The gift will fund the launch of the institute and the work of its director, Atul Butte, who has been named the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg Distinguished Professor at UCSF. Butte is spearheading a "data recycling" approach to research that involves probing already existing, publicly available data for insights into health and medicine instead of recruiting new groups of patients and collecting clinical data from scratch. Butte and his colleagues believe the approach could improve the cost-effectiveness of drug discovery — his lab has shown, for example, that it may be possible to fight liver cancer with a drug approved to kill parasitic worms and has developed a computational method to predict which other drugs could be used to treat cancer — as well as help improve the quality of care and understanding of diseases.
The gift from Chan, an alumna of the UCSF School of Medicine, and her husband, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook, also will fund faculty recruitment efforts and an array of computational work, including the development of the university's Spoke knowledge network, a kind of "brain" for precision medicine that gives researchers access to data from many disparate sources, including laboratory experiments, clinical trials, electronic health records, and patients' own digital devices.
A pediatrician and computer scientist, Butte is overseeing a project to integrate EHRs from the UC system's five medical centers, which include data from at least fifteen million patients. "This is among the richest and most diverse medical datasets in the world — much more than just a set of billing codes," he noted. "And, because the data come from our patients, the data are an incredible resource for UC hospitals to improve the quality of care we deliver throughout California."