Announcing the 2020-2023 Irving Scholars

June 26, 2020

The Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research is honored to announce five new Herbert and Florence Irving Scholars for the 2020-2023 cohort.

In 1987, Herbert and Florence Irving created a generous endowment to support clinical and patient-oriented translational research at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S) at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC). Part of this endowment supports the Florence and Herbert Irving clinical research career awards (“Irving Scholars”) program for junior faculty members involved in clinical research and translational research. Each scholar receives $60,000 unrestricted funds annually for three years.

This year’s cohort will mark our 140th Irving Scholar! 

Jennifer E. Amengual (Photo: Barbara Alper)

Jennifer E. Amengual, MD
Project title: “Precision Targeting of HAT Enzymes to Activate Immune Surveillance" - Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine

Dr. Amengual is an outstanding physician-scientist in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology & Oncology. Her research focuses translating observations and concepts developed in her laboratory to rational targeted therapies for patients with lymphoma. Specifically, Dr. Amengual’s research is concentrated on targeting epigenetic and transcriptional pathways in the setting of germinal-center derived diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (GC-DLBCL) and T-cell lymphomas and to optimize treatment strategies for lymphomas. Her research in targeting these pathways with histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, alone and in combination with other drugs, have led to successful grant support, collaborative clinical trials, and over 20 publications in peer-reviewed journals such as Blood and CCR. Dr. Amengual’s proposal to the Irving Scholars program, entitled “Precision Targeting of HAT Enzymes to Activate Immune Surveillance,” aims to target specific histone acetyltransferases CREBBP and EP300 with YF2, a novel therapeutic developed at CUIMC, and could lead to a precision medicine treatment platform for patients with these types of lymphoma mutations. This research could have important clinical implications for an important patient population (refractory lymphoma) and for its immunotherapeutic potential.

Since joining our CUIMC faculty in 2012, Dr. Amengual has been highly productive academically, clinically and in medical education. Dr. Amengual is a New York City trained physician scientist; obtaining her medical degree from New York Medical College, residency at Montefiore, and hematology/oncology fellowship at New York University Langone Medical Center. Since joining the CUIMC faculty, Dr. Amengual has continually sought out and achieved funding from a variety of sources. As an underrepresented minority faculty, she was awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Award in 2012 by the ASH and RWJF. In addition, she has obtained research funding from the Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for junior faculty in hematologic malignancies, among others and in addition to NIH and industry sponsored grant funding. Dr. Amengual is well-known in the Hematology/Oncology group as being an excellent clinician and has consistently received top-notch evaluations from fellows, a quality we appreciate when selecting this elite group of translational clinician scientists in the Irving Scholars program.

Photo of Brett Anderson

Brett Roméo Anderson, MD, MBA, MS, Department of Pediatrics, Project title: “Collaborative Capacity Building:  Leveraging Medicaid Data to Improve Longitudinal Outcomes and Reduce Health Inequities for Congenital Heart Patients Across the Lifespan” - Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

After graduating from Yale University magna cum laude with Honors and Distinction, Dr. Anderson completed her Medical Degree at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a Master’s in Business Administration at The Wharton School. Dr. Anderson completed her residency training in Pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and then came to New York-Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in 2010 for her Pediatric Cardiology Fellowship, receiving numerous awards for her commitment and dedication to pediatric research. During her fellowship, she underwent training at the Child Health Corporation of America in Kansas City, Missouri, allowing her direct reporter access to the Pediatric Health Information System’s Database, the largest pediatric administrative database in the country, which she has used to drive multiple research and internal quality improvement efforts. She also completed the Columbia Summer Research Institute at the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research as well as a Masters in Science in Patient Oriented Research (MS/POR) which is administered by the Irving Institute and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Given this deep background and commitment to clinical and translational patient-oriented research, Dr. Anderson represents the ideal candidate for the Irving Scholars program. Additionally, her ability to organize and convene multi-disciplinary stakeholders to engage in evaluation-based assessments and modeling will be of extraordinary value to healthcare strategies and health outcomes for years to come.

Dr. Anderson is currently a pediatric cardiologist and co-Director of Outcomes and Quality for the Pediatric Heart Center at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s hospital. As detailed above, Dr. Anderson is well suited in this role which manages all clinical registry involvement for pediatric cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery. Her research focuses on the linkage and integration of large datasets and the application of econometric modeling for the purposes of identifying modifiable drivers of outcomes and value for patients with congenital heart disease across the lifespan. In her Irving Scholars proposal, entitled “Collaborative Capacity Building:  Leveraging Medicaid Data to Improve Longitudinal Outcomes and Reduce Health Inequities for Congenital Heart Patients Across the Lifespan,” Dr. Anderson aims to link acute clinical care registry data, longitudinal Medicaid claims, Census Bureau data, geocoded data and the Death Index for longitudinal outcome and health expenditure research. This data, which expands greatly on her first R01 project that was funded earlier this year, will enable Dr. Anderson and her team to develop novel risk models that consider social determinants of health, test dimension of healthcare access as mediators of racial and neighborhood inequities among New York Medicaid patients, as well as generate scalable methodologies and inform targeted regional and State interventions. While ambitious in scale, Dr. Anderson is well-equipped to undertake the proposed project and has demonstrated her exceptional ability to work across domains and institutions to accelerate translational research.

Daniel E. Freedberg (Photo: Barbara Alper)

Daniel E. Freedberg, MD, MS, Department of Medicine, Project tile: “Decreasing healthcare-associated infections by preventing gastrointestinal pathogen colonization in the intensive care unit” - Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine

Dr. Freedberg is interested in enteric infections and the gastrointestinal microbiome in the setting of critical illness. His translational research has received funding from the NIH, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), and the Department of Defense. He has successfully built large ICU patient cohorts containing longitudinal clinical data, serial rectal swabs, whole stools, and other biosamples which provided the data necessary to study dynamic changes within the gastrointestinal microbiome during critical illness and to ask how these changes may impact risk for ICU-acquired infections. His proposal to the Irving Scholars program, entitled “Decreasing healthcare-associated infections by preventing gastrointestinal pathogen colonization in the intensive care unit,” builds on that research and proposes to study if multidrug resistant organisms (MDRO) can be eliminated by manipulating the microbiome. Dr. Freedberg will use several Irving Institute and CUIMC core resources and the latest technology to further define the gut microbiome and ways to prevent and reverse MDRO. Furthermore, Dr. Freedberg’s research will have significant clinical and translational implications to restoring normal gastrointestinal bacterial resistance to vulnerable patient populations including ICU patients. Our review committee was very impressed by Dr. Freedberg’s timely and relevant approach to connecting the need to study superinfections and MDRO given the COVID-19 pandemic environment. His research aims to identify novel bacterial infections that prevent MDRO gut colonization that could be tremendously helpful for the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

After receiving his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Freedberg began an internship and residency at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), then continuing his training at CUIMC as a Fellow in Gastroenterology and Hepatology. During his very productive residency and fellowship, Dr. Freedberg received the 2011 Best Graduating Resident in Medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/CUIMC and the 2012 Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Award. Dr. Freedberg trained as a T32 fellow on Dr. Timothy Wang’s T32 training grant in translational gastrointestinal and liver research as well obtained a Masters of Science in Patient Oriented Research (MS/POR) Dr. Freedberg then went on to receive an Irving Institute KL2 award which provided 2-years of funding, mentored research and didactic training.

David Kalfa (Photo: Barbara Alper)

David Kalfa, MD, PhD, Department of Surgery, Division of Cardiac, Thoracic & Vascular Surgery, Project title: “An expandable polymeric valved conduit to repair congenital heart disease” - Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Surgery

Dr. Kalfa is a pediatric and congenital cardiac surgeon. Born in France, he completed his MD and surgical residencies at the University of Marseilles, followed by a PhD in Tissue Engineering at the University of Paris. Dr. Kalfa joined Columbia University Irving Medical Center as an Instructor in Pediatric Cardiac Surgery in 2013 and was offered a formal faculty appointment in 2015. He is now Director of the Pediatric Heart Valve Center at Columbia and Surgical Director of the Columbia Initiative for Pediatric Cardiac Innovation. Dr. Kalfa’s ability to develop independent pediatric cardiac surgery research proposals and lead large collaborative research programs was apparent prior to joining Columbia and has grown tremendously since joining our faculty, despite a heavy clinical responsibility. Due to the complexity and high demands of pediatric cardiac surgery cases, few of the physician scientists in this domain achieve NIH-funded status and very few pursue translational or basic research, however, Dr. Kalfa has pursued multiple training programs and guidance in translational research from the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research and persisted to develop patient-oriented research in pediatric cardiac surgeries and congenital heart disease. This will be the first Irving Scholar awarded to a Surgeon in the Department of Surgery in over 15 years.

As a surgeon-investigator in pediatric cardiac surgery, Dr. Kalfa’s research goal is to improve the clinical outcomes and quality of life of children with congenital heart defects (CHD). His research focuses on developing mechanically-engineered based and tissue-engineered based innovative pediatric medical devices to offer personalized treatment modalities to children with CHD and applies the concepts of regenerative medicine and precision medicine to his surgical field. This include improving valve repair or replacement in children and developing innovative safe and effective ventricular support decides for children with heart failure. Dr. Kalfa’s Irving Scholars proposal, entitled “An expandable polymeric valved conduit to repair congenital heart disease” builds on this research by developing a biostable polymeric valve that can be implanted surgically to repair heart diseases and expanded by successive transcatheter procedures which would minimize or avoid multiple surgeries in children. By identifying the gap in this area of research and developing research proposals to accommodate those needs, Dr. Kalfa has exemplified the translational clinical researcher that the Irving Scholars program aims to support. The implications of his research proposal could have a significant impact on the clinical care and health outcomes of children with CHD.

Marisa N. Spann (Photo: Barbara Alper)

Marisa N. Spann, PhD, MPH, Department of Psychiatry, Project Title: “Establishing Early Brain Signatures associated with Maternal Immune Activation exposure in the fetal to infancy periods” - Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology (in Psychiatry and Pediatrics)
Dr. Spann’s research leverages epidemiologic datasets to isolate broad-screening immune, brain, and cognitive-behavioral factors as well as patient-oriented datasets with laboratory methods to determine specific brain and biological markers associated with neurodevelopmental risk. Her experience with early childhood neuroimaging, perinatal epidemiology and psychiatry well as immunology led her to develop her Irving Scholar proposal entitled “Establishing Early Brain Signatures associated with Maternal Immune Activation exposure in the fetal to infancy periods.” Dr. Spann has one of the seminal papers demonstrating an association with maternal immune activation and early brain development in humans, resulting in a highly cited publication in the Journal of Neuroscience. She expands on this research for the Irving Scholars proposal she aims to address mechanisms whereby prenatal maternal immune activation enhances risk of neurodevelopmental disorders which may have translational implications for familial autoimmune disorders across the lifespan as well as autism spectrum disorders.

Dr. Spann pursued her PhD training in Child Clinical Psychology at George Washington University and subsequent fellowship training in Clinical Neuropsychology at Yale as well as a Master’s in Public Health in social behavioral science. She then joined Columbia as a T32 Postdoc fellow in child psychology and development, and neuro imaging. In 2014, Dr. Spann was appointed to Columbia faculty and has demonstrated her strong clinical research and leadership capabilities ever since. She initially was award a 2-year Irving Institute KL2 grant. In a short-timeframe, she subsequently received a K23 and R01, with two additional new R01’s under review and over 20 publications with 14 as first or senior author with more underway. Her experience and commitment to translational clinical research as well as her leadership experience positioned her to be selected to lead the Irving Institute’s Masters in Science in Patient Oriented Research colloquium. She also leads a highly successful peer mentoring group for women investigators who are KL2 graduates, current and former, for discussing scientific writing goals, promotion, navigating internal politics, resources, work-life balance, interdisciplinary team science, pursuing funding and dissemination.