Just What the Doctor Ordered

Just What the Doctor Ordered


A $200 million shot in the arm aims to transform healthcare and UCI

By Roy Rivenburg

A pre-dawn bike ride inspired part of the plan. Other elements surfaced in a firelit room lined with books by Mario Puzo and Dashiell Hammett. A few ideas even percolated inside Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

For more than a year, UCI officials have been quietly hashing out a boundary-pushing proposal to reshape the campus and refashion healthcare in Orange County and beyond. It’s Western-meets-Eastern medicine, backed by scientific research and 21st-century technology.

The epicenter will rise on what is now a patch of weeds and rocks along the southwestern edge of campus, near the corner of Bison and California avenues. Thanks to a blockbuster $200 million gift to UCI from Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli and his wife, Susan, a former holistic health practitioner, the parcel will soon metamorphose into a realigned College of Health Sciences. Named after the couple and anchored by schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy and population health, the college hopes to pioneer an interdisciplinary, integrative approach to health that shifts the focus from treating ailments to averting them.

Although a number of top universities house integrative medicine units, UCI aims to be the first to have its entire health network adopt the strategy, which involves analyzing multiple aspects of a patient’s life – from genetics to emotions to environment – and then prescribing conventional as well as carefully vetted nonconventional therapies to promote wellness.

“We’re in the midst of a healthcare crisis, and out-of-the-box thinking is needed,” says Dr. Shaista Malik, a cardiologist who directs UCI’s longstanding Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine, which will reemerge at the new location as the research-centric Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute.

Says U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California: “One of the root causes of our country’s healthcare challenges is our failure to focus on prevention and well-being. We need to do better at preventing diseases rather than just treating them. UC Irvine is making much-needed investments in this area, and I congratulate them on this very generous donation.”

A Scientific Lens

Henry Samueli and his wife, Susan

Details on how the new vision will unfold are still being crafted, but a general blueprint was unveiled Sept. 18 at a special event announcing the Samuelis’ gift. Of the $200 million pledge, $50 million – a sum to be matched by UCI – is earmarked for construction of a five-story, 100,000-square-foot Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences building, projected to open by 2021.

Dianne Feinstein

“One of the root causes of our country’s healthcare challenges is our failure to focus on prevention and well-being. We need to do better at preventing diseases rather than just treating them.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein

One-third of that space will be occupied by the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, a hub for educational programs and research on nonconventional and complementary treatments, such as acupuncture to relieve pain and meditation to control stress.

Most of the remaining funds are pegged for an endowment to create integrative health scholarships and fellowships and 15 faculty research chairs. The new hires must devote at least half their time to the institute and will conduct cross-disciplinary research.

Dr. Howard Federoff, vice chancellor for health affairs and CEO of UCI Health, says that several nonconventional treatments are “poised to go mainstream” but need further study before they’re “ready for prime time.” Anecdotal evidence isn’t enough, he cautions. Citing aromatherapy as an example, he says the benefits described by patients must be confirmed by “rigorous” experiments.

Malik agrees: “The science for many of these remedies isn’t there yet, except in bits and pieces. Our mission in the next 10 years is to research not only whether a method works, but how it works.” Among other things, that entails taking steps to rule out “placebo effects.”

Once a treatment’s effectiveness is scientifically validated, UCI will offer it to all patients and think about incorporating it into the curricula, Federoff says.

Some students are already exploring integrative topics. Last fall, for instance, UCI’s medical school debuted an elective course in “culinary medicine.” To avoid having future doctors just vaguely advise patients to eat more healthfully, Malik says, this kitchen-based class arms them with recipes and nutrition research designed to aid people with diabetes and other maladies.

For family medicine residents, UCI recently launched an optional three-year integrative track that covers acupuncture, mineral supplements, traditional Chinese medicine and similar holistic cures. About two-thirds of the department’s physician trainees enroll.

“The current generation of students is far more open-minded” than the medical establishment, Federoff notes. For that reason, it may take a decade or so for UCI’s approach to gain wide acceptance, he says.

Federoff, an exercise buff who formulated a few ideas for UCI’s new health paradigm during early morning runs and bike rides, says his own receptiveness to avant-garde therapies grew out of nearly 30 years as a neuroscientist. Having watched one dogmatic theory after another get toppled by new discoveries, he says, “I came to believe there’s a lot we don’t know. You can’t look at the world through a lens that was ground 100 years ago and believe that’s the only way to look at the world.”

Howard Federoff

“We can improve population health to levels never before seen.”

Dr. Howard Federoff, vice chancellor for health affairs and CEO of UCI Health

On the Road

That outlook clicked with Anaheim Ducks owners Susan and Henry Samueli, longtime champions of nonconventional medicine and generous UCI benefactors.

“Susan has been passionate about this as long as I’ve known her,” Henry Samueli says. At the turn of the century, after the couple had made a fortune through Broadcom Corp., the semiconductor giant that Henry co-founded, “we decided to focus a lot of our philanthropy on integrative health,” he says.

In 2001, they created a Washington, D.C., research institute devoted to the field and donated $5.7 million to establish UCI’s Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine. By 2016, they were raring to take the concept to the next level. So when UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman described his vision for a major expansion of the university’s health system, the Samuelis were all ears. “Of course, we had a vision of our own,” Henry Samueli notes.

Howard Federoff

“The Samuelis’ dedication, their vision for what is possible and their deep generosity will help UCI set a standard that, over time, other health centers can follow.”

Chancellor Howard Gillman

Seated in an office adorned with classic books, a glowing fireplace and a Rand McNally atlas of the body, Samueli says that he, his wife and UCI leaders spent a year hammering out a framework for the undertaking. The result, announced last month, was accompanied by the largest gift in UCI history and the seventh-biggest (tied) to a single public university nationwide, according to information compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The Samuelis’ dedication, their vision for what is possible and their deep generosity will help UCI set a standard that, over time, other health centers can follow,” Gillman says.

Changes to UCI patient care, student instruction and research may be gradual, as the gift is set to be paid over eight years and the recruitment of 15 integrative health professors (six in medicine, three each in nursing, pharmacy and population health) figures to take a while.

To gather ideas for the program, the chancellor, Federoff, Malik and the Samuelis hit the road this summer to visit integrative health departments at the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, the Cleveland Clinic (with a side trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and the University of Arizona. In addition, Federoff and Gillman plan to tour integrative centers overseas this fall.

Closer to home, UCI will invite national experts on health and wellness to attend a campus workshop in the next 12 to 18 months. Last but not least, administrators hope to enlist faculty and students from computer sciences, engineering, social sciences, business and other relevant disciplines to contribute research and technology to the expanded health mission. (Officials will also convert the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Program in Public Health to schools of pharmacy and population health, respectively.)

“UCI is the perfect young campus to take this leap into the future,” says Susan Samueli, referring to the university’s culture of innovation and collaboration.

Howard Federoff

“The science for many of these remedies isn’t there yet, except in bits and pieces. Our mission in the next 10 years is to research not only whether a method works, but how it works.”

Dr. Shaista Malik, director of the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine

DNA and Opioids

UCI’s integrative initiative comes amid growing public interest in non-Western healing techniques, especially for pain and chronic conditions that don’t always respond to pills. Even the National Institutes of Health has joined in, with a research division dedicated to “systems, practices and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.” Dr. Josephine Briggs, who leads the NIH effort, says that more than a third of U.S. adults rely on such remedies.

Some observers see integrative health and its emphasis on prevention as a way to curb the nation’s rising healthcare costs. “It’s the difference between a $30 nutrition class and a $100,000 heart bypass operation,” Malik says.

The key is to look at patients holistically, Federoff explains. By analyzing “what’s in a person’s cells, organs, family, lifestyle and environment,” it’s possible to thwart genetic predispositions to diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases, he says. “For instance, you may have the gene for a certain kind of cancer, but – depending on your behavior and your exposure to stress and environmental factors like pollution – you could turn that gene off.”

To help make that happen, UCI health providers will formulate individualized wellness strategies based on DNA tests, vital-signs data collected by Fitbit-type gadgets and biomarker monitoring. They can even predict adverse reactions to certain medications and prescribe nonpharmaceutical alternatives, Malik says.

If the concept is applied to entire groups and communities, “we can improve population health to levels never before seen,” Federoff adds.

Integrative methods also hold promise for combating dependence on opioid painkillers. Preliminary research indicates that acupuncture can reduce the need for prescription narcotics, Federoff says. One case in point: A UCI neurosurgeon who offers acupuncture for post-surgical pain relief discovered that it typically shortens the length of hospital stays, according to Malik.

“Despite our technological advances, too many people still suffer from debilitating conditions such as heart disease and diabetes,” Susan Samueli says. “Preventive medicine is the best way to end this spiral.”

The Bigger Picture

Along with trailblazing a fresh approach to healthcare, the Samueli gift sets the stage for transfiguring UCI’s landscape. Construction of the new College of Health Sciences edifice is part of a grander plan to erect an assortment of medical research, academic and clinical buildings along California Avenue.

An upcoming UCI fundraising campaign, with the Samuelis serving as honorary co-chairs, will partly focus on financing this effort.

“We see the intersection of Bison and California becoming a brilliant entry point to our growing campus, a physical and symbolic gateway to education, discovery, public service and health,” Gillman says. “Time and time again, we have learned as a university that you cannot copy your way to the top. Whether it was reorganizing the study of biology when UCI was founded or creating the first department of Earth system science, our creed has been to forge new paths and watch others follow us. The Samuelis’ gift helps us continue that tradition, positioning UCI as a bold new leader in population health, patient care, education and research.”

Gift at a Glance

Amount pledged: $200 million, the biggest gift in UCI history, to be be paid in four installments of $50 million by Dec. 31 of this year, 2020, 2023 and 2025.

Donors: Susan and Henry Samueli, whose previous contributions to the university total more than $70 million

Spending Program
$50 million (to be matched by UCI) toward construction of the Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences, which will encompass:

  • The School of Medicine
  • The Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing
  • The School of Pharmacy (currently the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences)
  • The School of Population Health (currently the Program in Public Health)
  • The Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute (currently the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine)

$5 million to outfit the institute with state-of-the-art labs and equipment

$145 million for an endowment to fund:

  • 15 Samueli research chairs in integrative health
  • Two dozen scholarships and fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students planning careers in integrative health
  • Programming and administrative leadership costs for the institute