Mark Wallace, MD, Leads UC San Diego CTRI Clinic into New Era

August 15, 2016 | Patti Wieser

Mark Wallace, MD

Mark Wallace, MD

In 1988, as an anesthesiology resident with a hearing impairment, Mark S. Wallace, MD, was intrigued by the varying hearing abilities of anesthesiologists in operating rooms. There, beeps and bells signal the state of a patient’s vital signs. Under the tutelage of a University of Maryland faculty member, Wallace embarked on his first research project: testing the presence of hearing loss in anesthesiologists and identifying the pitch of the losses.

“It turned out that the highest prevalence of hearing loss was the pitch of the operating room alarms,” Wallace said. His work became the topic of one of his first papers, “Hearing acuity of anesthesiologists and alarm detection,” published in Anesthesiology in 1994. His project earned him the resident award for research.

“That’s how I got my start in research,” said Wallace, a physician-scientist who has authored or co-authored more than 180 articles, abstracts, books, and book chapters concerning pain research and management, and has presented more than 100 lectures. Among dozens of honors he has received are San Diego’s Top Doc (six times since 2008) and the American Pain Society Centers of Excellence Award (twice). At UC San Diego, he has served as a research advisor to nearly 50 medical students, residents and clinical fellows.

Today he directs the Center for Clinical Research at UC San Diego Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI), overseeing a state-of-the-art, 18,000-square-foot clinic on the first floor of the new Altman CTRI building. Wallace continues to conduct research and treat patients, and chairs the Division of Pain Medicine in the Department of Anesthesiology.

“Dr. Wallace brings the CTRI clinic into a new era,” said CTRI director Gary S. Firestein, MD. “He joined the CTRI when it was established in 2010 and has been instrumental in helping us build the Center for Clinical Research into a resource that can support hundreds of clinical trials every year.”

Wallace said he was attracted to pain as a specialty because he loved anesthesiology, but missed chronic care. After receiving a medical degree from Creighton University in Omaha, completing an internship in general surgery at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., a residency at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, and a fellowship at UC San Diego, he became interested in translational medicine. While conducting pain research, he’d noticed that many drugs never made it to patients, failing to get past phase 1 and 2 clinical trials.

“I figured there must be some way that we can get a signal earlier in the development of the medication,” he said. “I developed a model to actually test drugs in healthy volunteers in the phase 1 setting.”  Phase 1 is the first time a therapeutic agent is tested in humans. He used capsaicin – the derivative of red chili pepper – and injected it under the skin of trial participants. Capsaicin causes a sensation similar to a very painful bee sting. Once Wallace determined the pharmacology of the model, industry began approaching him to test its drugs.

At the CTRI clinic, one of the most challenging aspects of his job is accommodating the diverse needs of investigators. “I went from one specialty – pain medicine – to being required to be familiar with many specialties,” he said, adding that he enjoys learning about the various disciplines and helping fellow researchers.

The CTRI clinic handles service requests that vary in complexity, from sample processing and cardiovascular phenotyping to full-blown clinical trial management. “We can do it all,” Wallace said. “We have an incredible staff, from coordinators and nurses to lab specialists and biostatisticians.”

Pediatrics researcher Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, who joins Wallace on the CTRI Executive Committee and collaborated with him in establishing a larger CTRI presence at Rady Children’s Hospital, lauded his leadership abilities. “Dr. Wallace (Mark) has developed an integrated and flexible clinical research support team that is responsive to a wide variety of research requests. Through his leadership, he has helped to establish workable mechanisms for providing clinical research services at UC San Diego/Rady Children’s Hospital for pediatric clinical investigators,” Chambers said.

Growing up in New Mexico, Wallace did not envision a career in medicine. He considered teaching, coaching, and dentistry. While working on a bachelor’s degree in biology at New Mexico State University, he decided to become a physician. Now he can’t imagine life without patients, research, and overseeing the CTRI clinic.

“And then there is family,” he said. Wallace is married to Anne Wallace, MD, UC San Diego Department of Surgery, and they have two sons, Zachary, a student at Tufts University in Boston, and Dominick, a student at La Jolla High School. To relax, the family spends time at Catalina Island every year. “We love to boat and are a family of swimmers,” he said. “Our oldest is on the swim team at Tufts and our youngest is an all-American high school swimmer.”

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About UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute:

UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) is part of a national Clinical and Translational Science Award consortium, led by the National Institutes of Health National Center for Advancing Translational Science. Established in 2010, ACTRI provides infrastructure and support for basic, translational and clinical research throughout the San Diego region to bring discoveries from the laboratory to the bedside, and facilitates training and education of the next generation of researchers. ACTRI carries out its activities in collaboration with institutional and corporate partners and currently has more than 1,400 members.

www.actri.ucsd.edu