At the forefront of esophageal health

Q&A with Dr. Eric Esrailian on the Robert G. Kardashian Center for Esophageal Health and outreach efforts around COVID-19
Kardashians and Esrailian
From left: Kim Kardashian West, Dr. Eric Esrailian and Kourtney Kardashian in Armenia in October 2019.

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In recognition of April as Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, UCLA Newsroom is taking a look at the work of the UCLA Robert G. Kardashian Center for Esophageal Health one year after its launch. Based in the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, the center specializes in holistic treatment, research and education related to disorders of the esophagus. The center is named in memory of Robert G. Kardashian, a prominent Los Angeles attorney who died of esophageal cancer in 2003.

Dr. Eric Esrailian, chief of UCLA Vatche & Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases and longtime family friend of the Kardashians, discusses this important initiative and other admirable causes he is involved with on campus and beyond — including helping UCLA, our community and the Republic of Armenia with support, supplies and education around the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Esrailian, you have been a champion for many causes across campus, including working with the Kardashian family to launch the UCLA Robert G. Kardashian Center for Esophageal Health. Tell us more about the genesis of this center and any milestones.

As longtime family friends, the Kardashian family told me many years ago that they wanted us to do something special together to honor the late Robert G. Kardashian and to help patients in the community at the same time. At UCLA Health and in the Vatche & Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, we are fortunate to have some of the best and the brightest minds in the areas of patient care, research and education.

Therefore, we ultimately decided to start this center and in the coming years, we hope to build it up to be the best of its kind and to help patients for years to come. We have hired faculty members and nursing staff, purchased cutting-edge equipment and started multi-disciplinary conferences, and we are in the process of establishing a robust research infrastructure. The best is yet to come.

You are now also helping raise awareness about COVID-19 and funding for UCLA Health during this pandemic. How will the funds be used and how can people get involved?

Despite careful planning by our health system and public health officials, the volume and costs of personal protective equipment and supplies needed by our health care teams to face this pandemic is unprecedented. So, I was honored to work with my colleagues to help start specific funds to not only purchase additional supplies but to also support research and education around COVID-19. People can support us by going to this UCLA Health page for donating.

Not all of the support needs to be financial, though. By following the advice of public health experts in Los Angeles County, everyone can contribute to flattening the curve and minimizing the potential of virus transmission in our community.

What is the story behind this photo taken in Armenia?

This photo, done in support of UCLA, was taken during the family trip to Armenia in October 2019. Kim Kardashian West and I were invited to speak at the World Congress on Information Technology in Yerevan, and I introduced Kim and Kourtney to Armenian President Armen Sarkissian. We also met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and we discussed charitable projects in Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora.

We also discussed the November launch of The Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA — the central hub for all Armenian-related education, research and outreach on campus. The Kardashian family has been very supportive of this new institute, efforts toward Armenian Genocide awareness and the use of our film "The Promise" as a teaching tool for the general public and legislators.

These coordinated activities, combined with the work of human rights advocates for many years, ultimately led to Armenian Genocide recognition by both chambers of the United States Congress for the first time in history. One of the first healthcare initiatives for The Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA is to work with the Republic of Armenia’s Ministry of Health to share resources and best practices from UCLA, and to coordinate activities in the fight against COVID-19.