Columbia Clinical Researchers Named 2019 Irving Scholars

Five early-career clinical investigators at VP&S have been named 2019 Irving Scholars. 

The Herbert and Florence Irving Scholars Program annually supports investigators whose research proposals reflect independent, well-developed scientific initiative in clinical investigation. Since its inception in 1987, the program has named and supported over 135 scholars, including physicians who have since become internationally recognized for their work.

Irving Scholars are nominated and selected by a committee of research faculty and the VP&S dean. The program provides $60,000 per year for three years, allowing scholars more time for clinical investigation. 


2019 Irving Scholars

Jose Gutierrez-Contreras, MD, MPH

Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Neurology

Project: The relationship of accelerated non-atherosclerotic brain arterial aging to Alzheimer’s disease


The prevailing understanding of Alzheimer’s disease is that amyloid beta (Aß) deposition in the brain leads to the disease. In addition to Aß deposition, individuals with Alzheimer’s often suffer from vascular disease. Although the majority of studies have focused on intracranial large artery atherosclerosis (ILAA), ILAA is not the only brain large artery phenotype that relates to Alzheimer’s. 

In recent work, Jose Gutierrez-Contreras has found evidence that individuals with non-atherosclerotic brain arterial dilatation (BAA) have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s independent of other risk factors. BAA includes dolichoectasia, an arteriopathy characterized by abnormally long and tortuous arteries frequently encountered in older individuals with vascular risk factors.

As an Irving Scholar, Gutierrez-Contreras will continue to investigate the role of BAA and dolichoectasia in Alzheimer’s, with the ultimate goal of understanding how BAA contributes to Alzheimer's and potentially uncovering a new way to prevent Alzheimer’s. 

Gutierrez-Contreras completed his medical education at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico and his neurology residency at the University of Miami. He joined VP&S in 2011 initially as a clinical fellow in vascular neurology; he was appointed assistant professor of neurology in 2014. Gutierrez-Contreras was named a New York Rising Star in 2015 by Super Doctors. In 2017 he received the minority investigator award at the AIDS Clinical Trials Group in Washington, D.C.

Erin Heinzen Cox, PharmD, PhD

Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Pathology & Cell Biology (in the Institute for Genomic Medicine)

Project: Translating post-zygotically acquired mutations in SLC35A2 into disease mechanisms in epilepsy


Erin Heinzen Cox is a leader in the field of genetic and genomic bases of neurological disorders. Her current work focuses on epilepsy, for which Heinzen Cox and her collaborators have recently identified brain-specific variants in SLC35A2—a gene associated with glycosylation defects—in a significant fraction of individuals with drug-resistant focal neocortical epilepsy. 

As an Irving Scholar, Heinzen Cox seeks to establish a cohort of patients to define the SLC35A2 epilepsy phenotype, identify the cell types and specific glycosylation events contributing to disease pathophysiology, and establish the effects of pathogenic SLC35A2 variants on neuronal development and activity. The therapeutic potential for galactose supplementation will also be investigated.

Heinzen Cox received her PharmD and PhD degrees from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, School of Medicine. Before joining Columbia in 2015, Heinzen Cox was faculty director of the Genome Analysis Facility at Duke University’s Center for Human Genome Variation and assistant professor at Duke University. She is a member of several national and international scientific committees and consortia in human genetics and epilepsy genetics in both adults and pediatric populations. She served as deputy director of Columbia’s Institute for Genomic Medicine until 2018.

Nathalie Moise, MD, MS

Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine

Project: Harnessing Precision Medicine and Implementation Science to Improve Psychological Distress Treatment in Breast Cancer Patients


Treating psychological distress in cancer patients improves quality of life and prolongs survival by 10% to 50%. Despite distress management guidelines, 75% of patients remain untreated due to one-size-fits-all screening approaches and suboptimal patient and provider engagement. 

As an Irving Scholar, Nathalie Moise will conduct a pilot RCT that will test the effect of a state-of-the-art, personalized shared-decision-making tool on the treatment of psychological distress in a group of 60 breast cancer patients.

Moise earned her medical degree at Mount Sinai School of Medicine before joining Columbia as a resident in internal medicine. In 2013, Moise began a general medicine fellowship in the Center for Cardiovascular Behavioral Health and was promoted to assistant professor within two years. In 2016, she earned a certificate from the University of California San Francisco in implementation science, a field she is collaboratively growing at Columbia University.

Gissette Reyes-Soffer, MD

Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center

Project: Unraveling the Complexities of Lipoprotein(a) in Humans Through Stable Isotope Metabolic Studies, Proteomics, and Particle Characterization


Lipoprotein (a)—abbreviated Lp(a)—is a cholesterol-rich lipoprotein that is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and a significant determinant of residual CVD risk in people treated with statins. Much remains to be learned about Lp(a), including how Lp(a) levels can be reduced.

Lp(a) plasma levels are determined by the number of DNA-base repeats coding a sequence of the LPA gene (KIV2). Reyes-Soffer’s research as an Irving Scholar will provide data on the impact of KIV2 repeats on the metabolism of Lp(a).  This will enhance understanding of Lp(a) regulatory pathways so personalized therapeutic approaches can be developed to match an individual’s particular metabolic profile.

Reyes-Soffer completed her medical degree at Pontifica Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra in Santiago, Dominican Republic, and her research training in arteriosclerosis research at Columbia. She is a principal investigator of an NHLBI-funded clinical trial examining relationships among Lp(a), metabolism, and isoform size, a pivotal step in understanding the factors that regulate Lp(a) levels.

Emily Tsai, MD

Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine

Project: Validation and translation of a novel transcriptomic signature of right ventricular failure


Right ventricular dysfunction is highly prevalent in many cardiopulmonary diseases and independently predicts death in both heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. Progression toward right ventricular failure (RVF) can occur in spite of optimal medical treatment of heart failure or pulmonary hypertension, highlighting current insufficient understanding of the molecular pathophysiology of right ventricular dysfunction. 

As an Irving Scholar, Emily Tsai will conduct research to identify molecular mechanisms that underlie right ventricular dysfunction by investigating the ventricular transcriptome of advanced heart failure patients with and without RVF.

Emily Tsai earned her MD at Harvard Medical School and then trained at NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute research scholar and advanced scholar. She completed her residency at the University of Pennsylvania and clinical fellowship in cardiovascular medicine, advanced heart failure, and transplantation at Johns Hopkins. She was recruited to Columbia in 2015 to the Center for Advanced Cardiac Care in the Division of Cardiology as an attending physician and assistant professor of medicine. She is a co-author of the AHA/ACCF 2013 Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Heart Failure and, in 2017, she received the Presidential Career Development Award from the American College of Cardiology.