VP&S Selects 2020 Gerstner Scholars

Four physician-scientists at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons—Rebecca Hough, MD, PhD, Benjamin Izar, MD, PhD, Jared Kushner, MD, and Stuart Weisberg, MD, PhD—have been named 2020 Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Scholars. Kelley Yan, MD, PhD, has been named a 2020 Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Merit Awardee.

The Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Scholars Program supports tenure-track physicians who conduct research that has the promise to bring new treatments to patients. The fund provides a stipend of $75,000 per year, for up to three years, to support the awardees’ research projects. Scholars are nominated by a committee of distinguished research faculty and selected by the VP&S dean. The program has named scholars every year since 2008.

The program also presents the Gerstner Merit Award to an outstanding third-year Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Scholar who has made great strides in research. Created in 2014, the award provides an additional year of support to help the scholar secure a significant principal investigator award and become an independent investigator.

2020 Gerstner Scholars

Rebecca F. Hough, MD, PhD, Gerstner Scholar

Rebecca F. Hough

Rebecca Hough, MD, PhD

Project: "Mitochondrial mechanisms of vaping-induced acute lung injury"

Rebecca Hough is assistant professor of pediatrics within the Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and a talented physician-scientist with expertise in basic lung research. After receiving her MD and PhD degrees from the University of Wisconsin, Hough completed her residency training at Columbia. It was here that Hough developed her interest in the molecular mechanisms of acute lung injury (ALI). 

Hough has developed an interest in mechanisms underlying chemical toxicity to the alveolar epithelium, the site of gas exchange. In a recent paper in JCI Insight, she reported a major new finding that acid-induced chemical injury to the alveolar epithelium causes mitochondrial failure in adjoining lung capillaries. This understanding is relevant to vaping-induced alveolar toxicity. Despite the increasing recognition that vaping can cause pneumonitis-like syndromes, and even death, practically nothing is known about how vaping causes lung inflammation and injury. Since therapy is not available for vaping-induced ALI, it is reasonable to investigate whether mitochondria are involved and, thereby, to evaluate the possibility that mitochondrial therapy is effective in this condition.

Mentor: Jahar Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and physiology & cellular biophysics and director of lung research, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

Benjamin Izar, MD, PhD, Columbia University

Benjamin Izar

Benjamin Izar, MD, PhD

Project: “Immune fitness testing in patient-derived models using multimodal single-cell profiling”

Benjamin Izar is assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology. He trained at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute and is trailblazing new paths in the interface between cutting-edge single cell genomics, imaging, genome-editing tools, and clinical studies in immuno-oncology. In his independent program, Izar aims to leverage technologies that he has developed and implemented for translational studies to improve our understanding of mechanisms of resistance to immunotherapies. This research is of utmost importance for melanoma patients and likely will extend to other tumors.

In the proposed research project, Izar builds on preliminary data identifying putative mechanisms of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) resistance with single-cell RNA-seq, imaging, and patient-derived tumor-immune models. Using these innovations, Izar combines CRISPR-Cas9 screens with single-cell RNA and protein readouts to functionally validate these mechanisms. Together, these studies may provide avenues for novel drug discovery to overcome resistance to ICI.

Mentor: Gary Schwartz, MD, chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology and deputy director of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center

Jared Kushner, MD, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner, MD

Project: “Regulators and interactomes of CaV1.2 in health and disease”

Jared Kushner is an instructor of medicine (he will become assistant professor of medicine beginning July 1) within the Division of Cardiology. During medical school, Kushner obtained a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowship and worked in the laboratory of Steven Marx, MD, focusing on maladaptive vascular myogenic constriction in heart failure. As part of New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University’s American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Research Pathway training program, Kushner completed two years of medicine residency and two years of clinical cardiology fellowship training before returning to the Marx laboratory, where he participated in a T32 training grant and sequentially obtained both the New York Academy of Medicine Glorney-Raisbeck Cardiovascular Research Fellowship and Junior Faculty Award.

Kushner's research has implications for the treatment of arrhythmias and heart failure. Arrhythmia is the leading cause of death in heart failure, and heart failure is a leading cause of illness and death with more than 1 million hospitalizations in the United States annually.

Mentor: Steven O. Marx, MD, the Herbert and Florence Irving Professor of Cardiology (in Medicine) to honor Dr. Roy E. Rabbani and director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Program

Stuart Weisberg, MD, PhD, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Stuart Weisberg

Stuart Weisberg, MD, PhD

Project: “Mechanisms of pancreatic inflammation”

Stuart Weisberg is assistant professor of pathology & cell biology. He completed his undergraduate studies at Brown University and received his MD/PhD at VP&S. Weisberg’s discovery as a graduate student that macrophages accumulate in adipose tissue during obesity (published in 2003 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation) remains one of the most highly cited articles from Columbia’s medical school, with close to 5,000 citations. He continued on with postdoctoral research in hematopoiesis and tumorigenesis in the laboratory of Boris Reizis, PhD, in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. Weisberg then completed a residency in pathology and a fellowship in transfusion medicine, which he completed in 2017.Weisberg's project focuses on pancreatic inflammation, which has severe consequences for human health. In acute and chronic pancreatitis, extensive infiltration of exocrine pancreas by adaptive and innate immune cells causes pancreatic tissue destruction and high rates of morbidity and mortality. Chronic pancreatic inflammation also raises the risk for developing pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, a highly aggressive cancer; risk for these pancreatic diseases is particularly high in patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes. Weisberg and his team have established systems for mapping the lineage, function, and spatial configuration of immune cells within human pancreas tissue. His project has the potential to elucidate how these immune cells control pancreatic inflammation and may suggest novel therapeutic strategies for treatment of pancreatic disease.

Mentor: Donna Farber, PhD, the George H. Humphreys II Professor of Surgical Sciences (in Surgery), chief of the Division of Surgical Sciences, and professor of microbiology & immunology

2020 Gerstner Scholar Merit Awardee

Kelley Yan, MD, PhD, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Kelley Yan

Kelley Yan, MD, PhD

Kelley Yan is the Dorothy L. and Daniel H. Silberberg Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Digestive and Liver Diseases and in the Department of Genetics & Development. She received her MD and PhD degrees at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and pursued postgraduate training in internal medicine and gastroenterology at Stanford University. She completed her postdoctoral research training at Stanford in Calvin Kuo’s lab where she completed fundamental studies on intestinal stem cell biology before joining the Columbia faculty in 2016.

Yan’s research addresses fundamental questions of stem cell biology using the intestine as a model organ. As a Gerstner Scholar, Yan is investigating the mechanisms by which intestinal stem cells change with age, based upon her observations of an age-related decline in their function.  She aims to study the role of the niche during aging of stem cells and plans to characterize age-related changes using cutting-edge single-cell technologies. Her studies directly investigate aging in intestinal stem cells and how their altered function contributes to cancer development, which may provide new strategies to therapeutically reverse these age-related changes.

Mentor: Timothy C. Wang, MD, the Dorothy L. and Daniel H. Silberberg Professor of Medicine and chief of the Division of Digestive and Liver Diseases