Celebrating 150 Scholars! Announcing the 2023-2026 Irving Scholars

July 6, 2023

The Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research is honored to announce four new Herbert and Florence Irving Scholars for the 2023-2026 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 awards of $180,000 unrestricted funds as Florence and Herbert Irving clinical research career awards (“Irving Scholars”)  for junior faculty members involved in clinical and translational research. Thirty-six years after the inaugural award, we are proud to exceed 150 scholars supported by the program, including some of the very best physician scientists at Columbia University. Please join us in congratulating these outstanding researchers.  

Elana J. Bernstein, MD, MSc

Elana J. Bernstein, MD, MSc 
Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine     

Project Title: “Vasculopathy, Inflammation, and Interstitial Lung Disease in Systemic Sclerosis” 

The Irving Scholarship will enable Dr. Bernstein to conduct a translational analysis of how vasculopathy in systemic sclerosis contributes to interstitial lung disease (ILD) and has the potential to lead to new treatments for ILD. 

Dr. Bernstein received her medical doctorate at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, training at Massachusetts General Hospital and a MSc from Weill Cornell. She completed her fellowship in rheumatology at Hospital for Special Surgery in 2013 where she was also an NIH NCATS KL2 awardee. Dr. Bernstein was recruited to Columbia in 2014 as Instructor then quickly appointed Assistant Professor. From her arrival in 2014, Dr. Bernstein has held multiple teaching roles for students, residents and fellows, as well as served as an outstanding mentor for scholars in rheumatology. In 2022 she was awarded the Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons Promising Clinician Scientist Award, which is bestowed on early career physician-scientists at VP&S who conduct important and innovative clinical and/or translational research while also maintaining productivity in the face of extraprofessional commitments related to significant family caregiving, a cohort including several current or former Irving Scholar awardees. In early 2023 she was named the M. Irené Ferrer Scholar Awardee for research that addresses gender-specific issues for her work in ILD. 

As a current and past site principal investigator for multiple observational studies and clinical trials, both NIH- and industry-sponsored, in systemic sclerosis (SSc) and ILD, Dr. Bernstein is clearly an emerging leader in her field and was the founder and current Director of the Columbia University/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Scleroderma Program. Since her KL2, Dr. Bernstein has obtained an impressive array of foundational and industry funding for her work including the Arthritis Foundation, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Rheumatology Research Foundation, Eico Sciences, Pfizer, Corbus Pharmaceuticals, Kadmon, Boehringer Ingelheim, and the Scleroderma Research Foundation.  She has a current K23 (K23AR075112) for SSc, her main research focus area, and is principal investigator on recent R01 (R01HL164758) and DOD (W81XWH2210163) grants in 2022. Dr. Bernstein is nationally recognized not just as a collaborative clinical investigator but also an expert in her field, as co-author, speaker, and recent selection by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) to serve as Co-first author of the ACR project to develop guidelines for the screening, monitoring, and treatment of ILD in patients with systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases.  She serves as a peer reviewer for journals including Annals of Internal Medicine, PLoS One, JAMA Internal Medicine, Rheumatology, and many others and has over 50 peer-reviewed manuscripts, including high-impact journals such as Lancet Rheumtology, PNAS and others, including 13 as first-or last-author. With these remarkable achievements in a relatively short time period, Dr. Bernstein’s career trajectory is sure to continue to advance and push forward her scientific field. 


Kiran T. Thakur, MD

Kiran T. Thakur, MD 
Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Neurology and Winifred Mercer Pitkin, M.D. Assistant Professor of Neurology    

Project title: “Longitudinal Impact of Stress on Systemic Inflammation and Neurocognitive Outcomes in Community-Dwelling Black and Hispanic/Latinx Survivors of SARS-CoV-2 Infection” 

The Irving Scholarship will enable Dr. Thakur to continue her trajectory as an emerging leader in neuro-infectious diseases. The funding will support her research to assess how stressors across the life-course impact immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 and longitudinal neurocognitive outcomes in urban-dwelling Black and Hispanic/Latinx survivors. 

Dr. Thakur received her medical doctorate at Tufts University, training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, MGH and Harvard for her Neurology residency where she served as Chief Resident for Neurology. She completed her Neurological Infections and Neuroimmunology fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, also completing a certification in the science of clinical investigation at JH’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Thakur is currently enrolled in the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in a master’s program in epidemiology, and previously completed a clinical certificate in the science of clinical trials there. She was recruited to Columbia in 2015 as Assistant Professor of Neurology and named Winifred Mercer Pitkin, M.D. assistant professor in 2017- a five-year endowed professorship in the Department of Neurology. To recognize her notable contributions to the clinical, research and educational missions of Neurology, in 2022 her peers elected her for the Richard Mayeux Award. The support and recognition from her Department is particularly notable as she pushed forward SARS-CoV-2 clinical and research responses on behalf of the department, often coordinating complex teams. The result of which included not only 25 publications on Covid-19 and the nervous system but also launching a program in neuroinfectious diseases for the department that will position Columbia to lead in this space for years to come. With over 110 peer-reviewed journal articles and an h-index of 32, Dr. Thakur has already established herself as an emerging national and international leader in neuroinfectious diseases and neuroimmunology. Dr. Thakur has maintained a clear commitment to her field 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. 


Joshua Weiner, MD

Joshua Weiner, MD 
Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Surgery     

Project title: “Delayed donor bone marrow transplantation to facilitate prolonged mixed chimerism and tolerance after intestinal transplantation” 

The Irving Scholars program supports translational scientists for their commitment to clinical research that can move from the bench to bedside with the understanding that there is no one scientific domain more important than the next. That being said, the Irving Scholar program also recognizes the extreme difficulty for surgeons in particular to maintain high research productivity while continuing to provide excellent care in a world-class clinical department. Dr. Weiner demonstrated an early interest in this type of work, and continues to prove his ability to not only advance his field but also serve as a leader in intestinal transplantation. He has secured a K23 award, an American Society of Transplant Surgeons Faculty Development Grant, Columbia’s Nelson Family Transplant Innovation Award, and has served as Co-PI or a fellow on several other awards. Importantly, Dr. Weiner’s ability to serve as a leader in the clinical research space is demonstrated by serving as Site PI for a large multi-site clinical trial and co-investigator in several others, both industry-sponsored and federal. Finally, Dr. Weiner maintains a large roster of students, lab techs, research post-docs and surgical fellows as his mentees and he has been recognized with numerous awards for his service as an outstanding mentor.  

Dr. Weiner has an impressive education and training background, having graduated from Harvard in the government and policy area but switching to scientific pursuits thereafter, by spending two years in the Transplantation Biology Research Center at MGH before enrolling and completing his medical degree from Yale. While at Yale, his early interest in surgery, transplantation, and research, was already piqued and he was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellow at MGH’s Transplantation Biology Research Center. He later joined Columbia as a general surgery resident mentored by Dr. Tomoaki Kato and continued his research training under Dr. Megan Sykes. Dr. Weiner continued his transplantation fellowship at Georgetown and returned to Columbia in 2019 as an Assistant Professor of Surgery in the Division of Transplantation, in order to grow CUIMC’s intestinal transplant program as well as solidifying his dedication to be a successful physician scientist, as demonstrated by completing Columbia’s Summer Research Institute which trains early scholars in patient-oriented research. He now serves as the Principal Investigator of Columbia’s Center for Translation Immunology, the Surgical Director for CUIMC’s Intestinal Rehabilitation and Transplantation, and the Associate Program Director for CUIMC’s Abdominal Organ Transplant Surgery Fellowship program. The Irving Scholarship will enable Dr. Weiner to continue to advance the field of T cell immunology after intestinal transplantation and its translation into broader clinical settings. 


Kelley Yan, MD, PhD

Kelley Yan, MD, PhD 
Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine and Warner-Lambert Assistant Professor of Medicine (in the Columbia Center for Human Development) and Assistant Professor of Genetics and Development    

Project title: “3D organoids to study the TCR reactome in human colorectal cancer” 

Dr. Yan received her MD and PhD in structural biology from Mount Sinai School of Medicine and completed Internal Medicine residency and GI fellowship at Stanford, training and working with recognized leaders in intestinal stem cell biology. At Stanford she was a K08 awardee as well as a Burroughs Wellcome Fund awardee, positioning her to pursue her broad interests in clinical gastroenterology, structural biology, and epithelial stem cell (ISC) biology at the molecular, cellular and tissue levels. Her ability to master these complex areas with a macro-vision for translational implications is exemplary of the type of translational scientists the Irving Scholars program is intended to support. Dr. Yan was recruited to Columbia in 2016 in the Division of Digestive and Liver Diseases with a joint appointment as the Warner-Lambert Asst Prof of Medicine in Department of Genetics & Development. A highly collaborative physician scientist, Dr. Yan practices and teaches clinical gastroenterology and maintains a fully independent laboratory with affiliations to the Columbia Center for Human Development (CCHD), Columbia Stem Cell Initiative (CSCI), and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC). The Irving Scholarship will enable Dr. Yan to expand her research areas in translational stem cell biology, T cell receptors, and cancer therapies.   

Dr. Yan has been successful in obtaining funding, including NIH New Innovator Award for “Directing cell fate along the intestinal enteroendocrine lineage”, a R01 “Intestinal stem cell function during aging and tumor initiation” and the Columbia University Irma T. Hirschl Trust Research Award “Targeting the stem cell niche for the prevention and treatment of colorectal tumorigenesis”. She is co-investigator on several research grants including a U01, P30, and two other R01s. Dr. Yan is the founding Co-Director of the newly launched Organoid and Cell Culture Core for Columbia University funded by the P30 Center grant and helps to enable studies of human epithelial biology as it pertains to diseases and their potential therapies. Dr. Yan has over 40 peer-reviewed publications including high-impact journals such as Nature (first-author), Nature Communications, PNAS, Cell, and Science, among others. She was previously awarded a Gerstner Scholar Award with a subsequent additional Gerstner Merit Award year, which recognizes progress achieved in the awardees project area, as well as the VP&S Promising Clinician Scientist Award and the Harold & Golden Lamport Award. In addition to her local recognition, Dr. Yan was recognized by the American Society for Clinical Investigation with the Young Physician-Scientist Award, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Young Investigator Award and selected by the AGA as an emerging future leader. Dr. Yan has devoted her career to train the next generation of gastroenterologists, provide care in our health system, and advance the understanding of digestive tract biology and how it goes awry in human disease and translational therapeutic implications.