Announcing the 2021-2024 Irving Scholars

July 16, 2021

The Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research is honored to announce four new Herbert and Florence Irving Scholars for the 2021-2024 cohort.

In the late 1980’s, Herbert and Florence Irving created a generous endowment to support clinical and 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 and translational research. Each scholar receives $60,000 unrestricted funds annually for three years and joins a prestigious alumni group of over 140 outstanding scientists and physician scientists!


Keith Diaz

Keith Diaz, PhD

Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Behavioral Medicine (in Medicine) 
Project title: Breaking Up Prolonged Sedentary Behavior to Improve Cardiometabolic Health: Investigating the Effectiveness of Resistance Exercises


After receiving his PhD in Integrative Exercise Physiology from Temple University in 2012, Dr. Diaz began his pursuit to understand risk factors for heart disease related to exercise. Over the past nine years he has demonstrated a dedication to clinical and translational research in exercise physiology, cardiovascular disease as well as a commitment and skill in conducting health disparities research. Dr. Diaz joined Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) in 2012 as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health (CBCH) and in 2016 became Assistant Professor of Behavioral Medicine. His work has been regularly published in the top peer-reviewed journals including Annals of Internal Medicine, Circulation, JAMA Oncology, and Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

There is increasing national attention in the atherosclerosis field for novel risk factor identification and Dr. Diaz’ laboratory and observational research to elucidate the role of physical activity in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is therefore timely and relevant. Dr. Diaz has with striking success pursued extramural funding from the NIH including four current NIH R01s, and is co-investigator on a further four NIH R01 grants. One grant (R01-HL134985) focuses on sedentary behavior as a risk factor for acute coronary syndrome (ACS) and mortality through a prospective cohort study examining objectively measured sedentary behavior as a secondary risk factor for cardiovascular outcomes in acute coronary syndrome patients. Dr. Diaz’ preliminary results suggest sedentary behavior is a strong risk factor for recurrent events and have served as an impetus for subsequent funding and research projects on metrics critically needed to inform future trials for both general and clinical populations. His most recent R01 (R01- HL155190) funds a prospective cohort study to evaluate the health benefits and health risks associated with standing as a suitable alternative to sedentary behavior in African Americans. The recent MPI NIH-NHLBI award further explores these risk factors by evaluating the role of waking and sleep behaviors in a Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). This impressive array of funding reflects Dr. Diaz skill in developing and collaborating on innovative and impactful research projects with colleagues at Columbia and externally. His Irving Scholars application, entitled “Breaking Up Prolonged Sedentary Behavior to Improve Cardiometabolic Health: Investigating the Effectiveness of Resistance Exercises” expands on his previous work and successful funding will allow him to pursue and conduct additional interdisciplinary research projects in this domain an advance this field.

Dr. Diaz has participated in many academic services as well as exceled as a mentor for many years at Columbia. He serves as a reviewer on nearly two dozen medical journals and is a member for many local and national committees and consortia. He has mentored over a dozen trainees including those who have been awarded NIH Graduate Research Supplements and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholar. Dr. Diaz has served as a mentor for two NIH-supported R25 training programs designed to increase the number of minorities in health-related research and biostatistics, for a NIH-supported T32 training program designed to train basic and clinical in arteriosclerosis research, and for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, a training program designed to prepare minority post baccalaureate students for doctoral studies. His passion for these areas are closely aligned with the Irving Institute and CUIMC’s commitment for diversity, equity and inclusion of underrepresented persons in faculty leadership positions.


May Hua

May Hua, MD

Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology (in Epidemiology) at the Columbia University Medical Center 
Project title: Palliative Care Effectiveness for Patients with Serious Illness


A Harvard University and Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis graduate, Dr. Hua joined CUIMC in 2000 for her anesthesiology residency training where she served as a chief resident and her critical care fellowship. Dr. Hua joined the Division of Critical Care of the Department of Anesthesiology as a faculty member in 2012. Since then, Dr. Hua has demonstrated a clear trajectory in academia and a highly visible national reputation for her research. Her reputation and expertise has caused her to be well sought after as a mentor for residents, fellows, and junior faculty, and as a collaborator for other multi-disciplinary researchers across our institution.

Dr. Hua has been continuously funded since 2013 with competitive national funding awards including the prestigious Paul B. Beeson K08 Career Development Award from the NIH National Institute on Aging, which is given to candidates with potential to be future leaders in aging research. Her first R01 funding came in the form of a $2.8 million R37 MERIT award from the National Cancer Institute (R37CA246565) targeting the knowledge gap in effective palliative care delivery for patients with metastatic cancer. The MERIT award is given to early-stage investigators whose R01 applications are scored so highly that they fall within the payline for established investigators. Dr. Hua was also funded by the American Foundation for Aging Research, the Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research, as well as internal funding opportunities at Columbia. Dr. Hua’s dedication to patient oriented translational research, including completing a Master of Science in Patient Oriented Research (an Irving Institute and Mailman School of Public Health joint program), is evident in her productive research program.

The goal of Dr. Hua’s research program is to improve the overall quality of care through the evidence-based delivery of end-of-life care and palliative care as well as understand the palliative care needs of patients with serious illness who require intensive care, ways to improve access to palliative care services, and developing methods to measure the effectiveness of specialist palliative care on a population-level. Indeed, this Irving Scholars proposal to further develop the nascent evidence base for specialist palliative care in noncancer serious illness is in an area that is timely and relevant as interest and research in palliative care for advanced cancer research is increasing nationally. Palliative care is an interdisciplinary model of care by nature and Dr. Hua has demonstrated a remarkable ability to successfully design and implement interdisciplinary research programs to advance the field.



Jennifer Woo Baidal, MD, MPH

Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Pediatrics 
Project title: Expediting Efficacious Early Life Interventions to Prevent Childhood Obesity


Dr. Woo Baidal’s research goal is to reduce childhood obesity through the translation of clinical, community, and epidemiologic findings into clinical and population-level interventions. Her research has examined electronic health record (EHR) social determinants of health screening and infant weight trajectories as well as, in a partnership with Coalicion Mexicana and the NYC-DOHMH, examining reducing sugary beverage consumption within the first 1,000 days of life. Dr. Woo Baidal is a leader in translational pediatric obesity research including serving as the inaugural Director of the Pediatric Obesity Initiative in the Department of Pediatrics, Director of the Pediatric Weight Management Program in the Division of Pediatric GI, Hepatology, and Nutrition and serves as PI of the Department’s Child Research in Obesity Prevention (CROP) program. Her Irving Scholars proposal, entitled “Expediting Efficacious Early Life Interventions to Prevent Childhood Obesity” is complementary to these programs by combining her research goals of effective interventions to prevent childhood obesity and a sustainable interdisciplinary and translational approach.

Dr. Woo Baidal joined the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) faculty in 2015 as Assistant Professor of Pediatrics on the tenure track. Prior to joining Columbia, Dr. Woo Baidal was an Instructor of Pediatrics and Attending Physician at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Woo Baidal received her Medical Degree at Harvard Medical School and completed her residency at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles before returning to Boston for a fellowship in pediatric gastroenterology and health services research at Boston Children’s Hospital. During this latter fellowship she also completed a Masters in Public Health in Clinical Effectiveness at Harvard. Impressively, Dr. Woo Baidal continues to pursue new ways to learn and train in clinical effectiveness and operations as she completed a certificate in business excellence from Columbia’s Business School just last year as well as the NewYork-Presbyterian Leadership Education and Development (NYP LEAD) program. This program culminated in a capstone project on NYP response to COVID-19 that resulted in two publications in the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst.

Her commitment to academic medicine and service began at a very early stage serving on various intramural councils, boards and mentorship programs that led to her commitment to local, regional NYC, and national committees around pediatrics, nutrition, food insecurity, obesity, sustainable food systems. Dr. Woo Baidal is a recognized leader in early life obesity prevention research, and has been at the leading edge of research that intersects childhood obesity, health equity, and social determinants of health for several years. She participates on several NIH grant study sections, and continues to be a very proactive member of national professional societies. Locally, Dr. Woo Baidal’s outstanding mentorship for trainees and students has proved very valuable and, in addition to direct mentorship, she and her cohort in the Irving Institute KL2 program helped to develop a sustainable peer-mentoring group for underrepresented minority women faculty at CUIMC and virtual peer mentoring opportunities. Thus Dr. Woo Baidal is an exemplary model of a translational research scientist in an academic medical center whose career and research will be greatly benefited by the Irving Scholars professorship.



Hanrui Zhang, MB, PhD

Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Medical Sciences (in Medicine) 
Project title: Targeting Macrophage Proliferation and Efferocytosis in Atherosclerosis.


Dr. Zhang’s research seeks to understand the dynamic role of macrophages in cardiometabolic diseases with the aim of finding new treatments. Her expertise lies in human iPSC differentiation, CRISPR gene editing, and high throughput CRISPR screening. Dr. Zhang’s goals to elucidate the mechanisms and therapeutic implications of macrophage heterogeneity and plasticity in cardiometabolic diseases underline her ability to conduct novel, high-quality translational research. Her current R01 focuses on Wdfy3, a novel positive regulator of macrophage efferocytosis discovered by an innovative genome-wide CRISPR screen and supported by human PheWAS, in atherosclerosis. Her two proposals (one R01 as the contact PI and one U01 as the MPI) and one pending R01 as a co-Investigator also build on her expertise in human iPSC-macrophages and functional genomic screens in macrophages. With her Irving Scholars proposal, entitled “Targeting Macrophage Proliferation and Efferocytosis in Atherosclerosis,” Dr. Zhang reflects a clear control of innovative and translational research processes by building on her previous research expertise in this field. With funding from the Irving Scholars proposal she will be able to pursue more external funding building on this proposal’s potential of targeting macrophage proliferation and efferocytosis for residual risk reduction in atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases.

As an academic research scientist, Dr. Zhang has excelled at building a strong and independent research laboratory and participates and leads in many national AHA- Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (ATVB) programs. This includes several academic service positions serving to promote and enhance Women in Science in AHA and the scientific workforce. In recognition of her efforts, in 2020 Dr. Zhang received the prestigious Irvine H. Page Junior Faculty Research Award sponsored by the AHA ATVB Council, which recognizes early-career investigators who have the potential to become future leaders in cardiovascular research. Her trainees in the Zhang lab have received competitive fellowship support from internal and external sources and reflect an exceptional mentor relationship and dedication.  Dr. Zhang serves as a mentor for several graduate programs across the Columbia University campuses and is an active member of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative as well as the Cardiometabolic Precision Medicine Program. She is well-known in the Department of Medicine and beyond for her collegiality, organizational skills, and scientific innovation.

Dr. Zhang joined CUIMC in 2017 as an Associate Research Scientist and moved to the Assistant Professor (tenure-track) in 2018. Since joining our CUIMC faculty, Dr. Zhang has been remarkably productive academically and scientifically in the field of atherosclerosis research. Prior to Columbia, Dr. Zhang completer her MB (Chinese Medicine) MSc (Herbal Pharmacology) at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine and completed her PhD in Physiology and Pharmacology in 2011 at the University of Missouri. She then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Cardiovascular Institute of the University of Pennsylvania where she continued on her trajectory towards independence including her move to Columbia University. She has demonstrated an outstanding track record in obtaining external funding including a National Institute of Health (NIH) R90 training grant, American Heart Association (AHA) Predoctoral and Postdoctoral Fellowship, a NIH NHLBI K99/R00 Career Development award. Dr. Zhang submitted her first R01 and received a 2nd percentile at first submission within one year of establishing her independent research laboratory. Additionally, she successfully completed several career development programs at the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research including the Reach for the R01 course, several workshops and Irving Institute research services, as well as funding from the Irving Institute and Clinical Trials Office pilot awards. She is an outstanding translational scientist and we are thrilled to announce her award.