Week 35: Our Trainees – Future Leaders

Last week I talked about our upcoming resident and fellowship recruitment season and highlighted the innovations of some of our faculty who create a learning environment that develops tomorrow’s leaders in medicine. This week, let me share some results.

I was pleased to learn that two of our internal medicine residents were selected as recipients of the 2022 Excellence in Teaching with Humanism, Residents and Fellows Award. Congratulations to Dr. Lizette Garcia and Dr. Anna Lee who were recognized by the DGSOM medical student body for modeling exemplary behavior towards medical students and members of the health care team. They were described as compassionate and effective physician role models and mentors who empower student doctors, foster a safe learning environment, and are committed to medical student education. Learn more about our award winners:

Anna H. Lee, MD

After growing up and finishing high school in El Paso, Texas, Dr. Anna Lee came to UCLA for undergrad and completed a major in neuroscience. Prior to medical school, she took a few gap years working in various research positions. She received her medical degree at Wayne State University in Detroit and is now a third-year internal medicine resident at UCLA, applying for gastroenterology fellowship. Dr. Lee states,

“Receiving this award has been the biggest honor, especially coming from the best and brightest medical students in the nation! Working with them has been tons of fun, and I’ve learned so much from each of them. So grateful to be a part of UCLA IM’s culture, where we have the most supportive environment to learn, teach and grow!” 

Lizette Garcia, MD

"I was born and raised in Downey, CA. I went to undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, and medical school at USC. I am part of the medical education pathway in the IM program and want to pursue a career in academic medicine and hematology & oncology. I have been very lucky to have amazing mentors through my journey in medicine. Receiving this award means so much because I always make it a priority to give back through teaching and creating a welcoming environment for our medical students. Thank you!"

Dr. Garcia

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”

Benjamin Franklin


Seven department of medicine (DoM) residents were recipients of the 2021-2022 UCLA Minority Housestaff Organization’s Health Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Grants. Each resident was awarded a $3,000 award to pilot health equity projects focused on minority populations. It is noteworthy that of the nine grant recipients, seven are from the DoM. Their projects are summarized below.

Daniel Gonzalez, MD, Kevin Truong, MD/MBA and Daniel Stokes, MD/MS: 

Improving Care for Patients on Medi-Cal at the UCLA Santa Clarita Clinic: A Step Towards Expanding Access and Improving Quality within UCLA Primary Care for Medi-Cal Patients.

Mentors: Dr. Gifty-Maria J. NtimDr. Ana Rivera

Nikko Gonzales, MD (with collaborators Mary Obasi, MD and Maria Garcia-Jimenez, MD, MHS):

Assessing Perceptions and Understanding of Colon Cancer Screening Among Racial and Ethnic Minorities Experiencing Housing Insecurity in Los Angeles County.

Mentor: Sarah R. Goldgar, MD

Laura Santoso, MD: Targeting Air Pollution Health Disparities in Obstructive Lung Disease with Human-Centered Design.

Mentor: Russell Buhr, MD, PhD

Congratulations and many thanks to the mentors for supporting these projects.

Please note that the Minority Housestaff Organization is currently accepting project proposals for 2022-2023 MHO HEDI Grants through September 30, 2022. The priorities set for the 2022-2023 year for the pilot projects are:

  • Research (clinical, basic, translational, computing, etc.)
  • Community-based Research or Partnership (takes place in the community with community partners actively engaged in the development, implementation, and interpretation of results of research or pilot project)
  • Education (patient or health professional education)
  • Quality Improvement (designed to improve patient safety, effectiveness or experience of care through systematic approach)
  • Service Planning (develop new programs and services or revamp existing ones to improve patient experience/access)
  • Health Services (examines how people get access to health care, how much care costs, and what happens to patients as a result of this care)

If you would like to apply or receive additional information, please email UCLAMHO@mednet.ucla.edu.


Dr. David R. Lee, a research fellow in geriatrics and a STAR Scholar was accepted into the prestigious Butler Williams Scholars Program (BWSP). The BWSP is a competitive program funded by the National Institute of Aging (NIA) that provides junior faculty and early career scientists with insight into NIA research, funding opportunities, and guidance when applying for career development awards. Over the course of the three-day program, Dr. Lee participated in presentations covering diverse topics within the field of aging, discussions exploring methodological approaches and interventions to research, and met with NIH program officers to discuss and receive feedback about his research aims in the field of aging. Dr Lee states,

“Persons living with dementia have diverse healthcare and social needs with a subset of people diagnosed with early onset dementia (diagnosed younger than 65 years of age) facing challenges different from people diagnosed with dementia later in life. Understanding the complexities, needs of, and available resources for persons with early onset dementia will provide valuable insight to improve health and social support services for people with early onset dementia, with the goal to shape future health policy initiatives.”

Dr. Lee

Under the mentorship of Dr. David Reuben and Dr. Mario Mendez, Dr. Lee will work with the UCLA Alzheimer and Dementia Care Program to explore and evaluate the social and medical concerns of persons with early onset dementia. He looks forward to applying for his career development awards under the guidance of his DoM mentors that include Dr. Reuben who he credits for cultivating his passion for dementia care and research, as well as Dr. Grace Chen and Dr. Catherine Sarkisian who he described as “life coaches” guiding him towards achieving his clinical and research goals. Dr. Lee adds, 

“I am fortunate to work in multiple divisions and departments at UCLA. I receive mentorship from so many caring people and feel part of a close-knit community.”  

Dr. Lee

The journey to residency and fellowship begins long before medical school. I want to highlight the work of DoM faculty who are actively providing opportunities to undergraduates that will prepare them for future careers in medicine or research through the biomedical research minor at UCLA.

Since 2007, the biomedical research minor has provided budding undergraduate researchers with the opportunity to gain early experience conducting original research alongside UCLA faculty. Over 90 students join the program annually which includes coursework that develops critical thinking, presentation skills, and research literature analysis in addition to their independent research. Dr. Ira Clark, associate director of the biomedical research minor, shares that students in the minor are passionate about research, science and discovery with over 200 students currently placed in labs throughout UCLA.

The program has graduated nearly 800 alumni with 42% of graduates co-authoring a publication, and 80% of graduates currently pursuing or having attained an advanced degree. Within the 80%, 43% pursued MD’s, 28% PhDs, and 18% MD/PhD as of 2021.

“When I reflect on how I found my path in a career in science, one of the formative events was engaging in research at the undergraduate level. As faculty, we are now able to provide that opportunity to a promising student that allows us to build a legacy beyond our research programs that also means a great deal to the student.”

Dr. Clark

There are currently 12 DoM faculty mentoring a total of 18 students from the biomedical research minor program. Collectively, 27 faculty have mentored 60 program alumni to date. 

Today, I am pleased to introduce four DoM faculty who share a few words about the exceptional undergraduate students who have recently worked in their labs.

Scott Kitchen, PhD

"One of my current students, Mitchell Koss, is an outstanding example of the type of student that has been in my laboratory as part of the biomedical research minor program.  Mitchell entered my laboratory as a sophomore student majoring in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics in the Fall Quarter of 2020, which was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to COVID-19 related work restrictions on campus, there were severe limitations in performing hands-on research training in my lab during his first year. However, Mitchell compensated for this by reading and presenting research articles on HIV and SARS-CoV-2 in our Zoom-based laboratory and journal club meetings. 

Our laboratory focuses on cell and gene therapy to treat HIV infection and malignancies. When campus and research opened back up, Mitchell enthusiastically entered the laboratory and worked on an independent project developing and constructing anti-HIV chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) expressing lentiviral vectors co-expressing immunostimulatory cytokines under different candidate promoters to facilitate the engineering of CAR-T cells to enhance anti-viral (and relatedly, anti-tumor) immunity. As a result of his contributions, Mitchell will be listed as a co-first author in a manuscript in preparation for his independent project and as co-author for a project soon to be submitted for publication.  His perseverance and dedication to overcome the challenges of being an undergraduate interested in research (especially over the past 2 1/2 years) are remarkable and were certainly fueled by the Biomedical Research Minor program."

Marcus Horwitz, MD

"Julia Tang worked in my lab as a biomedical research minor this summer.  She was directly supervised by Dr. Michael V. Tullius, a project scientist in my lab. Her project involved the engineering of a novel TB vaccine comprising a live attenuated Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the bacterial agent of TB) with several key features to enhance its safety and immunogenicity.  Her specific project was to incorporate a “kill switch” into a current version of this vaccine.

The kill switch she worked on was designed to allow the bacterium to multiply for a predetermined amount of time in the host and then, in response to an environmental condition (in this case low iron) to activate such that the bacterium in the vaccine dies and is eliminated from the host.  This is intended to enhance safety by eliminating the live vaccine while promoting immunogenicity by reducing immune tolerance to the vaccine.

Engineering the kill switch was a very challenging project and Julia did outstanding work on it.  She is a very conscientious student, and she almost completed the highly complex engineering component of the project this summer.  She will continue working on the project this next academic year, and we are looking forward to her being in the lab.”  

Willy Hugo, PhD

Dr. Willy Hugo has participated in the biomedical research minor since 2020. His lab focuses on the mechanism of therapy resistance in melanoma. During this year’s Biomedical Research Symposium, undergraduate student Yuri Lin presented the project “Candidate Drugs against MAPKi-Resistant Melanoma Identified in Broad In Vitro Drug Screening.” This project was a close collaboration between Dr. Hugo’s lab and the MSSR Core (PI: Robert Damoiseaux PhD) in which they screened thousands of compounds that are FDA-approved or under clinical testing.

Yuri worked closely with Peter Tran, a research assistant at Hugo lab for six months conducting the final phases of the initial drug screenings, performed literature review on the nominated drug candidates and designed validation experiments to determine if the drugs screened were truly effective at killing MAPK inhibitor resistant melanoma cells.

Dr. Hugo shares that the students in the biomedical research minor are a very motivated, committed bunch. They are very passionate about the science, welcome the challenge of a difficult experiment and eager to share their research findings at the undergraduate research day. With proper training, these students have really helped increase his group’s research productivity.

Neil O’Brien, PhD

“Bilal Hamid is working in my laboratory to investigate the role that some proteins, overexpressed in specific cancers, are playing in disease progression. In our lab, we have identified a set of cell surface proteins that are present at high levels in cancer tissues but largely absent for normal healthy tissues. One such protein, called ALPPL2, is overexpressed in pancreas, ovarian and gastric cancers. Expression of this protein is associated with poor disease outcome in these cancers.

The aim of Bilal's project is to identify the role that ALPPL2 is playing in cancer biology. By silencing the expression of this gene in cancer cells he will learn about the cell signaling pathways that ALPPL2 may be using to drive cancer cells proliferation. Bilal's work may ultimately help us decide if ALPPL2 is a suitable target for novel anti-cancer therapies. 

I have mentored many students in UCLA’s biomedical research minor program and thoroughly enjoy the experience. It is rewarding to work with these students as they get their first real world experience of cancer research. Our lab is focused on the translation of basic research ideas into novel anti-cancer therapies. The students are genuinely excited by the prospect of their work one day helping patients.  I am grateful for the opportunity to work with and mentor them on this part of their academic journey.” 

If you would like to learn more about mentoring students in the biomedical research minor, please contact Dr. Ira Clark at iclark@ucla.edu.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with many of our research faculty in our first research town hall. It was wonderful to meet with many of our faculty and importantly to begin a series of conversations that are identifying barriers to advancing our research mission. I will have more to say about these and to discuss solutions in future posts.



I received a shout-out on Twitter from one of my former post-docs, celebrating the one-year anniversary of opening his independent laboratory at Vanderbilt. A timely convergence with this week’s focus on mentorship and building the bench for the future.

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