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Awards and Honors Across Weill Cornell Medicine

Investigator Wins Award to Continue Study of Fungi in Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Dr. Iliyan Iliev, an assistant professor of immunology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, has been awarded a one-year, $100,000 grant from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation to study the behavior of fungi in the immune system when patients with inflammatory bowel disease are administered a form of immunotherapy.  

Dr. Iliev, who is also a scientist in the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, won the foundation’s 2016 Breakthrough Award for his study “The Role of Mycobiota During Immunomodulatory Therapy for Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” The foundation awarded Dr. Iliev an Innovator Award for the same study in 2015, and deemed his work worthy of further funding.

Dr. Iliyan Iliev

“The Rainin Foundation provides early support to innovative ideas, like Dr. Iliev’s, that have the potential to yield major insights into predicting and preventing inflammatory bowel disease. We are pleased to continue supporting Dr. Iliev’s research and see how his findings will translate into meaningful health outcomes for people living with this disease,” said Dr. Laura Wilson, director of health strategy and ventures for the Rainin Foundation.

The study is one of few that explores the composition and efficacy of fungal mycobiota while patients are administered immunosuppressive drugs.

“There is a group of patients who have flares even though they’re on active immunosuppression therapy,” Dr. Iliev said. “So what are the triggers? That’s the question we’re thinking about.”

While some fungi are harmful, others can be beneficial to the immune system, Dr. Iliev said. By investigating fungal behavior and identifying fungal population that might be involved in disease pathology, he hopes to bring greater clarity to the pathology of inflammatory bowel disease.

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation collaborates with creative thinkers in the arts, education and health sectors. Its health program supports novel, high-risk research and facilitates collaboration among researchers to enhance and accelerate discoveries in inflammatory bowel disease.

“I went this past July to their Innovations Symposium, and it was outstanding,” Dr. Iliev said. “They invited people who really know the field and are able to make a difference, so I’m very excited to work with them.”

In addition to the Breakthrough Award, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation recently awarded Dr. Iliev and colleagues from Mount Sinai a $250,000 Synergy Award to examine the composition of the fungal community in babies born to mothers with inflammatory bowel disease. The investigators hope to better understand whether fungi can be transferred from mothers to babies and potentially contribute to disease later in life.

Additional Awards and Honors

Dr. Lotfi Chouchane, a professor of genetic medicine and of microbiology and immunology, received a Regional Scientific Excellence Award from the UAE Genetic Diseases Association during the sixth International Genetic Disorders Conference on Oct. 22 in Dubai. Dr. Chouchane was recognized for his continued work on genetic disorders.

Dr. Byron Demopoulos, an associate professor of clinical medicine, on Nov. 19 won the Cayuga Medical Center-Weill Cornell Medicine Award from Cornell Community Relations for establishing a collaboration between Weill Cornell Medicine, Cayuga Medical Center and Ithaca-area physicians. Dr. Demopoulos won the award at the 2016 Town-Gown Awards in Ithaca.

Dr. Pamela Eliach, an assistant professor of medicine, on Oct. 6 was accepted into the 2017 Harvard Macy Institute Program for Educators in Health Professions. The program aims to enhance the professional development of physicians, basic scientists and other healthcare professionals as educators.

Dr. Melanie Ongchin, an assistance professor of surgery, was named a fellow of the American College of Surgeons during its convocation ceremony on Oct. 16 in Washington, D.C. The college is dedicated to improving the surgical care of patients and safeguarding standards of care in an optimal and ethical practice environment.

Dr. Heather Yeo, the Nanette Laitman Clinical Scholar in Healthcare Policy and Research/Clinical Evaluation and an assistant professor of surgery and of healthcare policy, won the James IV Traveling Scholar Award from the James IV Association of Surgeons. The association sponsors visiting fellowship opportunities for young surgeons from and to member countries. Dr. Yeo’s fellowship covers four weeks of travel over a two-year period and pays $15,000. She will travel to the United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong and possibly Japan to study treatment controversies of rectal cancer.

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