Announcing the 2022-2025 Irving Scholars

July 14, 2022

The Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research is honored to announce four new Herbert and Florence Irving Scholars for the 2022-2025 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 nearly 150 outstanding scientists and physician scientists! 


Photo of Marwah Abdalla, MD, MPH

Marwah Abdalla, MD, MPH

Marwah Abdalla, MD, MPH 
Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine 
Project title: "Effect of a Personalized Sleep Extension Intervention on Home Blood Pressure & Circadian Rhythm Among Adults with Short Sleep Duration" 

Dr. Marwah Abdalla graduated magna cum laude from Harvard (Cambridge, MA) and pursued her MD and MPH at Yale University (New Haven, CT) graduating at the top of her class. She then went on to train as a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston before joining Columbia in 2009 as a global health and non-communicable diseases post-doctoral fellow through the Institute of Human Nutrition. In 2010, Dr. Abdalla switched gears to Cardiovascular Diseases and secured a Cardiology Fellowship at CUIMC and obtained board certifications in cardiovascular diseases and adult comprehensive echocardiography. During this time, Dr. Abdalla found her passion for studying risk factors for metabolic and cardiovascular disease and disparate impact in communities (working on Jackson Heart Study), as well as her ability to lead others at an elevated level. In 2014 she was recruited from Chief Cardiology Fellow to a junior faculty member in the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health (CBCH) in the Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine and was placed on the tenure track in 2020. While still in her fellowship program, Dr. Abdalla’s tremendous strengths as a leader, colleague, and physician-scientist were recognized with the NYP Physician of the Year Award and the Outstanding Teaching award, nominated by her peers and trainees, as well as a nationally recognized “Up and Coming Future Star of Cardiology” (Cardiosource magazine). Her training at Columbia continued as a young faculty member through the Irving institute for Clinical and Translational Research’s KL2 mentored career development award, which provided structured mentoring program where Dr. Abdalla transitioned from epidemiological research to patient-oriented research within the fields of hypertension and sleep. The KL2 program itself demonstrates the value of strong mentorship for early-stage investigators. Dr. Abdalla took the principles of this program and applied it to those working around her as she is a highly sought-out mentor and peer-mentor to trainees, other early-stage investigators, pre-medical students, house staff, and fellows at CUIMC, especially through her work with the Lindenbaum Thomson Society, a program that helps train future minority physicians. More recently, as a faculty member she was the recipient of two distinguished educator awards, the Daniel V. Kimberg Junior Teaching Award and the Ewig Clinical Education Scholar which honors faculty who have shown excellence and dedication in clinical teaching in the Department of Medicine, again as recommended by her peer colleagues and house staff.   

In 2016 Dr. Abdalla was awarded the Lewis Katz Cardiovascular Research Prize, which recognizes junior faculty members at CUIMC who have made important contributions to the field of cardiovascular research and have the highest potential for becoming independent investigators and leaders within cardiology. Her research focus is on how sleep is related to hypertension and abnormal blood pressure phenotypes, such as nocturnal hypertension as well as ambulatory settings on non-dipping or impaired blood pressure. Dr. Abdalla has successfully applied and received several sources of funding internally and externally to advance scientific knowledge in this field, including her NIH NHLBI K23 “nocturnal hypertension and sleep” (HL141682) clinical trial and R01 “Automated clinic blood pressure assessment and detection of white coat and masked hypertension study in African Americans” (HL146636). She is additionally funded at present by awards from Robert Wood Johnson and AHA Harold Amos Award – both studying blood pressure dipping and sleep. Notably, Dr. Abdalla received national attention for her work during COVID-19 that utilized her expertise on sleep and mental health in a research study of NY Healthcare workers during the pandemic. This work was published in General Hospital Psychiatry in June 2020 (PMC7297159) and was one of the first large-scale studies of its kind and highly cited. Dr. Abdalla’s Irving Scholars proposal, entitled “Effect of a Personalized Sleep Extension Intervention on Home Blood Pressure & Circadian Rhythm Among Adults with Short Sleep Duration” will complement her research thus far and will help provide data for a second R01 related to nocturnal hypertension and cardiovascular disease risk as noted in her proposal.   

Dr. Abdalla has maintained a clear commitment to her field in cardiovascular medicine as well as to mentoring and training the young physician-scientists that follow behind her. Her impressive research, clinical and career trajectory will surely continue and would only be accelerated by the Irving Assistant Professorship. 


Photo of Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, MD, MS

Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, MD, MS

Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, MD, MS 
Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Pediatrics (in Environmental Health Sciences) 
Project title: "Pollution and Lung health in Active Youth at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (PLAY at WHEELS)" 

Dr. Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir is a dedicated pediatric pulmonologist and physician scientist who is advancing the science behind environmental justice activities taking place in New York City and across the globe. Her education at LaSalle University (Philadelphia, PA) and New York Medical College (Valhalla, NY) led her to a unique 3-year Social Pediatrics Residency program at Montefiore which focuses its training on underserved pediatric populations in the context of their community in NYC. She joined Columbia’s pediatric pulmonology group as a fellow in 2010 and has carved a pathway in pediatric pulmonology and health equity research as well as peer mentoring and interdisciplinary collaborations.   

Dr. Lovinsky-Desir was named the Chief of the Pediatric Division of Pulmonology in January 2022 and has maintained striking productivity with eleven manuscripts (two as senior author), two additional senior author publications under review, and one invited review as a senior author, and is funded by several internal (Doris Duke, Data Science Institute) and external (Health Effects Institute, RWJF) sources. Additionally, Dr. Lovinsky-Desir recently resubmitted an NLHBI R01 application on pollution and lung health in asthmatic children.  In 2019, Dr. Lovinsky-Desir was funded one of the inaugural Columbia Intervention and Implementation Science Pilot awards for a proposal studying personalized infographics to control teen asthma and, having also participated the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research’s Reach for the First R01 Program, we have strong expectations that her R01 will be successfully funded. Her Irving Scholars application, entitled “Pollution and Lung health in Active Youth at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (PLAY at WHEELS)” will utilize a multi-disciplinary team of environmental health scientists, an exercise physiologist and a biostatistician and complement the aims proposed in her R01. This community partnership involves a school in Columbia’s neighborhood in Washington Heights where the majority of the students are Black and Latino to quantify their exposure to air pollution during physical activity. This will support an effort to pedestrianize streets adjacent to schools to reduce traffic-related air pollution.   

 One of the more important roles Dr. Lovinsky-Desir has assumed while at Columbia is that of a trusted colleague and peer-mentor. Several years ago, she and a group of colleagues participating in the KL2 career development award research training program self-organized into a strong peer-mentorship group in the Accountability and a Safe-space to Promote, Inspire, Recharge, and Empower one another! (ASPIRE!) program. Her ability to bring together a peer network of seven diverse, yet like-minded, scientific peers to ASPIRE! is truly remarkable and yet another demonstration of her ability to lead and provide mentorship, especially with a focus on inclusivity, equity, and empowerment.  

Given her impressive research training, clinical background, as well as Dr. Lovinsky-Desir’s determination to advance her field while lifting up those around her, the Irving Assistant Professorship will undoubtedly serve to help her career and accelerate her work. 


Katharina Schultebraucks, PhD

Katharina Schultebraucks, PhD 

Katharina Schultebraucks, PhD 
Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (in Emergency Medicine and Psychiatry) 
Project title: "Digital biomarkers as personalized predictive markers of accelerated aging in ED clinicians" 

Dr. Katharina Schultebraucks received her training in clinical psychology at Freie Universität Berlin (Berlin, Germany) as an undergraduate and PhD student. Afterward, she received the prestigious and competitive 24-month research fellowship (SCHU 3259/1-1) of the German Research Foundation for Post-Doc training in advanced methods of computational medicine and machine learning, which she completed at NYU with their psychiatry and emergency departments. This initial research focus resulted in publications in Nature Medicine, Molecular Psychiatry, American Journal of Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine. Joining the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) Department of Emergency Medicine in 2019 as Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (in Emergency Medicine), Dr. Schultebraucks has continued to hone her expertise in computational medicine, clinical predictive analytics, and digital phenotyping. Her focus is on stress-related pathologies, psych-neuroendocrinology and clinical psychology and has received several early-career funding awards for her work on identifying early risk factors in Emergency Departments. As an early-career investigator, Dr. Schultebraucks shows tremendous intellect and drive towards pursuing a career in clinical and translational research in clinical psychology and applying machine learning to advancing scientific knowledge on trauma and stress in clinical care settings.  

From the very beginning of her career, Dr. Schultebraucks showed a multidisciplinary approach to her work including using computational approaches, behavioral sciences, and psychoneuroendocrinology, to explain biological and psychological stress responses and psychiatric disorders. In 2021, the Clinical Research Forum, the professional association for the clinical and translational science award program, named Dr. Schultebraucks a finalist for its Clinical Research Achievements award for her longitudinal study on predictive modeling of biomarkers collected in the Emergency Department (ED) for Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) risk profiles. This work was also published in Nature Medicine in 2020. While participating in the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research’s Reach for the First R01 program for junior faculty, Dr. Schultebraucks applied for and was successfully funded her first R01 (HL156134) on physician burnout of emergency department physicians. This was a natural and timely shift of focus as it was written during the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in an Emergency Department at the center of America’s initial outbreak. She is co-investigator on several other projects that measure COVID-19 impact on frontline healthcare providers, children, and their families. This project was followed by a successful recent submission (14 percentile; award is prepared) for her second R01 (MH129856) which will focus on point-of-care prognostic modeling of PTSD risk after traumatic event exposure in the emergency department utilizing our medical center’s robust electronic health record system data. Furthermore, she has received scholarship awards from the National Science Foundation, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the German Research Foundation, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Her Irving Scholars application, “Digital biomarkers as personalized predictive markers of accelerated aging in ED clinicians” will expand on her previous work.  


Kazuki Sugahara, MD, PhD

Kazuki Sugahara, MD, PhD 

Kazuki Sugahara, MD, PhD 
Herbert Irving Assistant Professor in Surgery 
Project title: "A next generation tumor-penetrating cancer therapy" 

Dr. Kazuki Sugahara pursued extensive training, clinical practice, and education, which, combined, make a dedicated and seasoned surgical investigator. Completing his MD at Shiga University of Medical Science (Shiga, Japan) and PhD in cancer biology and immunology at Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine (Osaka, Japan), Dr. Sugahara joined the Sanford-Burnham-Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (Sanford Institute) as a Postdoctoral Associate and Staff Scientist. The center is a National Cancer Institute Basic Laboratory Cancer Center and further developed Dr. Sugahara’s training, interest, and expertise in developing and translating novel cancer therapies from lab to market. After finding success doing translational research at this basic science institute, Dr. Sugahara wanted to return to a clinical role and joined Columbia in 2013 to start its competitive surgical residency program, while still conducting research on a funded R01. Dr. Sugahara took on the exceedingly difficult task of maintaining an active and productive research laboratory while serving as a full-time clinical surgery resident at a world-renowned academic medical center. In 2019 he was made an Instructor in Surgery and 2022 an Assistant Professor on the tenure track in the division of GI and Endocrine Surgery. While his career may have taken off in basic sciences, Dr. Sugahara chose to pursue that of a physician-scientist and the very definition of what the Irving Scholars program aims to support.  

While working at Sanford Institute, Dr. Sugahara discovered the iRGD tumor-specific tissue cell-penetrating peptide. iRGD effectively penetrates tumors along with bystander molecules, enabling tumor-specific drug delivery with a simple peptide co-injection. He filed multiple world-wide patents and founded Cend Therapeutics, which is now a clinical stage company that continues to translate this technology. This initial work may revolutionize cancer therapy. Additionally, the discovery may prove to be a universal tissue penetrating mechanism, which can spread various toxins or viruses into tissues and cells throughout the body. Thus, the translational impact of his discovery, and his commitment to disseminate and further the research, is of vital importance and has resulted in multiple phase 1 and 2 clinical trials in the US, Australia, and China. As stated earlier, Dr. Sugahara was a unique surgical resident and came to Columbia with an active National Cancer Institute R01 (R01CA167174) on iRGD when he started his program. He has obtained additional funding through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, intramural funding, and current funding from a Department of Defense Idea Award project which aims to develop a method to method to isolate tumor-specific circulating exosomes from pancreas cancer mice using unique nanoprobes in order to develop a liquid biopsy system.  

In his Irving Scholars application, entitled “A next generation tumor-penetrating cancer therapy,” Dr. Sugahara proposes to further optimize the structure of the iRGD-drug conjugate to develop it as a novel drug delivery scaffold that retains its own tumor-specific toxicity as well as the ability to deliver co-injected compounds. The potential impact of this work can lead to a further breakthrough in cancer management.