Dear Jason,

We open our first newsletter of 2024 with many happy recognitions and program updates from the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine (CIAPM). We are honored to highlight award-winning research grantees from UCSD who received the 2024 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award, share a special interview with one of CIAPM's first-ever Community Health Worker researchers, introduce you to new staff, share news about the CIAPM network, provide details about upcoming meetings for our Depression Research Program and the Advisory Council, and more.

Happy Black History Month! 

The CIAPM Team 

UCSD Researchers Receive James Irvine Leadership Award

Photo 1: From right to left, Blanca Meléndrez, Don Howard, CEO of Irvine Foundation, and Amina Sheik Mohamed, holding framed certificates.

Photo 2: Blanca Meléndrez and Amina Sheik Mohamed with Precision Medicine staff Julianne McCall, David Reiner, and Saga Barberis

Photo 3: Blanca Meléndrez and Amina Sheik Mohamed receiving award recognition on the Senate floor by Senator Toni G. Atkins.

Credits: Chase Daley, Blanca Meléndrez, and Julianne McCall.

Photo 1 from right to left of Blanca Melendrez Don Howard CEO of Irvine Foundation and Amina Sheik Mohamed holding framed certificates
Photo 2 Blanca Melendrez and Amina Sheik Mohamed with Precision Medicine staff Julianne McCall David Reiner and Saga Barberis
Photo 3 Blanca Melendrez and Amina Sheik Mohamed receiving award recognition on the Senate floor by Senator Toni G Atkins

CIAPM-supported UCSD Principal Investigator Blanca Meléndrez, Executive Director of the UCSD Center for Community Health, and her colleague, Amina Sheik Mohamed, Director of the Center, received the 2024 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award for advancing health equity through collaborative, community-led initiatives through their work researching Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

The Center champions a Community-Led Transformation model that addresses social determinants of health via community-centered research and practice, uplifting community leadership and solutions. CIAPM staff attended Blanca and Amina’s recognition of the award on the Senate floor on February 12, 2024. 

Researcher Spotlight

Interview with Gerardo Villacana

CIAPM-Funded Project: Reducing Cancer Disparities Through Innovative Community-Academic Partnerships (Stanford University, Lead Investigator: Manali Patel) 

Gerardo is a Community Health Worker at Pacific Cancer Care. He received his bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley.

Gerardo Villacana

How has this project advanced health equity?  


Patients tell me they feel less stressed and more engaged and in control of their care, having a better understanding of their cancer diagnosis and treatment regimen. Patients also felt more comfortable expressing concerns to their providers, and as a result, their symptoms were better managed. Thanks to this project’s positive impact on the patient population, and support for the role among providers and staff, the role of the Community Health Worker has been fully integrated into the clinic’s standard of care and is now offered to every patient who needs it.


Read the rest of the inspiring interview on the CIAPM News & Announcements page. To learn more about the project, please visit the CIAPM Demonstration Project webpage

Demonstration Projects

Depression Research Program Request for Proposals

CIAPM held an Expert Selection Committee Meeting on January 17, 2024, during which the out-of-state committee reviewed 41 Concept Proposals from 22 California institutions and recommended 16 Finalists. The Expert Selection Committee will next meet on March 21, 2024 to recommend awards for three to five research teams ($1.8 to $3 million per team) over a three-year project term.  

Please register here for the public portion of the CIAPM Expert Selection Committee Meeting for the Depression Request for Proposals on March 21, 2024 at 8:00 am PT. The agenda is posted on our meetings webpage

Register for the Selection Committee Meeting

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Research Program

CIAPM staff recently conducted annual site visits for ACEs projects at UC San Diego, Loma Linda University, UC San Francisco, UC Irvine, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. During site visits, project teams present research and community updates, CIAPM staff tour facilities, and researchers and community leaders engage in fruitful discussions that help shape the future of their projects. 

Cancer Disparities Research Program

CIAPM has launched the evaluations process of the three cancer disparities projects that concluded late last year, including recruitment of an out-of-state Expert Evaluation Committee.

As required by state law, the committee will assess each project’s scientific, clinical, and technical accomplishments objectively within the context of the specialized line of research and the greater field of precision medicine. In addition, evaluations will gauge how the work has addressed the goals of the program to advance precision medicine and benefit diverse communities across California. 

Staff Updates

Theresa Spezzano, MSPH, PhD

Equity Officer

As CIAPM's new Equity Officer, Theresa Spezzano will co-lead the Representative Research Collaborative to advance equitable outcomes in precision medicine, particularly through engagement of researchers and communities in under-served areas. Dr. Spezzano brings over 15 years of experience in the development and evaluation of community health programs in the San Joaquin Valley. Much of her research focused on health behavior change and applying behavioral economics and education to improve individual and family health choices. She has taught classes at the university level and is a board member for two community non-profits in Stanislaus County: Central Valley Community Resources and the Stanislaus County Commission for Women. She holds a PhD from UC Merced in Public Health with an emphasis in behavioral and health economics.

Theresa Spezzano Equity Officer for CA Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine

Ramon Martinez III, PhD 

Science Communications Officer

Ramon Martinez joined CIAPM in January as its first-ever Science Communications Officer. In part, Dr. Martinez will serve as the program’s liaison to the Advisory Council, coordinate reports and other communications products, and lead legislative outreach.  

Prior to joining CIAPM, he served as the Health & Mental Health Policy Fellow with the Missouri Science and Technology Policy Initiative, where he authored more than 50 Science Notes and presented 10 committee presentations for the Missouri State Legislature regarding bills under consideration. He received his PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where he focused on therapeutics for skin cancer.  

Science Communications Officer Ramon Martinez

Biocom California Names CIAPM Director

as 2023 Government Official of the Year

Director Dr. Julianne McCall was recognized as Biocom California's 2023 Government Official of the Year during their largest annual gathering on November 16 in San Diego. In his remarks at the event, Biocom California Chair Tim Scott stated, “This special award is rarely given, bestowed only when we identify a deserving public servant who has demonstrated an appreciation, understanding, and strong support for the life science industry... Because of her exemplary work, California is better connected within and beyond state borders to leverage the nation’s diverse community of R&D innovators.” Biocom California represents over 1,700 life sciences institutes and companies in the state, notably the largest life science cluster in the world. Read more about the award.

Credit: J.T. MacMillan Photography

CIAPM Network in the News

UCSF ACEs Lead PI, Dr. Neeta Thakur, and team published an article entitled, “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Related Events are Associated with Asthma Symptoms in Children” in Academic Pediatrics in January 2024.

UCSD Lead Cancer PIs, Drs. William Kim and Pablo Tamayo, and team released a preprint article entitled, “Deciphering the Functional Roles of Individual Cancer Alleles Across Comprehensive Cancer Genomic Studies” in BioRxiv in November 2023.

CA Precision Medicine Advisory Council

The California Precision Medicine Advisory Council will virtually gather for their quarterly meeting on Monday, March 25th, from 2-4 pm PT. The agenda will include brief overviews of the Representative Research Collaborative, the Depression RFP, and a continuation of programmatic strategic planning.  

Register for the Advisory Council Meeting

External Opportunities

Department of Health and Human Services: Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity 

This Funding Opportunity will support innovative intervention research addressing social determinants of health, which would have a major impact on preventing, reducing, or eliminating health disparities and advancing health equity. 

Submissions for this proposal can be made now through March 22, 2024.  

BRAIN Initiative: Research on the Ethical Implications of Advancements in Neurotechnology and Brain Science

This Funding Opportunity from the NIH Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative will support efforts addressing core ethical issues associated with research focused on the human brain and resulting from emerging technologies and advancements supported by the BRAIN Initiative. Research project grant applications are encouraged from multi-disciplinary teams and must include a Plan for Enhancing Diverse Perspectives. 

Submissions will be accepted from September 11 to October 11, 2024. 

External Events

Precision Medicine Tri-Conference 

March 26-28 | Hilton San Diego Bayfront & Virtual 

A convening of experts and practitioners from the precision medicine diagnostics community focused on the latest research, technologies, innovation and business models

Learn more about the TRI-CON conference

Biocom California’s Converge Summit 

May 22 | The Forum, South San Francisco 

An executive-level conference dedicated to advancing human health through the collaboration of life science and technology

Learn more about the Biocom CA conference

Find more external opportunities on CIAPM's website.

Explore More External Opportunities and Events

Find more opportunities at the California Grants Portal

Explore the CA Grants Portal

P.O. Box 3022

Sacramento, CA 95814-3022

(916) 322-2318

[email protected]

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