Four physician-scientists at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons—Nicolino Valerio Dorrello, Justin S. Golub, Eliza C. Miller, and Gene Thomas Yocum—have been named 2018 Gerstner Scholars and a fifth, Joy-Sarah Vink, has been named a Gerstner Merit Awardee.
Each year since 2008, the Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Scholars Program has supported tenure-track physicians who conduct research that has the promise of ultimately bringing new treatments to patients. The fund provides a stipend of $75,000 per year, for up to three years, in support of the awardees’ research projects. Scholars are nominated by a committee of distinguished research faculty and selected by the VP&S dean.
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 research support to help the scholar secure a significant principal investigator award and become an independent investigator.
The program is made possible through the generosity of the Gerstner Family Foundation.
The 2018 Gerstner Scholars and Merit Awardee:
Nicolino Valerio Dorrello, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics
Dr. Dorrello obtained his MD degree at the University Luigi Vanvitelli School of Medicine in Naples, Italy, in 2000, followed by a PhD in Dr. Michele Pagano’s laboratory at New York University in 2004. In Dr. Pagano’s laboratory, Dr. Dorrello studied the cell cycle and its regulation through the ubiquitin pathway.
Since obtaining his PhD, Dr. Dorrello has had a strong interest in basic science and translational medicine. In 2006, he started his pediatrics residency in Padua (Italy) and continued the program at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in 2010. He stayed at Columbia for a fellowship in pediatric critical care medicine and was appointed assistant professor of pediatrics at VP&S (tenure track) in 2015.
Dr. Dorrello’s goal is to develop novel strategies to repair the injured lung. One of the most devastating and most common injuries seen in pediatric critical care is severe and chronic respiratory failure, which often leaves lung transplantation as the only definitive treatment. Unlike survival rates for other solid organ transplants. such as heart, liver, and kidney, the success rate for long-term lung graft survival remains poor.
He has partnered with Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, PhD, University Professor in the Department of Bioengineering and the VP&S Department of Medicine, and put together a program that may become paradigm-shifting in how severe pediatric lung injury is approached and treated. The idea is to remove damaged epithelial cells while preserving lung vascular and extracellular matrix components to promote lung repair and recovery by lung progenitors. This approach, applied in early stages of severe lung injury for patients with refractory hypoxemia, and prior to the development of chronic fibrotic processes, could provide a paradigm shift in the way we consider and treat lung injury.
Justin S. Golub, MD, MS, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head & neck surgery
Dr. Golub is committed to a research career elucidating the connection between age-related hearing loss and cognitive impairment. With more than 40 peer-reviewed publications, Dr. Golub has an extraordinarily productive academic track record for a new faculty member.
Dr. Golub’s interest in aging began with an attempt to reverse its effects through the basic science discipline of regenerative medicine. One of his early publications on embryonic stem cell-derived endothelial cells appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and has been cited more than 650 times. Dr. Golub continued his interest in regenerative medicine once he identified his ultimate clinical subspecialty of hearing loss. As his training progressed, his interests gradually shifted to clinical research. He published several epidemiologic papers on the prevalence of voice disorders, providing a foundation for techniques that he uses in his current research. He then worked on several human studies, including a first-in-human FDA feasibility study reporting the safety and physiology of human therapeutic vestibular implantation.
Since arriving at Columbia, Dr. Golub has assembled a multidisciplinary team of mentors and published several manuscripts on age-related hearing loss. One of his studies shows an independent association between hearing loss and incident dementia in a multiethnic cohort. Another shows an association between hearing loss and late-life depression. He also has authored two review papers on brain changes associated with age-related hearing loss. With the support of the Gerstner award, he will explore the mechanistic relationship of hearing loss and cognitive aging.
Eliza C. Miller, MD, assistant professor of neurology (stroke and cerebrovascular disease)
Dr. Miller completed her medical school training at VP&S and achieved multiple honors, which led to her acceptance to the highly competitive internship and neurology residency at CUIMC.
Spurred by several challenging cases she encountered on the Stroke Service, Dr. Miller developed an important research direction in stroke in pregnancy and the postpartum period. On her own initiative, she created a detailed database of all strokes in young adults at CUIMC over a seven-year period, which continues to provide robust data for ongoing investigations into risk factors and outcomes for hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke in young people.
During her fellowship year, Dr. Miller developed a new collaborative project with the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine to explore the relationship between severe pre-eclampsia and disruption of dynamic cerebral autoregulation in the peripartum and postpartum period. Dr. Miller obtained seed funding for the project, recruited collaborators, obtained IRB approval, and collected preliminary data for a K23 proposal now pending. As a Gerstner Scholar, she will investigate the underlying hemodynamic and cellular variables that may mediate the increased stroke risk in this population.
Dr. Miller continues to pursue her research goals as a junior faculty member, supported by an NIH NINDS StrokeNet Training Fellowship. Her stroke work has resulted in eight scientific abstracts presented at national meetings, seven published manuscripts, and additional work in progress. Dr. Miller is also a co-investigator on a precision medicine pilot grant through Columbia’s Clinical Translational Science Award, funding Motherhealth, a prospective cohort study of cardiovascular health in postpartum women with severe pre-eclampsia. She recently received the prestigious Robert G. Siekert New Investigator Award from the American Heart Association.
Gene Thomas Yocum, MD, assistant professor of anesthesiology
Dr. Yocum has been involved with the Department of Anesthesiology since he was a medical student and was awarded a Doris Duke Foundation Clinical Research Fellowship to study clinical cognitive dysfunction following surgery and anesthesia.
His work focuses on developing novel therapeutic strategies to treat asthma, the leading cause of respiratory morbidity among the young and disadvantaged. His particular focus is on allergic lung inflammation. The potential of Dr. Yocum’s research has broad implications in many areas of medicine. He is investigating the role that GABAA channels have on the activation of immune cells in allergic lung inflammation. The expression and function of GABAA channels are best understood in the brain where they are the primary targets of the most commonly used anesthetics in humans. Many millions of patients are exposed to these medications every year, and the scientific community has a thoroughly incomplete knowledge of the role of these medications on peripheral cell types such as immune cells that also express GABAA channels.
While Dr. Yocum’s focus is on immune cell activation in allergic lung inflammation, the impact of these studies could extend to all diseases and pathologies in which the immune system plays a role, including cancer surveillance, sepsis and chronic immune disorders, and degeneration. Furthermore, his collaboration with medicinal chemists who are developing GABAA channel ligands that do not cross the blood-brain barrier promises to allow Dr. Yocum to apply his discoveries to numerous therapeutic uses.
Joy-Sarah Vink, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology, is the 2018 Gerstner Merit Awardee.
Dr. Vink’s work focuses on preventing adverse pregnancy outcomes with a specific interest in cervical insufficiency and preterm birth. One in 10 pregnancies in the United States results in a preterm birth, accounting for approximately 500,000 births annually. Many premature babies don’t survive, and many who live face disabilities or chronic illnesses.
During her clinical work, Dr. Vink treats patients struggling to prevent preterm birth and sees the emotional toll it leaves on patients who give birth to premature infants. Since joining Columbia in 2009 as a maternal-fetal medicine fellow, Dr. Vink has worked under the mentorship of Jan Kitajewski, PhD, and Ronald Wapner, MD, to determine if the anthrax toxin receptor may be a novel target to prevent premature cervical remodeling and, ultimately, preterm birth.
As a Gerstner Merit Awardee, Dr. Vink will continue her research, which is expected to make significant contributions to the field of obstetrics.