Featured Physician-Scientist Profiles2018-10-30T13:27:24+00:00

FEATURED PHYSICIAN-SCIENTISTS PROFILES

Patricia Finn, MD
Earl M. Bane Professor and Chair
Department of Medicine

What was your training path?
Following medical school and internal medicine residency at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, I was a pulmonary fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. During fellowship I became very interested in asthma after taking care of a patient suffering from severe asthma. This inspired a passion for immunology, and I completed additional postdoctoral work in immunology at Harvard Medical School.

What are your research interests?
The focus of my investigation includes immune-mediated pulmonary diseases, including asthma, sarcoidosis, and transplantation. I have a long-standing interest in the genesis of disease that begins in early life. As additional methods to identify key regulatory immune pathways, I am also furthering the analysis of inflammatory models incorporating bioinformatic approaches. Recent advances in the fields of personalized medicine, omics biology, and analysis of big data have facilitated recasting my investigation to the effects of the metagenome on immunity and disease.

How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
It is an honor and a pleasure to be able to care for patients while engaging in scientific inquiry. I have a deep commitment to social justice and health equality, and it is empowering to be able to use science to further these goals.

What do you think is special about UIC?
The mission of UIC to take care of each and every patient who comes through our doors is what drew me to this institution. It is fulfilling to work with a talented group of faculty, staff, and trainees all working toward this mission.

Dawood Darbar, MBChB, MD
Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology
Chief, Division of Cardiology
Co-Director, Center for Cardiovascular Research

What was your training path?
I completed medical school and residency at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Following this I trained in clinical pharmacology at Vanderbilt University. As a foreign medical graduate, I repeated training in medicine at Vanderbilt and cardiology/electrophysiology at the Mayo Clinic. I joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University on the tenure track until I was appointed Chief of Cardiology at UIC in 2015.

What are your research interests?
The goal of my research since its inception has been the translation of cardiovascular pathophysiology from bench to bedside, with a focus on cardiac arrhythmias, a major public health problem. Atrial fibrillation (AF) affects 2-5 million Americans and continues to be a major cause of morbidity and mortality. Until recently, AF was considered to be a sporadic, non-genetic disorder, but studies at multiple centers including ours have identified both common and rare genetic variants contributing to AF susceptibility. Although the underlying mechanisms have not been entirely delineated, this line of investigation clearly suggests that AF is a genetic disease with variable age-dependent penetrance determined by both diverse genetic and acquired arrhythmogenic mechanisms. We have developed a research program that addresses both clinical management as well as underlying genetic issues in AF. I established the Vanderbilt AF Registry, a key enabling resource for our studies that now includes clinical data and biosamples from >3000 subjects and their families. More recently, I established the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) AF Registry. We have used these resources to identify clinical, genetic and molecular subtypes of AF, laying the groundwork for a long-term vision of replacing empiric treatment for AF with mechanism-based therapy. These clinical-DNA registries have also proven to be an important source for phenotyping large families with early-onset AF and analyzing genomic factors modulating drug response in patients with AF. Current antiarrhythmic drugs (AADs) are only moderately effective and are limited by side effects including the potential for proarrhythmia seen with Na+- or K+-channel blockers. Thus one implication of our work is that therapy with current drugs could be improved by identifying predictors of response.

How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
I truly believe that a physician-scientist offers a unique perspective in the evaluation and management of patients with cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, patients are my greatest source of inspiration. They often provide the questions which drive the research in my translational laboratory.

What do you think is special about UIC?
I was drawn to UIC because of the tremendous opportunity to leverage the existing strengths of the Schools of Pharmacy, Public Health and Bioengineering, Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, Physiology and Pharmacology and the Center for Cardiovascular Research (CCVR) to position the Division of Cardiology to become a state-of-the-art national center for integrating excellence in cardiovascular research and patient care.

Steve Dudek, MD
Professor of Medicine
Chief, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep, and Allergy

What was your training path?
I received my MD degree from Washington University in St. Louis, and it was during this time that I first became intrigued with the thought of pursuing a research-intensive career. In fact, I spent an extra year in medical school devoted solely to scientific training at the bench. I subsequently pursued Internal Medicine residency training at Johns Hopkins followed by a fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. After spending a few years on the faculty at Johns Hopkins, I relocated to Chicago, initially at the University of Chicago, and then in 2010, I assumed my current position here at UIC.

What are your research interests?
As a critical care physician, I am particularly motivated by the plight of patients suffering from the devastating effects of the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). My laboratory employs multiple cell culture and preclinical models of ARDS as well as translational studies of genomic associations. We synthesize knowledge gained from all these approaches to screen for new therapies to reverse the pathologic vascular leak that causes severe pulmonary edema in ARDS.

How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
Constantly moving from the bedside to the bench and back again provides both rewarding intellectual stimulation and strong motivation to improve the lives of my patients through the advancement of scientific knowledge. Every day as a physician-scientist is interesting and different, and the work is gratifying and worthwhile.

What do you think is special about UIC?
UIC is a special institution because it is both an outstanding research environment and a leading provider of high-quality medical care for some of the most vulnerable patient populations in the region. There is a palpable commitment among the medical providers here at UIC to reduce healthcare disparities and improve the lives of the patients we serve. That commitment extends to the research arena as well, and it provides an additional level of inspiration and motivation. I am truly honored to be a member of this institution.

Ben Gerber, MD, MPH
Professor
Division of Academic Internal Medicine and Geriatrics

What was your training path?
I became a faculty member at UIC in 1998 after completing residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan. I completed a Master’s degree in Public Health Informatics.

What are your research interests?
I am passionate about applying technology to health care delivery and health behaviors (e.g., mobile health).

How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
I love the intellectual freedom to pursue various scientific directions and studies and interact with other researchers in academic settings while still taking care of patients. The demand for physician-scientists remains high in terms of career opportunities.

What do you think is special about UIC?
UIC is an excellent environment for physician-scientist training with strong resources in clinical and translational science, competitive funding support from NIH, and multiple health (e.g., applied health sciences, college of pharmacy) and non-health related colleges (e.g., computer science and engineering) available for interdisciplinary research and team science.  

Barbara Jung, MD
Professor of Medicine
Thomas J. Layden Endowed Professor and
Chief, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology

What was your training path?
I completed my medical degree and doctorate in medicine at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany. From there I moved to the United States and completed post-doctoral studies at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in San Diego under Dr. Michael McClelland where I learned many of the basic skills of bench research. At that point, I returned to my medical training completing both my internal medicine residency and fellowship in gastroenterology at UCSD under the mentorship of Dr. John Carethers. It was in Dr. Carethers’ lab that I discovered a loss of activin receptor type 2 protein expression in a sub-population of colorectal cancer patients, and I continue to investigate the role of activin signaling in metastatic colon cancer. Dr. Carethers’ mentorship has helped to shape my career as a physician-scientist and I continue to consult him on my career path.

What are your research interests?
My research interests are in colorectal cancer, mechanisms of tumor progression, molecular pathology, tumor genetics and clinical outcomes, and activin signaling in tumor progression and inflammatory diseases of the GI tract including pancreatitis.

How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
I think that my training as a physician-scientist has kept me curious about what I can learn from my patients that can inform what kinds of questions I ask in bench research. For example, what are the gaps in our knowledge of the biology of diseases and how can I address those gaps in the laboratory to then translate new data into better treatments for my patients.

What do you think is special about UIC?
The diversity of the patient population at UIC offers the opportunity to address disparities in how medicine meets treatment needs across different populations. It also offers the opportunity to investigate if there are differences in the biology of disease across populations and how this might be leveraged to address health disparities.

Jerry Krishnan, MD, PhD
Professor of Medicine and Public Health
Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep, and Allergy
Associate Vice Chancellor for Population Health Sciences

What was your training path?
I completed medical school at Baylor College of Medicine, internship/residency and a pulmonary/critical care fellowship at Hopkins, and a PhD in clinical investigation at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Hopkins.  I did not go to medical school with plans to become a physician-scientist.  Working with Attending physicians who were also scientists – often experts in the very health conditions that we were addressing on rounds – changed my training path.  I learned about the joy of linking knowledge creation (by scientists) and knowledge translation (by clinicians, including physicians) during residency and fellowship.   I selected a career in clinical investigation so that I could be a more educated consumer of published clinical research (I actually enjoy reading the methods section of case control studies and clinical trials!) and now conduct my own studies to address knowledge gaps in the management of people with chronic lung disease.    

What are your research interests?
Our current work focuses on care delivery science (comparative effectiveness and implementation science) in chronic lung disease, especially asthma and COPD.  Most of the work we are involved in include working alongside teams of clinician scientists across the US as part of NIH or PCORI-funded research consortia.   I am also a member of clinical guideline committees in COPD (ATS and ERS/ATS-sponsored) and asthma (GINA and NIH).   More recently, our research team has expanded to include experts in human-centered design to inform quality improvement and implementation science – see the OVCHA Program in Healthcare Delivery Design.

How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
Our research directly informs the care I provide to people with asthma and COPD.  Also, questions that come up in clinic inform the design of future studies.  Physician-scientists (and other clinician-scientists) have the opportunity of knowing what is important to study and using the information from studies to directly improve healthcare.

What do you think is special about UIC?
UIC is an amazing place.  We are unique in Chicago in having an academic health care enterprise focused on health equity.  Our access to experts across all of the health sciences – medicine, nursing, social work, dentistry, pharmacy, public health, and applied health sciences – is unparalleled. 

Brian Layden, MD, PhD
Associate Professor
Chief, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism

What was your training path?
I did my Ph.D. training in chemistry at Loyola University of Chicago followed by medical school at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Following this, I trained in internal medicine and endocrinology at Northwestern University as part of their Physician-Scientist Training Program.

What are your research interests?
The major focus of our research is to investigate pathways involved in the development of type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, and other related disorders. Through genetic models, our laboratory is investigating different genes and pathways involved in glucose regulation/metabolism. In addition to genetic mouse models, we complement these approaches with a large range of in vitro approaches including cell-based assays and studies investigating isolated protein functional activity.

How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
It helps me dissect my patient’s medical problem at the molecular and genetic level, and conversely, it helps me with my research, in that my group consistently focuses on translating our findings to humans

What do you think is special about UIC?
The missions of UIC and UI Health are what makes working at this place so great. They are focused on taking care of all people in Chicago, and the people, including healthcare providers, are passionate about this mission. Moreover, the University strives to be diverse and inclusive, and is consistently one of the best Universities in the country in reaching these goals.

James Lash, MD, MPH
Professor
Division of Nephrology

What was your training path?
I completed medical residency at Michael Reese and joined the faculty at UIC after completing nephrology fellowship training at Chicago Medical School.

What are your research interests?
My research is focused on the epidemiology of chronic kidney disease and interventional trials in the treatment of kidney disease, particularly in racial and ethnic minority populations in the United States. I am the Principal Investigator for the NIDDK-funded University of Illinois at Chicago Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort (CRIC) Clinical Center and the Hispanic CRIC Study. These studies are investigating risk factors for the progression of chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease in individuals with chronic kidney disease. I have strong commitment to mentoring early career investigators, and I have a Mid-Career Investigator Award in Patient-Oriented Research (K24) which is focused on providing mentorship and training for new physician-scientists in the area of health disparities in chronic kidney disease.

How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
A gratifying aspect of being a physician-scientist is having the opportunity for your clinical practice to inform your research and your research to inform your practice.

What do you think is special about UIC?
Unique aspects of UIC include our diverse patient population, the strong institutional commitment to understanding and addressing health disparities, and an exceptional research infrastructure.

Robert Sargis, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor
Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism

What was your training path?
I’m a native Chicagoan who headed to Minnesota to do my undergraduate studies in chemistry at Carleton College. I came back to Chicago to do a combined MD/PhD at Rush University before heading to the University of Chicago where I did Internal Medicine Residency training and a Fellowship in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism as part of the Physician-Scientist Development Program. I was then on faculty at the University of Chicago for several years before joining UIC in 2016.

What are your research interests?
I’ve had a lifelong fascination with understanding how human activity shapes the environment and how these environmental changes alter human health. This has taken many forms over the years, but my lab is now dedicated to understanding how environmental toxicants acting as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) impact the development of obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Our goal is understand the molecular mechanisms by which EDCs alter insulin secretion and action as well as to translate these findings to human populations and ultimately public policy.

How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
To me, it’s a truly humbling privilege to be able to care for people in need. Over time you get unique opportunities to form relationships with people that offer tremendous insights into the many challenges people face trying to fight disease and maintain health. Being able to see those challenges, many of which are not of their own creation, illuminates how science can be used to promote human health. It gives the research purpose, and that purpose helps you persevere through the challenges. On the flipside, being a scientist helps you bring new knowledge into the clinic. Often times this allows you to develop innovative treatment plans to improve patient care. In addition, it empowers you to bring patients hope that new scientific advances will improve their health and the health of their families.

What do you think is special about UIC?
I was initially drawn to UIC because of the deep and pervasive commitment to health equity that is shared across the faculty. A commitment to social justice underlies both my clinical and research efforts, and at UIC that commitment is both shared and nurtured. As the largest research institution in the city of Chicago, UIC has diverse and unique resources that foster the development of novel research projects. It’s empowering to know that we can answer any research question that arises from our work. Finally, I’m proud to be part of an institution that values people, from patients and the community to students and faculty.  

Terry Unterman, MD
Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Biophysics
Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism

What was your training path?
A Philosophy major as an undergrad, my first real experience took place as a second year medical student at Duke Medical School, where I completed an honors research curriculum in Differentiation (gene regulation) and Growth. I loved the opportunity to read broadly and deeply, to explore new ideas and to think of ways to test them in an experimental setting. Following training in Internal Medicine, I wanted to reengage with research and chose Endocrinology as a field where I could explore my interests in cellular regulation, metabolism, nutrition and health. Having the time to develop skills to carry out rigorous studies firsthand in a laboratory setting was invaluable to me as a Fellow in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, and prepared me to incorporate new technologies into my research in the years to come.

What are your research interests?
My studies focus on the regulation of gene expression and metabolism in diabetes and other disorders of metabolism (malnutrition, obesity). Previous studies in my lab focused on identifying specific mechanisms and pathways mediating effects of insulin on gene expression in the liver – including the identification of the insulin/Akt/FoxO pathway. Current studies are exploring the role of regulatory networks involved in integrating the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism in the liver and in other tissues, focusing on the role of FoxO transcription factors in this context.

How does being a physician-scientist inform your work?
A mentor once told me, “The best physicians think physiologically”, and I believe this is true. While treating a patient involves much more than just treating a “diagnosis”, my experience in research (thinking physiologically/mechanistically) informs how I approach patient care: understanding the pathophysiology of a disease guides my treatment of it. Conversely, my experience in taking care of patients reminds me of the limits of our knowledge and understanding, and the importance of continued research. 

What do you think is special about UIC?
I am still working at my first job – as a member of the faculty in the Department of Medicine (with adjunct appointments in the Departments of Physiology and Biophysics and Kinesiology and Nutrition) at UIC. While I have had opportunities to move to other medical schools in Chicago and beyond, I have always made the choice to stay where I am. UIC has provided an outstanding environment for my career. The commitment to excellence in research, education and clinical care in the Department of Medicine has been consistent. Also, as a physician-scientist, I have benefitted greatly from the availability of many excellent researchers in other departments and colleges at UIC and in the Chicagoland area. Medicine and research both require continuous learning (which is also one of the great joys of what we do), and UIC has provided a terrific home base for supporting my research and career.  

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