TMC Digestive Diseases Center Member News

Current DDC membership includes 156 members, including 63 full members with approximately $27.3 million in digestive diseases-related research funding as of 2018. The DDC has particular strengths in the areas of gastrointestinal development, infection, and injury. We are proud to share latest member news with you.

James Versalovic, M.D., Ph.D., Appointed New DDC Co-Director

As of May 1, 2019, Dr. James Versalovic, professor and vice chair of Pathology & Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine and pathologist-in-chief and director of the Texas Children’s Microbiome Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, will serve as co-director of the Texas Medical Center Digestive Diseases Center. Dr. Versalovic is a well-funded physician scientist in digestive diseases and an international leader in gut microbiome research. He has been a long standing and instrumental part of the DDC leadership team as co-director of our Functional Genomics and Microbiome Core (Core C) for several years. In his new role, Dr. Versalovic will work with Center Director Hashem B. El-Serag, M.D., M.P.H., to provide governance, financial and operational management, and strategic planning functions for the DDC. He will continue his role as director of Core C.

The role of DDC co-director was previously served by Doug Burrin, Ph.D., a USDA-ARS research physiologist at Baylor. Dr. Burrin will continue to lead the Pilot Feasibility Program of the DDC and will remain a part of the center as a member of the Internal Advisory Committee. We look forward to continued success under these leadership changes.

Dr. Jian Chen Receives AASLD Foundation Pinnacle Research Award in Liver Disease

Dr. Jian Chen, assistant professor in the department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, & Nutrition at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, will receive a Pinnacle Research Award from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) Foundation. This honor includes a three-year award of $300,000, which will support Dr. Chen's project, "Deregulated PRAJA1-TGF-ß Signaling in Liver Cancer Stem Cells." Dr. Chen is a 2017 DDC Pilot Feasibility Awardee. 

credit: M Estes
Launch of Gastrointestinal Experimental Model Systems Core (GEMS)

With the start of its 16th year, the TMC Digestive Diseases Center has some exciting announcements. In an effort to meet the increasing demands of members and provide access to state-of-the art research through our cores, the DDC has launched the Gastrointestinal Experimental Model Systems Core (GEMS). Formerly the Integrative Biology Core, the GEMS Core is organized to encompass an enteroid/organoid subcore and a gnotobiotic subcore. This core offers turnkey access to organoids/enteroid technologies to researchers, including samples (enteroids, organoids), reagents (specialized growth media, etc.), training, and consultative expertise. The core also provides access to Baylor Gnotobiotic Rodent Facility and animals, training and consultative expertise. With the launch of the GEMS Core, researchers have access to enteroid and organoid services as well as an advanced germ-free rodent facility

The new GEMS Core will be led by Director Noah Shroyer, Ph.D., associate professor gastroenterology and hepatology at Baylor. Dr. Shroyer has been a longtime DDC member, and a 2005 pilot feasibility awardee. Mary Estes, Ph.D., emeritus director of the DDC and professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor will serve as co-director of the GEMS Core. Alton G. Swennes, D.V.M, associate director of the Center for Comparative Medicine, will also serve as co-director. Dr. Swennes has extensive experience with gnotobiotic facility design and will offer consultation on study design and feasibility.

Learn more about the newly established GEMS core.

Leadership Transition: Dr. Deborah Schady Named Core B Director 

The DDC welcomes our new Cellular and Molecular Morphology Core (Core B) director, Deborah Schady, M.D., assistant professor of pathology & immunology at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Schady has served as a Core B co-director since 2016 under the direction of Milton J. Finegold, M.D., who served as the Core B director and has been responsible for the organization, supervision, and coordination of the Core B since the inception of the DDC. Dr. Finegold will remain an integral part of the core as co-director. 

Dr. Schady received her M.D. from Medical University of South Carolina in 2005. Her research interests include solid tumors and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. She is board certified in pediatric pathology, and anatomic and clinical pathology. Views a list of Dr. Schady’s publications.

Read more information about the DDC’s Cellular & Morphology Core.

Dr. Shumei Song Receives Multiple DOD Grants

Shumei Song, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the department of GI Medical Oncology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center has been awarded multiple department of defense grants. Dr. Song received a $640,000 grant in support of her project "Immune-Suppression and Tumor-Stromal Interaction Mediated by Galectin-3 in Gastric Cancer — Implications of Novel Therapeutic Strategies" and an additional $640,000 grant to support her project, "Discover Novel Biomarkers/Targets for Advanced Gastric Adenocarcinoma Patients by Exploring Tumor-Associated Exosomes From Malignant Ascites." She is also co-PI on a project entitled, "Exploiting RhoA mutations in diffuse gastric adenocarcinoma and targeting intertwined RhoA and Yap1 pathways for therapeutic advantage," which also received DOD funding. Dr. Song is a previous Pilot Feasibility awardee and one of the awarded DOD grants is an extension of the work funded by her DDC pilot grant. 

Dr. Fasiha Kanwal Appointed Gastroenterology and Hepatology Chief

Dr. Fasiha Kanwal, Digestive Disease Core director, has been selected and agreed to serve as the new chief for the Section of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in the Department of Medicine. She has served in the interim chief role since January 2017. Dr. Fasiha Kanwal received her training in gastroenterology and hepatology from University of California Los Angeles, and received research training with a Masters in Science, Health Services. Her research focuses on assessing and improving quality and outcomes of care in individuals with chronic liver diseases, including those with chronic hepatitis C, hepatitis B virus, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular cancer. She was the recipient of highly competitive faculty awards, including the Research Excellence in GI and Liver Award (2007) and Emerging Leaders in Gastroenterology Award (2008). 

Dr. Mary Estes Receives Record-Breaking Two AGA Recognitions in 2018

Dr. Mary K. Estes, professor of virology and microbiology and medicine gastroenterology and emeritus founder of the TMC Digestives Diseases Center, has been awarded two prestigious American Gastroenterological Association recognitions. The AGA honored Dr. Estes with the William Beaumont Prize in Gastroenterology, which recognizes an individual who has made a unique, outstanding contribution of major importance to the field of gastroenterology. Dr. Estes’ fundamental discoveries and contributions to the field of gastrointestinal infections has had a world-wide impact on the care of children due to her work on rotavirus and individuals of all ages due to her work on norovirus. The AGA also awarded the Distinguished Mentor Award to Dr. Estes, marking the first time an AGA member has been awarded two recognition prizes in the same year. The AGA Distinguished Mentor Award recognizes an individual who has made a lifelong effort dedicated to the mentoring of trainees in the field of gastroenterology and for achievements as outstanding mentors throughout their careers. Check out the full press release.

Dr. David Durgan receives $1.2 million award from NIH

Dr. David Durgan, assistant professor of anesthesiology, was recently awarded an R01 from the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for his project “Examining the role of gut dysbiosis in obstructive sleep apnea induced hypertension”. This award will provide funding in the amount of $1,250,000 over the next five years. Dr. Durgan was a two-time recipient of the TMC DDC Pilot Feasibility Award in 2015 and 2016. 

Dr. Hamed Jafar-Nejad receives 2017 Glycobiology Significant Achievement Award

Dr. Hamed Jafar-Nejad, associate professor of molecular and human genetics, was selected as the winner of the 2017 Glycobiology Significant Achievement Award given by Oxford University Press, publisher of Glycobiology. This award is presented to a new or mid-career scientist who has made a key discovery during their early career with potential impact on the glycoscience community.

Dr. Geoffrey Preidis receives K08 Award from NIDDK

Dr. Geoffrey Preidis, a clinical postdoctoral fellow in pediatrics – gastroenterology, received a K08 award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases totaling $164,115. This award will fund Dr. Preidis' project entitled: Nuclear receptor mediated bile acid alterations and coagulopathy in protein-energy undernutrition.

Dr. Omkara Laskhmi M. Veeranki receives Department of Defense’s Horizon Award

Dr. Omkara Laskhmi M. Veeranki, a second-year postdoctoral fellow in pathology at MD Anderson Cancer Center received a Department of Defense’s Horizon Award from the Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program of the Office of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. The award provides funding in the amount of $240,000 for two-year research on her project entitled: Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 9, A Potential Therapeutic Target in Gastric Adenocarcinoma: An In Vitro and In Vivo Efficacy Study. This funding is for trainees and fellows who are beginning their research careers. This award will help Dr. Veeranki’s studies involving efficacy of CDK9 inhibitors as an adjunct to chemoradiation in the neoadjuvant setting for locoregional esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Dr. Jennifer Spinler Featured in Press

Dr. Jennifer Spinler, an instructor of pathology and immunology, was recently featured in several press releases for her work on the probiotic prevention of c. difficile infection. Dr. Spinler is a two time DDC Pilot Feasibility awardee. She is now featured on Baylor College of Medicine News, ScienceDaily,  EurekAlert! AAAS, Science Magazine, LabRoots, and Contagion Live.

Dr. Geoffrey Preidis receives 2017 Baylor College of Medicine Chao Physician-Scientist Award

Dr. Geoffrey Preidis, a clinical postdoctoral fellow in pediatrics – gastroenterology, received the one of 2017 Baylor College of Medicine Chao Physician-Scientist Awards. The awards provide funding for young investigators who are beginning their independent research careers and are made possible through the support of the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation of Houston. This award will help continue Dr. Preidis studies involving nuclear receptor mediated bile acid alterations and coagulopathy in protein-energy undernutrition.

Dr. Ruth Wooton-Kee receives Career Development Award from NIDDK

Ruth Wooton-Kee, Ph.D. recently received a Career Development Award (K01 DK111716-01) from the NIH/NIDDK for her project "Nuclear Receptors as Novel Therapeutic Targets for Wilson's Disease". Dr. Wooton-Kee was a 2014 TMC Digestive Disease Pilot Feasibility Award recipient.

Dr. Len Lichtenberger receives $961,499 from NCI for Aspirin-PC study.

Dr. Lichtenberger, professor of integrative biology and pharmacology at The University of Texas Health Science Center, has received $961,499 from the National Cancer Institute for his study "Aspirin-PC for chemoprevention of colorectal cancer" which will evaluate PL2200 (vs unmodified aspirin) alone on proliferation and apoptosis of mouse and human isogenic CRC cell culture lines. This study will also examine the role of PIK3CA mutation (which occurs in ~20 percent of CRC patients and enhances the patient’s sensitivity to aspirin) on the chemopreventive efficacy of Aspirin-PC, using the isogenic CRC cell lines where the gene mutation is selectively expressed. This award includes a subcontract with Baylor College of Medicine which is a testament to the DDC-fostered collaborations among member institutions. 

Dr. Mary Estes receives 2017 Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., Excellence in Research Award

Dr. Mary Estes, professor of virology and microbiology and medicine gastroenterology, has been selected to receive the award, which is given annually to Baylor faculty who have made the most significant published scientific contribution to clinical or basic biomedical research during the past three years. Dr. Estes received a DeBakey medallion and $5,000 to be used in a temporary restricted research fund.

DDC Member Collaboration results in $7.5 million NIH grant

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital have received a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that will accelerate efforts to combat Clostridium difficile (C. diff). The Texas Medical Center Digestive Diseases Center provided strong seedling support to facilitate the big science proposed in this project, DDC member, Dr. Tor Savidge said. In addition, several faculty, including other DDC members, played key roles, notably Drs. Robert Britton, Anthony Haag, Joseph Petrosino and Margaret Conner, all of Baylor; Julian Hurdle, Texas A&M; and Kevin Garey, University of Houston.  Read full article. 

Dr. Fasiha Kanwal is Next Editor-in-Chief for Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology

Dr. Fasiha Kanwal has been selected by the AGA to serve as the next editor-in-chief for their premier clinical journal "Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology CGH}" (2017-2022). Dr. Kanwal is the co-director of the Study Design and Clinical Research Core in the DDC and director of clinical research in the Section of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Baylor College of Medicine.

This choice is significant as well as historical in several respects. It was a competitive process with other applications from leading institutions; Dr. Kanwal's application was reportedly heads and shoulders above all else. CGH is a high impact journal (IF 7.7). This is the first time that two successive editor-in-chiefs for a major GI journal come from the same institution; Dr Aaron Thrift from our section will also serve as the statistical editor for the journal. Last but not the least, this is the first time that a woman is selected to serve as editor-in-chief for any GI journal. Dr. Kanwal has made history and she also deserves this appointment. 

Dr. Tor Savidge elected Vice Chair of Microbiome and Microbial Diseases in the Gastrointestinal Tract

Congratulations to Dr. Tor Savidge for getting elected to the position of vice chair of the Microbiome and Microbial Diseases in the Gastrointestinal Tract section. This is a brand new section joining the council.

His service in this capacity will begin immediately following Digestive Disease Week® 2016. He will serve for two years alongside Eugene Chang, M.D., AGAF, section chair, and then he will automatically become section chair for the following two years. After his section chair term ends, he will serve as chair of the MMDGT nominating committee. 

credit: Agapito Sanchez, Jr.
Dr. Hashem B. El-Serag receives 2016 Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., Excellence in Research Award

Congratulations to TMC DDC Director, Hashem B. El-Serag, who is a 2016 recipient of the Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., Excellence in Research Award. This award recognizes faculty members who have made significant published scientific contributions to clinical or basic biomedical research during the past three years. A ceremony and symposium was held Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

Drs. Jason Hou and Wa Xian are recipients of 2016 AGA-Covidien Research and Development Pilot Award in Technology

DDC Member, Dr. Jason Hou is a co-investigator on a newly funded grant from 2016 AGA-Covidien Research and Development Pilot Award in Technology. The proposal is a collaboration between basic science (PI Wa Xian, Ph.D.) and clinical science (J Hou). The study is entitled "Development of An Efficient Method for Cloning Colonic Stem Cells from Ulcerative Colitis Patients via Endoscopic Biopsies". This is a  great example of translational research that is facilitated by the TMC DDC.

Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye to serve on Baylor Faculty Senate

The College has a new Faculty Senate, with elected representatives across all schools, departments, centers and affiliated hospital sites. Dr. Olutoye was elected chair of the group and he sees it as a privilege to lead this new effort at increasing two-way communication between the faculty and the administration. The other officers elected include: Chair-elect, Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, pediatric surgery; Secretary, Dr. James Bray, family and community medicine; Clinical Sciences Representative, Dr. Jeffrey Starke, pediatric infectious diseases; and Basic Sciences Representative, Dr. Hugo Bellen, molecular and human genetics. The senate will serve three important roles. First, it will provide bidirectional communication between the faculty and the administration concerning new or amended policies, strategic planning, milestones and achievements. Second, the senate will serve to provide the faculty’s perspective on initiatives by the administration that may impact faculty. Finally, the senate members, drawing from their own insights and those of their constituents, will have a forum to advance and discuss new ideas that can better the College’s institutional environment and competitiveness.

Dr. Robert M. Bryan, Jr., receives $237,750 Grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Congratulations to TMC DDC member, Robert M. Bryan, Jr, Ph.D., who was awarded an R21 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The grant will fund his project: "Cerebral small vessel disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and the gastrointestinal system" over a two year period, totaling $237,500.

Dr. Sanjiv Harpavat receives 2015 AASLD Award in Liver Disease and Baylor Pilot Award from the Caroline Wiess Law Fund

Congratulations to Dr. Sanjiv "Sonny" Harpavat, M.D. Ph.D. who recently received the 2015 Jan Albrecht Clinical and Translational Research Award in Liver Disease from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and a 2015 Baylor Pilot Award from the Caroline Wiess Law Fund for Research in Molecular Medicine for work entitled, “Assessment of a Novel Newborn Screening Tool for Biliary Atresia." Dr. Harpavat was a 2012 TMC Digestive Disease Pilot Feasibility Award recipient.

Congratulations to TMC DDC director emeritus, Dr. Mary K. Estes

Mary K. Estes, Ph.D. and her lab received renewal of an annual $1,795,078 for the next five years (years 11-15). This funding supports the project entitled “ Molecular Dissection of Norovirus Replication and Pathogenesis to Develop Therapeutics” This grant includes multiple Baylor College of Medicine investigators and several DDC members including Mary Estes, Robert Atmar, Hoonmo Koo, BVV Prasad, Tim Palzkill, Yongcheng Song and Sarah Blutt.

Dr. Margaret E. Conner secures $275,000 Grant from NIAID

Congratulations to TMC DDC member, Margaret E. Conner, Ph.D., who was awarded an R21 grant by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The grant will fund her project: "Clostridium difficile Immunity: Role of IgA and GALT" over a two year period, totaling $275,000.

Dr. Hashem B. El-Serag awarded $9.8 million from CPRIT for Texas Hepatocellular Carcinoma Consortium

Congratulations to TMC DDC Director, Hashem B. El-Serag, M.D., MPH who was recently awarded a Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas grant in the amount of $9.8 million over the next five years. This funding will support the Multi Investigator Research Award (MIRA): “Texas Hepatocellular Carcinoma Consortium” which aims to reduce the burden and mortality of hepatocellular cancer in Texas through five individual research projects. THCCC is multidisciplinary group of investigators from Baylor College of Medicine, UT Southwestern, MD Anderson in Houston, and UT San Antonio. Three projects at THCCC are led by DDC investigators: Hashem El-Serag, Fasiha Kanwal, and David Moore.

Congratulations to TMC DDC member Dr. Liu Yuying

Yuying Liu, Ph.D. recently obtained an NIH grant (R03 AI117442-01) to fund her project titled: Lactobacillus reuteri treatment for Treg-deficiency Autoimmune Disease. Dr Liu is an assistant professor at The University of Texas Health and Science Center at Houston. Dr. Liu is a 2012 TMC DDC Pilot Feasibility Awardee and recently presented at our weekly GI Research Forum.

DDC Members: Please submit your achievements and news using the online submission form so that we may share them with fellow members and colleagues.

Gastroenterology and Digestive Diseases News

Bile acids help norovirus sneak into cellsDec 31, 2019
A new study reveals that human noroviruses infect cells of the small intestine by piggybacking on a normal cellular process that cells use to acquire materials from their environment.
NIH renews grant to advance digestive disease researchMay 2, 2018
A National Institutes of Health grant is a commitment to continue the impactful work being done through the Texas Medical Center Digestive Diseases Center.
Successful treatment for hepatitis C reduces risk of liver cancer later in veteransApr 22, 2016
A new study found that treatment and cure of chronic hepatitis C reduce the risk of the most common for of liver cancer.
How do you know if you have irritable bowel syndrome?Apr 12, 2016
An expert at Baylor College of Medicine explains the importance of identifying Irritable bowel syndrome's uncomfortable symptoms.
Psyllium fiber found to reduce abdominal pain in children with IBSApr 11, 2016
A new study found that children with abdominal pain related to irritable bowel syndrome who take psyllium fiber had a decrease in pain episodes.
Opt for healthier options at rodeo to reduce potential for acid refluxMar 14, 2016
Watch out for too much of a good thing. Baylor College of Medicine expert says eating too much of certain rodeo or fair foods could lead to acid reflux or make it worse.
Twenty minutes can save your lifeMar 1, 2016
Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. But a simple screening procedure called a colonoscopy can save your life.
New ways to find misdiagnosis of abdominal pain in emergency departments Nov 4, 2015
Baylor researchers create an electronic trigger to help identify diagnostic errors associated with abdominal pain.
Electronic trigger reduces delays in evaluation for cancer diagnosisAug 24, 2015
Electronic triggers designed to search for key data were able to identify and reduce follow-up delays for patients being evaluated for a diagnosis of colon or prostate cancer.
Prevent colon cancer in less than an hourMar 19, 2013
Regular screenings for colon cancer can catch the deadly disease before it even begins.
Screening best way to prevent colon cancerMar 6, 2012
Early screening can prevent advanced, deadly forms of colon cancer.
Vaccine study demonstrates protection against norovirus illnessDec 8, 2011
Study finds experimental norovirus vaccine provide significant protection against viral infection, associated gastrointestinal illness.
Abdominal pain, irritable bowel in children reflected in microbial signaturesAug 5, 2011
Baylor College of Medicine researchers among those to find that abdominal pain in children are reflected in microbial signatures.
Don't let pools, lakes, beaches make you sickJun 2, 2011
Baylor College of Medicine experts provides tips for staying safe around pools, lakes, and beaches this summer.
Mother's diet affects colitis risk in young adult miceFeb 18, 2011
Diets of pregnant or nursing mice can impact risk of offspring developing inflammation of large bowel.
Estes to receive high award from American Gastroenterological SocietyMay 4, 2010
Dr. Mary Estes to receive award for work in gastrointestinal pathogens.
Take care of your colonApr 21, 2010
Colorectal screening can catch cancer before there are symptoms, leading to better treatment outcomes.