UCSD breaks ground on medical research facility and diabetes center

By Pat Sherman

UC San Diego broke ground on its new $269 million Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI) Jan. 10, during a ceremony attended by about 400 people, including elected officials, medical professionals, patients and philanthropists.

The facility will enable laboratory and clinical researchers to work side-by-side, collaborating and sharing resources to better under- stand and treat diseases from cancer and diabetes to arthritis.

The building is named for philanthropists Steve and Lisa Altman, who pledged $10 million to construct the building on UCSD’s medical campus.

“We are thrilled that the Altmans have stepped forward to accelerate a project that has been our dream for many years,” said Dr. David Brenner, Vice Chancellor for UCSD Health Sciences. “Their gift will help us provide personalized care that focuses on using the most advanced technologies to care for San Diegans and people from around the globe.”

The CTRI building will include research laboratories and clinical research space to support UCSD medical and bioengineering investigators, as well as partners in San Diego’s biotech community.

“The Altman CTRI will not be organized like a traditional university building with academic departments — it will not be business as usual,” Brenner promised. “Instead, talented people from all disciplines — physicians, geneticists, engineers, immunologists and computer scientists — will be brought together to collaborate on curing specific diseases.

“What that means for you and for me is that we won’t have to travel to get the highest level of care,” Brenner said. “Rather, patients from around the world will come here to access the latest treatments as we develop into a destination medical center.”

Qualcomm co-chairman Steve Altman said his donation was a “no brainer.” The CTRI will include a pediatric and adult diabetes research center. Altman’s father, who also was in attendance, has lived with Type 1 diabetes — the most severe and debilitating form — since age 4. Altman’s son and one of his daughters also have the disease.

When Altman’s brother, Jeff, contracted diabetes, the doctors assured that they were very close to a cure — though four decades later none has been discovered.

“It continues to impact our family in a very negative way. My niece also has it. It’s just all over the place,” Altman said, noting that the new CTRI center “is something that’s clearly of great need and of great use for us, but it also makes us feel really good that we’re not only focused on diabetes; we’re focused on all kinds of diseases.”

La Jollans Kevin and Sherry Ahern, whose also donated to the center and whose adult son has Type 1 diabetes, serve on the board of La Jolla’s Pediatric Diabetes Research Center (PDRC), which will be located at CTRI upon completion.

Sherry Ahern said there is a paucity of pediatric endocrinologists and other diabetes specialists in San Diego and across the country. She is thrilled that the pediatric diabetes clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital will relocate to a site within walking distance to CTRI and its education and research facilities.

David Winkler, who founded the PDRC, said the diabetes center at CTRI will provide the perfect environment in which to test new drugs or devices.

Winkler added that he believes UCSD will become the No. 1 center in the country for pediatric and adult diabetes care.

One out of every 20 people with Type 1 diabetes dies from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The disease also can lead to blindness, kidney failure and cardiovascular disease.

In 2010, the CTRI received a five-year, $37.2 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health.

CTRI is expected to open in early 2016, in close proximity to Moores Cancer Center, Thornton Hospital, the Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center and the future Jacobs Medical Center.