Media Highlights 2019

Best Hospitals GI 2019 Badge

We are pleased and proud to share the news that UCLA Gastroenterology and GI Surgery placed #6 in the nation for the 2019-20 annual U.S. News & World Report rankings.

We are equally proud that U.S. News recognized our hospitals as #1 in California and #6 in the nation.

UCLA Health ranking


In memorium: George Sachs, DSc, MD
It is with heavy heart that we share the news of the passing of George Sachs, DSc, MD, on November 12, 2019. He devoted his life to research, most of which was at UCLA.

Dr. Sachs earned his BSc in biochemistry and MB, ChB in medicine from the University of Edinburgh. He completed his postgraduate studies at Albert Einstein College. He was on the faculty of the University of Alabama from 1963 to 1982 as professor of medicine and physiology and director of membrane biology. Dr. Sachs joined UCLA in 1982, where he became the Wilshire chair in medicine and professor of medicine and physiology in the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. In 1987, he became director of the Membrane Biology Laboratory at the Veterans Administration Greater LA Healthcare System and co-director of the Center for Ulcer Research and Education (CURE). Dr. Sachs was best known for his studies of the biochemistry and biology of the gastric H+,K+-ATPase. He showed that acid secretion by the stomach is due to an electro-neutral ATP-dependent pump, the H+-K+-ATPase. Based on this discovery, he helped to develop drugs, proton pump inhibitors (PPI), that specifically targeted this pump. These drugs are now the mainstay of treatment of peptic ulcer disease and gastroesophageal reflux disease. He also defined the details of the structure and function of the pump and the mechanism of its inhibition by the PPIs, thereby making possible the development of more-effective agents, including those that work by a mechanism different from PPIs.

Dr. Sachs has received many honors and awards, including the William Beaumont Prize in Gastroenterology, the Hoffman LaRoche Award, the William S. Middleton Award, the Janssen Award for Special Achievement in Gastroenterology and the Gairdner Foundation Award. He wrote more than 375 peer-reviewed articles, 76 reviews, 32 book chapters, and 8 books.

He was a renowned scientist, colleague, mentor, and a friend to many of us at UCLA and around the world over the years. We are saddened by his passing and extend our condolences to those who are mourning his loss.


Million Mulugeta, DVM, PhD, awarded grant to map the peripheral structural and functional neurocircuitries of visceral pain of the colorectum and bladder
Dr. Mulugeta was awarded a three-year, HEAL/SPARC grant, through the Office of The Director NIH, NDS Institute, in the amount of $2.2 million to investigate visceral pain afferents involved in the cross-organ sensitization of the colon and bladder through tracing, function assessment and spinal neuromodulation. The project aims to fill gaps in knowledge in the neurocircuitries of pelvic pain cross-sensitization and provide bases for new therapies and modalities including neuromodulation. The project will involve investigators from the UCLA Vatche & Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases (Muriel Larauche, PhD; Pu-Qing Yuan, PhD; Lixin Wang, MD, PhD; and Yvette Taché, PhD), as well as investigators from the UCLA Departments of Integrative Biology and Physiology and Neurobiology, USC and SAHMRI at Flinders University, Australia. Learn more about our research


New grant supports development of "liquid biopsy" for liver cancer
With a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, Steven-Huy Han, MD, director of the Hepatology Clinical Research Center, has joined with colleagues in the UCLA Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine on an ambitious effort to develop an effective and affordable blood-based method for the early detection of liver cancer. The so-called “liquid biopsy” would sample for cancer cell-free DNA that could appear in high-risk patients’ blood months or even years before a tumor could be detected by ultrasound — enabling earlier and potentially more successful treatment. Read full story


UCLA Health Colorectal Cancer Screening Campaign receives eHealthcare Leadership Award
The eHealthcare Leadership Awards, which draw over 1,000 entries, exclusively recognizes the very best websites and digital communications of healthcare organizations. The inaugural UCLA Health Colon Cancer Screening Campaign, led by the Division of Digestive Diseases, was recognized with a gold award for best integrative campaign. Campaign members and the UCLA Health marketing team worked together to develop great content, build strong user engagement, and find creative and innovative ways to enhance the user experience across all our digital and social channels.


UCLA receives four SCOPY awards for 2019 Colon Cancer Awareness Campaign
On behalf of UCLA Health, the Vatche & Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases submitted three entries for the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) 2019 SCOPY Awards in May. The ACG honored UCLA Health with not three but FOUR awards! ACG’s SCOPY Award recognizes the achievements of ACG members in their community engagement, education and awareness efforts for colorectal cancer prevention. Awardees are featured in the 2019 SCOPY Awards Booklet and shared with the members of the College. Winners will also be honored during the SCOPY Award Ceremony & Workshop at the 2019 ACG Scientific Meeting in San Antonio, TX on October 27, 2019.

The success of our system-wide effort was the result of a partnership among administration, faculty, staff and researchers across the health care enterprise to effectively implement a focused action plan. We are thrilled to receive this recognition, which would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Division of Digestive Diseases faculty and staff as well as the members of the UCLA Colon Cancer Quality Workgroup. A special thank you to the campaign champions who organized this inaugural effort: Folasade P. May, MD, PhD, MPhil; Edgar Corona, MPH (2018-19 GI quality scholar); Trisha James, MBA; and Sylvia Lopez, MPH.

  1. The UCLA Health Colon Cancer Quality Workgroup was awarded a SCOPY Quality Improvement Award for “Quality Improvement in Colorectal Cancer Screening at UCLA Health”
  2. The UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center was recognized for Best-Coordinated Community Health Intervention for “Addressing Health Disparities in Colorectal Cancer Screening”
  3. UCLA Health won honors for Most Far-Reaching & Impactful Initiative for “Inaugural UCLA Health Colon Cancer Awareness Campaign”
  4. David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (including all three teams listed above) was honored as a SCOPY Incubator of Excellence in CRC Prevention Award for Coordinated Collaboration Across the UCLA Health System

Learn more about the campaign


Lin Chang, MD, selected as the first recipient of the ANMS Women in Neurogastroenterology and Motility Award
The Women Leaders in Neurogastroenterology Awards were created by the American Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society (ANMS) in 2019 to recognize women scientists, physicians, allied health professionals and educators who have made a significant impact on the field of neurogastroenterology through their lives, professions, teaching and mentoring. ANMS believes that these women deserve recognition for their accomplishments and dedication to fostering tomorrow’s women leaders in neurogastroenterology.

Dr. Lin Chang is the first recipient of the award. She was honored at the ANMS annual meeting in Chicago, IL on Friday, August 16.


The relationship between sun exposure and the gut microbiome
NBC News interviewed Jonathan P. Jacobs, MD, PhD, an assistant professor-in-residence, Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, on the connection between sun exposure and the gut microbiome.


Should I take a fiber supplement?
Berkeley Limketkai, MD, PhD, director of clinical research at the UCLA Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, was quoted in an Elemental article about taking fiber supplements to help the digestive system absorb and process foods.


Could "itchy" gut nerve be responsible for irritable bowel syndrome
Emeran A. Mayer, MD, co-director of CURE: Digestive Diseases Research Center and director of the G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience, was quoted in a Healthline article on whether the discovery of itch receptors is likely to influence treatment options for IBS.


Understanding and treating IBS
Goop published a Q&A with Eric Esrailian, MD, MPH, chief of the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, exploring the causes, symptoms and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.


V. Raman Muthusamy, MD, MAS, re-elected Governor of the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG)
Dr. Muthusamy was re-elected to a second, three-year term as the ACG Governor for California – Southern A. The ACG Governors meet regularly throughout the year to discuss important clinical and proactive management issues impacting ACG members and their patients. They also act as a grassroots force on important issues facing gastroenterologists and organized medicine at both the state and national levels, including annual visits to Capitol Hill to advocate to Congress on issues of importance to practicing gastroenterologists.


Seven ULCA GI physicians named "Best Doctors®"
Best Doctors conducts an exhaustive, peer-reviewed survey of the medical profession, polling more than 50,000 medical experts in over 450 specialties and subspecialties worldwide. Doctors are asked to provide an assessment of the clinical abilities of their peers in each of the more than 400 subspecialties of medicine. The millions of individual data points, after being compiled through algorithms that correct for statistical bias, yield the list of physicians deemed "best" by their peers. Best Doctors objective is to identify the best trained, most experienced and most skilled specialists, regardless of where they practice. Only 5 percent of the doctors in any country are actually selected to become Best Doctors.

2019 UCLA Division of Digestive Diseases Best Doctors: Drs. Lin Chang, Jeffrey L. Conklin, Francisco Durazo, Steven-Huy Han, Dennis M. Jensen, Sammy Saab, Myron J. Tong


Emeran A. Mayer, MD, and Berkeley Limketkai, MD, PhD, quoted in Time Health
Dr. Mayer, director, G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience, and Dr. Limketkai, director of clinical research, Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, were quoted in an article on The Rewards and Risks of Probiotics. The article ran in the Summer 2019 issue of Time Health.


Yvette Taché, PhD, co-chair, and Kalyanam Shivkumar, MD, PhD, chair of ISAN 2019
Dr. Taché, director, Animal Core, CURE and co-director, G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience, and Dr. Shivkumar, member, CURE and director, UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center, were organizing committee members of the 11th Congress of the International Society for Autonomic Neuroscience held July 2019 on the campus of UCLA. The meeting provided a forum for autonomic neuroscience investigators from around the world to gather, discuss and share ideas on a broad range of topics related to the autonomic nervous system. This year the committee partnered with NIH-funded SPARC (Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions) investigators to provide an expanded, multi-disciplinary program. Dr. Taché is currently part of SPARC, an unprecedented international effort.


Berkeley Limketkai, MD, PhD, quoted online on ways to relieve bloating
Bloating is a common symptom of inflammatory bowel disease, and dealing with a swollen belly can be more than just uncomfortable – it can be downright painful. Dr. Limketkai, director of clinical research for the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, was quoted on the subject of “prevention is key.” The article ran in Oshi Health, an ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s app where patients can track symptoms and actions, learn from curated content and ask questions.


Neil Marya, MD, recognized as a top reviewer by GIE and VideoGIE
The editorial teams of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (GIE) and VideoGIE understand how much work goes into the creation of a good article review and strive to find ways to recognize the diligent, hard-working reviewers who consistently produce thorough, high-quality reviews. To that end, editorial review board chairman Dr. Lyndon Hernandez and GIE editors have selected top reviewers for recognition. The award is based on several factors, including number of reviews performed and scores given to each review by the associate editors. Dr. Marya has been chosen as one of the top reviewers in the “new” or “mentee reviewer” categories. He will be recognized during GIE’s Editors’ Reception at DDW.


Kardashian Family

New UCLA center focusing on disorders of the esophagus to be named for Robert Kardashian

The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has established a center for holistic, patient-centered treatment, research and education related to disorders of the esophagus.

The new center is named in memory of Robert G. Kardashian, a prominent Los Angeles attorney who died of esophageal cancer in 2003. Kardashian’s family will launch fundraising efforts to provide resources for the center’s key initiatives and activities.

The Robert G. Kardashian Center for Esophageal Health, which is based in the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, combines UCLA Health’s collective expertise in gastroenterology, surgery, oncology, anesthesiology, radiology, pathology and pediatrics to gain new insights into the causes of these disorders and to develop new prevention and treatment strategies. The Robert G. Kardashian Center will collaborate with the Melvin and Bren Simon Digestive Diseases Center and the Manoukian Division’s Integrative Digestive Health and Wellness Program to provide individualized care to patients.

“I am grateful for my friendship with the Kardashian family and this partnership, which will make a difference in patients’ lives for decades to come,” said Dr. Eric Esrailian, chief of the Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases. “We hope the family’s commitment inspires even more support from our community of friends — positioning the Robert G. Kardashian Center as a leader in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of esophageal conditions. This is just the beginning.”

Rates of esophageal cancer have increased dramatically in recent years. Evidence suggests lifestyle and the presence of gastroesophageal reflux disease play a role. Esophageal cancer, which has few symptoms, often goes undetected but is treatable if caught early — especially with the most innovative approaches.

“Our family is proud to pay tribute to our father by partnering with UCLA Health to establish the Robert G. Kardashian Center for Esophageal Health,” Kim Kardashian West said. “We look forward to working with our longtime family friend, Dr. Eric Esrailian, the Melvin and Bren Simon Digestive Diseases Center, and the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases to build the best program of its kind in the country. We hope to save lives and help the community for many years to come in honor of our father.”

The Kardashian Center will utilize state-of-the-art treatments, recruit top faculty from around the world, invest in training specialists and raise awareness of the causes and treatment of esophageal disease.

“Establishing critical centers of excellence, combining comprehensive care, research and education enables our institution to bring patients, physicians, scientists and staff together with a specific focus and with the potential to have maximal impact for our community,” said Dr. John Mazziotta, vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and CEO of UCLA Health. “The Robert G. Kardashian Center for Esophageal Health will be yet another important pillar for UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in our efforts to advance patient care and science for years to come.”

The establishment of the center and the Kardashian family’s fundraising initiative were announced April 16 — during Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month — at a campus event attended by the family and by other friends of the university.

UCLA Newsroom


Muriel Larauche, PhD, awarded NIH SBIR Phase II grant
Dr. Larauche and Sentia Medical Sciences, Inc. (La Jolla, CA) were awarded a $2 million two-year, NIH SBIR Phase II grant, through the NIH NIDDK institute, to investigate and validate the use of non-selective peripherally-restricted CRF receptor antagonists (astressins) to target visceral pain in IBS patients. The grant follows a six-month SBIR Phase I grant awarded in June 2018 to the same team. Dr. Larauche will be responsible for the preclinical studies and testing the efficacy of the astressin drug candidates in both prophylactic and therapeutic modalities in rodent models of chronic IBS. Drs. Yvette Taché and Lin Chang from the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases are also involved in the study. Learn more


Elaine Hsiao, PhD, co-recipient of John H. Walsh Lectureship in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Dr. Hsiao, assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Biology & Physiology and the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, was recognized for her “Host-Microbiome Interactions through Intestinal Serotonin” research. Dr. John Walsh was a distinguished member of the faculty at the David Geffen School of Medicine from 1970 until 2000 and was chief of the Division of Digestive Diseases from 1988 to 1993. He was renowned for his research in the regulation of gastric secretion and the physiology of gastrointestinal tract hormones. Dr. Walsh’s greatest passion was mentoring young basic and clinical scientists in achieving successful academic careers. The Walsh Prize for outstanding research was established to honor his memory.


Ani Kardashian, MD, receives 2019 AASLD Advanced/Transplant Hepatology Foundation Award
Dr. Kardashian was selected to receive a 2019 Advanced/Transplant Hepatology Award through the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases Foundation (AASLD Foundation). Her project — in collaboration with selected UC San Francisco faculty — will be on the role of the microbiome in liver fibrosis in HIV. This two-year, $30,000 award is intended to encourage the academic careers of exceptional hepatology trainees, providing research support during the academic hepatologist’s first faculty year and providing protected time to perform mentored research.


Jihane Benhammou, MD, receives 2019 AASLD Advanced/Transplant Hepatoloy Foundation Award
Dr. Benhammou received Advanced/Transplant Hepatology Foundation funding for her study — under the mentorship of Dr. Steven-Huy Han — of liver transcriptomics in NASH-associated hepatocellular carcinoma through the infrastructure of the newly NCI-funded translational liver consortium group. This award is intended for trainees obtaining an advanced degree in transplant hepatology with an interest in research and pursuing an academic career.


Sammy Saab, MD, MPH, elected to the American Liver Foundation (ALF) Board of Directors
Dr. Saab was elected to the ALF board, an honor that recognizes his commitment to the fight against liver-related diseases. The ALF, founded in 1976, is a national, voluntary nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment and cure of hepatitis and other liver diseases through research, education and advocacy.


V. Raman Muthusamy, MD, MAS, leads AGA’s Annual Tech Summit in San Francisco
Dr. Muthusamy, the current chair of the American Gastroenterological Association’s (AGA) Center for GI Innovation and Technology, is also the chair of the Annual Tech Summit’s planning committee. The two-day, summit bridges the divide between a growing need for new clinical tools and the ability to move innovative solutions to market. By bringing together and fostering collaboration among innovators, clinicians, MedTech companies, regulatory agency representatives and venture capitalists, AGA is helping to ensure a pipeline for GI innovation that ultimately will improve delivery of care and patient outcomes.


2019 Southern California Super Doctors
Selection of Super Doctors is a rigorous, multi-step process designed to identify physicians who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. Super Doctors is a selective yet diverse listing of outstanding doctors, representing consumer-oriented medical specialties. Physicians are asked to consider the following question: "If you needed medical care in one of the following specialties, which doctor would you choose?" Learn more about the selection process >

2019 UCLA Division of Digestive Diseases Super Doctors: Drs. Michael J. Albertson, Peter A. Anton, Lin Chang, Hartley Cohen, Daniel Cole, Jeffrey L. Conklin, Francisco Durazo, Eric Esrailian, Steven-Huy Han, Dennis M. Jensen, Rome Jutabha, Thomas O. Kovacs, Emeran A. Mayer, Sammy Saab and Kirsten Tillisch


2019 Southern California Rising Star
The selection process for Rising Stars is the same as that of Super Doctors except: to be eligible for inclusion in Rising Stars, candidates must be active physicians who have been fully-licensed to practice for approximately 10 years or less. Learn more about the selection process

2019 UCLA Division of Digestive Diseases Rising Stars: Drs. Gina Choi, Lynn Shapiro Connolly, Kevin Ghassemi, Wendy W. Ho, Ara Kardashian, Stephen Kim, Hamed Nayeb-Hashemi and Alireza Sedarat


Eat this if you're following a specialized diet for IBS
Business Insider featured Nancee Jaffe, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian in the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, in a story about foods you can eat on a specialized diet for inflammatory bowel syndrome.


Arpana Gupta, PhD, receives 2019 IFFGD Research Recognition Award
The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), selected Dr. Gupta to receive a 2019 IFFGD Research Recognition Award. These awards recognize the accomplishments of young investigators working to advance the understanding and care of chronic gastrointestinal disorders in adults and children. The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders is a nonprofit education and research organization dedicated to supporting people affected by gastrointestinal disorders.


Folasade P. May, MD, PhD, MPhil, selected as 2019-2020 AGA Scholar to Promote Diversity in Gastroenterology
Dr. May was selected as a 2019–2020 scholar by the American Gastroenterological Association for its new program to help promote diversity in the field of gastroenterology. The FORWARD Program, which stands for Fostering Opportunities Resulting in Workforce and Research Diversity, is a new initiative funded by National Institutes of Health that is designed to match young scholars with top gastrointestinal investigators to help develop their leadership skills and strengthen their research and management skills. The inaugural class of scholars includes 10 promising underrepresented minority physician-scientists early in their careers who are helping shape the future of academic medicine.


Germs in your gut are talking to your brain. Scientists want to know what they are saying

Elaine Y. Hsiao, PhD, assistant professor of medicine in the UCLA Division of Digestive Diseases and Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology, saw her lab’s work on gastrointestinal microbes and the impact they have on health and disease highlighted in the New York Times.


Immune cells int he gut may explain why some people can't lose weight
Emeran A. Mayer, MD, director of the G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience in the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, commented in an NBCNews.com story on research suggesting certain immune cells in the gut regulate weight and metabolism.


Could germs in your gut send you into depression?
Emeran A. Mayer, MD, director of the G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience in the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, commented in a HealthDay story on a study suggesting that certain gut bacteria fuel depression. The story appeared on WebMD.


What reserach says about probiotic supplements
Today’s Dietitian interviewed Dr. Kirsten Tillisch, chief of integrative medicine, Greater Los Angeles VA and health sciences professor of medicine in the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, in a feature in the December 2018 issue about probiotics and brain health. The story explores her researchinvolving probiotics in yogurt and human brain responses.


Lin Chang, MD, appears on Good Day LA Wellness Wednesday
Dr. Chang, vice-chief of the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, appeared on Good Day LA to discuss irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). She discussed the stigma attached to IBS, common symptoms and when to see a physician.


Arpana Gupta, PhD, recipient of a 2019 AGA-Rome Foundation Functional GI and Motility Disorders Pilot Research Award
The Rome Foundation has supported research projects to guide innovations in the development of diagnostic criteria and to establish the international representation of gastrointestinal and motility disorders. In 2007, the foundation took the first formal step in establishing a regular process for awarding grants to young investigators on an annual basis. They published application guidelines and made a commitment to award an annual research grant of $30,000 to a young investigator. The goals of the awards are to (1) validate the Rome diagnostic criteria for functional GI disorders, (2) increase knowledge on the prevalence, epidemiology, and pathophysiology of these disorders, and (3) interest young investigators in pursuing research in this field. This process continued until 2013 when the Rome Foundation partnered with the American Gastroenterological Association added a second annual award and renamed these the AGA-Rome Foundation Functional GI and Motility Disorders Pilot Research Awards. Since 2014, the review committees has included reviewers from both the AGA and the Rome Foundation.