Year 2. September 25. Stars.

Last Wednesday, we had the opportunity to celebrate accomplishments of physician scientists, culminating in an event that celebrated the 30th anniversary of the STAR Program at UCLA. Earlier that day though, I had the opportunity to have lunch with about 25 of our junior faculty, early assistant professors, who are aspiring to become independent physician-scientists. Besides lunch, we had a spirited discussion that covered many topics including  the importance of multiple layers of mentorship, knowing when one is ready to launch an independent career, and ways in which the department of medicine (DoM) was working to facilitate career advancement for our junior faculty.

The meeting was the kick off of the Early Career Round Table series, organized by the leaders in the STAR Program to provide a forum for candid conversation and support for all physician-scientist junior faculty, whether or not they are graduates of the STAR Program. I applaud Drs. Tamer SallamFola MayAmy Cummings and Quen Cheng for spearheading this initiative and Drs. Russel BuhrMelissa Lechner and Gloria Yiu for moderating the discussions. I believe that forums like these underscore the importance of maintaining a sharp focus on the complex journey that clinician investigators must navigate to establish vibrant and flourishing independent research careers. The DoM has your backs.

STAR 30th Anniversary Celebration

For 30 years, the STAR Program at UCLA has provided advanced training for physician-scientists with the goal of equipping them to launch and sustain successful careers in academic medicine as physician investigators. Out of 235 STAR graduates, approximately 80% have pursued research careers with them collectively securing over $500 million in NIH funding. We had the privilege of celebrating the history, accomplishments and the community that make up the STAR Program at their annual symposium, which was hosted on Wednesday, September 20th at the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

Starting off with a reception and poster session, throughout the evening, we learned about the innovative research performed by STAR trainees and heard inspiring remarks from notable guests, alumni, and mentors who shared how the STAR Program has helped shape their research careers. Speakers shared how they have continued to pay it forward by mentoring aspiring physician-scientists. Our Dean, Dr. Steve Dubinett shared his personal story of a career in science and ways in  which our lives, including that of his family have been transformed by the advances that have been collectively made. It was evident that the community that came together that night exemplified the multigenerational legacy spawned by the STAR Program. Dr. Linda Demer, co-founder of the STAR Program, shared that UCLA has cultivated the right environment where physicians, scientists, and physician-scientists are working together to make advancements in our field. This is a community where investigators thrive. Three STAR alumni were honored that evening with STAR Alumni Awards for their achievements in research and mentorship of the next generation of physician-scientist leaders. They share with us how the STAR Program helped them achieve their goals as clinician investigators.


Arleen F. Brown, MD, PhD
Professor of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Co-Director, UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute

About Dr. Brown
Dr. Brown’s research focuses on improving health outcomes, enhancing health care quality, and reducing disparities for adults with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, particularly those with complex medical and social needs. 

Her research has included studies to improve diabetes care for older adults and minority patients and studies to understand clinical, socioeconomic, and health system influences on chronic disease management in under-resourced communities. Dr. Brown currently co-directs the NCATS-funded UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) and the CTSI’s Community Engagement and Research Program (CERP). Dr. Brown leads the NHLBI-funded multi-site program, the UCLA-UCI END DISPARITIES Center, whose goal is to reduce cardiometabolic disparities in Latino, Black, Asian, and American Indian Communities in LA County and Orange County. She also serves as PI on an NHLBI-funded study to reduce racial ethnic blood pressure disparities among multi-ethnic patients in the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services safety net using community engagement strategies and behavioral economics. Dr. Brown also leads the NHLBI-funded “Share, Trust, Organize, Partner: the COVID-19 California Alliance” (STOP COVID-19 CA), a coalition of 11 academic institutions and their networks of community partners across California. She is also a PI on the newly funded National Center for Engagement in Diabetes Equity Research (CEDER), whose goal is to establish an important resource for facilitating Type 2 diabetes (T2D) research with an equity focus and national reach.

Dr. Brown received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University, her MD from the University of California, San Francisco, and a PhD through the STAR Program from the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA.  She completed the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at UCLA.

What research question(s) are you most interested in solving? What steps have you taken to solve it?

I am interested in multilevel factors—patient, provider, health system, community, and policy—that influence chronic disease disparities and developing multilevel interventions to address these disparities. I am also interested in expanding our definitions of “evidence-based” care so that it incorporates evidence from the patients, communities, and systems that are often excluded from research. Ultimately, our team is interested in deploying multi-level interventions to improve health outcomes and promote health equity.

Why did you decide to pursue the physician-scientist pathway through the STAR Program at UCLA?

I decided to pursue the physician-scientist pathway through the STAR Program because it was a wonderful opportunity to expand my understanding of the interplay between clinical care and the social factors that determine health. It allowed me the time to focus on ways to influence outcomes for patients who have been historically marginalized, the communities where they live, and health systems where they receive care.

Can you share a memorable experience from when you were a trainee in the STAR Program?

The STAR Program provided one of my first opportunities to attend a research meeting with colleagues from diverse disciplines. Discussions at that meeting, with other STAR fellows from nephrology, cardiology, general medicine, and other specialties—all interested in tackling social disparities—were pivotal in shaping my research questions and still inform my research. 

How did the STAR Program impact your professional development as a physician-scientist?

The STAR Program has affected every aspect of my professional development. The STAR Program provided opportunities to both gain the methods that I need to conduct rigorous research in health equity and develop strategies to ask the right questions. Program leads, mentors, and peers encouraged me to challenge traditional approaches to addressing chronic disease disparities, gave me the courage to make mistakes, and provided support that made it possible to learn from those mistakes. Most importantly, the STAR Program helped me connect to a network of colleagues who are thoughtful, curious, collaborative, and supportive, yet willing to ask tough questions and collaborate on the hard work of answering these questions.

What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your research career thus far?

Working with staff and trainees to see them develop new skills (that surpass my own) and accomplish their goals is the most rewarding aspect of my job.  I work with amazing people (within and outside the university) who bring tough new questions to our research team and do not shy away from challenges.

What advice would you share with the next generation of physician-scientists?

Do work that you love. Work with people you really like. Respect the expertise of everyone you interact with, including your patients, the communities we serve, and your colleagues, staff, and trainees. 

Sanaz Memarzadeh, MD, PhD
Professor, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Director, G.O. Discovery Lab

About Dr. Memarzadeh
Dr. Memarzadeh is a surgeon-scientist and professor at UCLA. She directs an independent highly energized research laboratory, the G.O. Discovery Laboratory, focused on advancing care and research for women impacted by gynecologic cancers. Following her medical studies, she embarked on her OBGYN residency at UCLA. 

During this time, her dedication to providing exceptional care to women with gynecologic cancers grew, and she recognized the pressing need for basic scientific research to improve current therapies in this domain. 

Consequently, she pursued a clinical fellowship in gynecologic oncology while simultaneously honing her skills as a scientist. Driven by her passion, Dr. Memarzadeh earned her PhD in the lab of Dr. Owen Witte and successfully completed her fellowship training within a span of eight years. She embodies the role of a woman surgeon-scientist, dedicating herself to both patient care and scientific discovery. Her primary objective is to advance the treatment approaches for women diagnosed with gynecologic cancers. She diligently serves patients at UCLA and the West Los Angeles VA Hospital, delivering care alongside her commitment to scientific progress.

What research question(s) are you most interested in solving? What steps have you taken to solve it?

A major current clinical challenge is that despite surgery and administration of chemotherapy, the majority of epithelial ovarian cancers recur. My career goal is to understand and prevent recurrence of epithelial ovarian cancer. To understand and solve this challenge, we are taking a three-pronged approach, 1) Understanding characteristics of tumor cells that may be responsible for recurrence of disease and 2) Testing cell based immune therapy approaches that can target those tumor cells as well as immune suppressive cells that promote their growth and 3) evaluating small molecules and combination treatments with chemotherapy that may lead to eradication of these cells. We hope to take our cell-based immunotherapy approaches into clinical trials in the near future.

Why did you decide to pursue the physician-scientist pathway through the STAR Program at UCLA?

As a resident training at UCLA and taking care of ovarian cancer patients, I was truly inspired by the courage of women who were treated with ovarian cancer and still had to face recurrence of this disease despite best medical efforts and available treatment options. I made it my life mission to help devise better treatments for these patients through research and clinical practice. I pursued the STAR program to ensure I had adequate training to tackle these challenging clinical and scientific questions.

Can you share a memorable experience from when you were a trainee in the STAR Program?

Developing a lifelong mentorship relationship with my mentor Professor Owen Witte who was instrumental in training me as a scientist. I am grateful to have ongoing scientific collaborations with him and his team to this day. I am also grateful for his continued mentorship.

How did the STAR Program impact your professional development as a physician-scientist?

The STAR program provided me with sufficient tools necessary to tackle clinically challenging questions. With this training I was able to devise sound hypotheses and experimental approaches to test those hypotheses and contribute knowledge aimed at improving lives of women impacted by cancer.

What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your research career thus far?

The ability to provide hope for women impacted by ovarian cancer thanks to the incredible collaborations with scientific and clinical colleagues here at UCLA.

What advice would you share with the next generation of physician-scientists?

Persevere. Do not allow anyone to impede your progress. You are our future.

Joseph Wu, MD, PhD
Simon H. Stertzer, MD, Professor and Professor of Radiology

Director, Stanford Cardiovascular Institute

About Dr. Wu
Dr. Joseph Wu is a board-certified cardiologist. He is the Director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute and the Simon H. Stertzer, MD, Professor of Medicine and Radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine. 

The American Heart Association appointed Dr. Wu as its president for 2023-2024. 

His clinical interests include adult congenital heart disease and cardiovascular imaging. He strives to help each patient achieve the best possible heart health and quality of life. 

To advance heart care, Dr. Wu conducts extensive research, focusing on clinical genomics, stem cells, and drug development. The goals of his research are to enhance our understanding of cardiovascular diseases, accelerate the discovery of new drug treatments, and ensure that every cardiovascular patient will benefit from the best of personalized precision medicine. 

Dr. Wu has published more than 550 manuscripts with an H-index of 124, and is one of the world’s most highly cited scholars in the field of cardiovascular medicine, stem cells, genomics, and precision medicine. His work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals including Nature, Cell, Science, Nature Medicine, Science Translational Medicine, Cell Stem Cell, PNAS, Circulation, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, European Heart Journal, and many more. Dr. Wu also educates the heart specialists of the future. More than 45 of his trainees are now principal investigators of clinical or research studies in major academic centers both in the US and internationally. 

He has earned numerous honors, including the Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Heart Association and the Director’s New Innovator Award and Transformative Award from the National Institutes of Health. He also received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from the White House Office of Technology. 

Dr. Wu is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), National Academy of Inventors (NAI), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), Association of American Physicians (AAP), Academia Sinica (Taiwan), Association of University Cardiologists (AUC), and American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). He is an honorary lifetime member of the Society of Toxicology (SOT). 

During the award ceremony, Dr. Wu shared the following advice to STAR trainees:

"No other institute has this type of program which allows trainees to pursue their dream. It allowed me to pursue the dream. I experienced imposter syndrome as a fellow and the STAR Program gave me confidence. Confidence that you can do it like anyone else. Talk to your mentors, colleagues. The sky is the limit and anyone can become successful."

Let me also congratulate, Dr. Keith Norris who received the Alan Fogelman Award for mentorship  and Dr. Linda Demer, executive co-director of the STAR Program, and Dr. Bevra Hahn, emeritus division chief of the division of rheumatology, who received special awards for long-standing support of physician scientist training and mentoring junior faculty at UCLA.

DoM Faculty Advocate for Research Funding on Capitol Hill

In addition to advancing medical innovation in the lab, our physician-scientists are at the forefront of advocating for federal funding to support the research of investigators across this country. Dr. Arleen Brown and Dr. Alejandra Casillas, from the division of general internal medicine and health services research, met with legislators in Washington DC for the annual Rally for Medical Research Day. Over 30 states sent constituents (patients, researchers, doctors, advocacy organizations) to discuss the importance of increasing NIH research funding with senators and members of the house/congress. Dr. Brown and Casillas shared that on the first day in the capitol, they attended training for the rally for medical research day, and attended a reception with Senator Richard Durbin. They met several NIH directors and the president elect of the American Heart Association, STAR alumni honoree Dr. Joseph Wu. The following day they were part of California’s delegation of advocates who met with the office of California State Senator Alex Padilla, and staff of House Representatives Lieu, Karlamanger, Chu, Schiff, and Barragan who represent UCLA Health’s service areas. They also had the honor of talking about the importance of health equity research and highlight the groundbreaking community engaged health services research that happens at UCLA. Dr. Casillas shares, “We learned a lot and it was an inspiring two days.”

Susanne B. Nicholas, MD, MPH, PhD Hosts 4th Annual “2023 WIN Leadership Conference” at UCLA

Women remain in the minority at executive leadership positions in medicine, in general, and in the area of nephrology, in particular. The Women In Nephrology (WIN) international, non-profit organization has been making significant contributions to the professional growth of women, and men, trainees, fellows and junior faculty since it was established in 1983. The organization was the vision of four women nephrology leaders: Drs. Nancy E. Gary, Sandra Levison, Lois Katz and Mabel Purkerson, with support from Dr. Leah Lowenstein and the AAMC Women In Medicine program. WIN provides professional development and mentorship to facilitate successful careers for their members in kidney health/disease and clinical care. WIN also supports education and basic and clinical research on women’s health. WIN achieves its goal through initiatives such as: mentor-match program, advocacy, fellows’ corner, professional development seminars, speakers’ bureau and the newly created Fellows School of Leadership Education program.

This year, WIN held its 4th Annual “2023 WIN Leadership Conference” with the theme: “Leading to Advance your Career is a WIN-WIN” at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center, September 8-9, 2023. The event was led by Susanne B Nicholas, MD, MPH, PhD, UCLA Professor of Medicine, adult nephrologist, and the current WIN President. Opening remarks were delivered by UCLA DoM Chair Dr. E. Dale Abel, UCLA Health CEO Johnese Spisso, and UCLA Nephrology Chief Dr. Ira Kurtz. Their remarks set the foundation for a very high caliber event. Indeed, keynote speakers included Dr. Susan Quaggin, the immediate past President of the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) and Dr. Karl Nath, a distinguished leader within the ASN. Other nephrology dignitaries were Drs. Lisa Curtis and Ellie Kelepouris, past WIN Presidents; Dr. Michelle Josephson, current ASN President; Dr. Sylvia Rosas, current National Kidney Foundation President; and several UCLA, UCI, West LA VA and Cedars faculty and fellows who lectured and participated in panel discussions and networking.

The event was deemed a huge success by all in attendance with comments such as “The topics helped me understand the challenges that women in nephrology face”, “Loved the talk by Dr Nath and also the talk about Integrity. Every talk was enjoyable and well done”, “This conference was very well designed, organized and executed, represents an amazing success for women in medicine”, “I really liked the networking and sharing of ideas on the session ‘Self-Advocacy Strategies to Promote Your Professional Career.’ It was great to hear a variety of situations and how each person handled them”. We look forward to the 2024 WIN Leadership Conference and 40th Anniversary celebration at Luskin, September 11-14, 2024.

Thank you Dr. Nicholas for your leadership and congratulations on hosting this successful meeting!

Round 3: HaPDy Hour - The Countdown to Fall Retreat Continues

The residents of firm E and I met up for my third happy hour last week! I enjoyed learning about their experiences in the training program during the first quarter of the academic year. I also learned about interesting hobby's such as scuba driving and gourmet cooking. While this is my final happy hour retreat with the residents, I look forward to seeing them again in the wards as I kick off rounding in the hospital this week with firm E! Stay tuned for updates about my adventures in the wards!

Save the Date for the Next DoM Annual Research Day: Friday, November 17, 2023 

We have a lineup of outstanding DoM plenary speakers who will headline the plenary session from (3 PM – 5 PM). I am told that we have received nearly 300 abstracts for what appears to be a record-breaking meeting! I will see you at the Ackerman Ballroom at UCLA on November 17th!



Enjoy episode 2 of my diabetes documentary in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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