Laura Bechtel Fund Established

The S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation has created the Laura Bechtel Endowment for Junior Faculty in the UCSF Division of Rheumatology. The fund honors Stephen Bechtel Jr.'s late mother.

The goal of the fund is to help UCSF continue to recruit young faculty members who are among the best researchers in the field of rheumatology and help support them through the difficult initial years when they must distinguish themselves and successfully compete for major grants from the National Institutes of Health. On an ongoing basis, the Laura Bechtel Endowment will help support one junior faculty member for three consecutive years by providing "seed funding" while the individual develops proof of concept of his or her research.

Julie Zikherman, MD, the first beneficiary, says, "It makes a big difference to feel that there is some cushion during this time between being supported as a fellow and being completely independent. The kinds of grants for people in this transition period are very limited. This allows me to pursue my training in research and then become independent with my own research program. I'm very lucky."

Dr. Zikherman is a 2008 graduate of the UCSF Rheumatology Fellowship program, in which young physicians train to become researchers and rheumatologists. She received support from the Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis during her fellowship.

She now works in the lab of renowned UCSF immunologist Arthur Weiss, MD, PhD and is focused on better understanding how lymphocytes—a kind of cell that circulates around the bloodstream and protects people from infection—can trigger autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus when they malfunction. Specifically, she is investigating how abnormality in the PTPN22 gene contributes to such diseases.

"This allows me to pursue my training in research and then become independent with my own research program."
--- Dr. Julie Zickherman

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