Letter from the research council chair
Showcasing our division’s research strengths

As chair of the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases Research Council, I am proud of the progress and ongoing investigations within our division’s six core research areas: inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) basic research program and clinics, cancer, metabolism and obesity, brain-gut microbiome interactions, liver disease and interventional endoscopy.

Notably, there is significant overlap between our division’s research strengths and the six unified research themes of the David Geffen School of Medicine (DGSOM) at UCLA, as recently identified by Dr. Stephen Smale, DGSOM’s vice dean for research. Our IBD research corresponds with the DGSOM theme of immunity/inflammation/infection/transplantation; our cancer research matches DGSOM’s cancer theme; our metabolism and obesity work fits with DGSOM’s metabolism theme; and our brain-gut microbiome research is an important part of DGSOM’s neuroscience program. Moreover, our themes coincide with the gastroenterology research funding priorities of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

By all measures, these research programs are thriving. Approximately 80 percent of our investigators are funded with active NIH grants that total more than $40 million. This support, along with substantial funding from philanthropic individuals and foundations, provides fuel for robust basic, clinical, and translational activities leading to important discoveries that are contributing to a better understanding of the causes of digestive diseases and paving the way for new treatments and prevention strategies. 

Part of what makes our core research areas so strong are the extensive interactions among investigators, both within the programs and outside of them. In an era when scientific complexity demands forgoing silos in favor of interdisciplinary approaches, our researchers benefit greatly from the ability to collaborate with colleagues both within the division and in other parts of DGSOM and the UCLA campus, enabling them to draw from the full spectrum of expertise needed to tackle a problem. These efforts are bolstered by a prestigious CURE: Digestive Disease Research Center grant from the NIH, which provides critical infrastructure through core services, along with a pilot feasibility program.

Of course, it is the investigators themselves who set these programs apart. All of our core research areas are anchored by senior faculty members who are internationally recognized leaders in their fields. Surrounding these renowned distinguished individuals are talented junior-level investigators, many of them produced by DGSOM’s Specialty Training and Advanced Research (STAR) program, which prepares physician-scientists. The ability of these young investigators to work with established professors is among the reasons that the future of our Division’s research enterprise is so bright.

The pages that follow offer a glimpse of the ongoing research within our six core areas of strength. I hope that after reading these summaries, you will share my enthusiasm for the exciting prospects for advances that will lead to healthier and longer lives for the patients we see.

Catia Sternini, MD

Catia Sternini, MD
Associate Director, CURE: Digestive Diseases Research Center
Director, CURE Imaging and Stem Cell Biology Core
Director, CURE Pilot and Feasibility Study Program
Professor-in-Residence, Departments of Medicine and Neurobiology
Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA