaSalle, professor of medical microbiology and immunology, and associate director of the Genome Center, and Leigh Ann Simmons, professor and chair of the Department of Human Ecology.  

Since the challenge of preventing health disparities will never be addressed through a single approach, the POD center brings faculty together from a wide range of fields: genome sciences, human development, epidemiology, biomedical engineering, social welfare policy and health economics. This wide-ranging group will examine biological, social, behavioral and community-level data simultaneously as it develops, tests and shares prevention strategies and tools.

Data Science and Global Migration centers

In addition to the gene therapy and POD centers, the IMPACT grants are also launching a Data Science Center and a Global Migration Center. These centers also will include extensive collaborations within and between departments and research teams at UC Davis and UC Davis Health.

“Multi- and interdisciplinary research enables breakthroughs in resolving some of the world’s most intractable problems and opens up entirely new and exciting research fields,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis, in announcing the grants. “By building on synergies between individuals and organizations, the IMPACT Program will harness the power of complementary knowledge and capabilities to accelerate and amplify impact from research.”

Center leaders will present their research projects at a launch event in late October.