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SDDRC Pilot Feasibility Grants for 2022–2023

​2022–2023 Awardees

Digestive Diseases Innovative Awards ($40,000 each):

The SDDRC has awarded pilot grants to promote innovative research in digestive diseases. This year's awardees are:

  • Phillipp Hartmann, MD

    Phillipp Hartmann, MD

    Assistant Professor, Pediatric Gastroenterology

    About the Awardee: After completing medical school at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Dr. Hartmann carried out his pediatrics residency and pediatric gastroenterology fellowship at UCSD. He is interested in the role of the intestinal microbiome in various liver diseases, including diet-induced, alcohol-related, and cholestatic liver disease. He hopes to develop better – possibly microbiome-based – diagnostic tests and therapeutic interventions for these conditions.


    Project Title: "Novel microbiota-humanized mouse model to investigate the pathophysiology of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)"

    Summary: Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a severe disease, which causes suffering and death worldwide. With this pilot grant, we are trying to develop a mouse model, in which mice are being transplanted stool from humans with PSC, to better examine how PSC develops and progresses. We are also attempting to trial various new treatments using this model to improve the disease in the mice. The goal is to identify better therapies for humans with PSC.

  • ​Jin Lee, PhD

    ​Jin Lee, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology

    About the Awardee: Dr. Lee received a Ph.D. degree in Molecular Biochemistry from Chonnam National University, South Korea. Afterward, she joined as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Gen-Sheng Feng’s lab in the Department of Pathology, UCSD school of medicine. Her research has been highly devoted to understanding the immune microenvironment in liver cancer development and prevention. Dr. Lee's research interest is focused on understanding the immune microenvironment in liver cancer, in particular, she want to elucidate how innate immunity plastically changes during liver cancer development from early to late stages and to decipher the underlying mechanisms of how innate immune cells interact with parenchymal cells (hepatocytes and cholangiocytes) by using several liver cancer mouse models. Her ultimate goal is to find reliable diagnostic markers and identify new therapeutic targets and to better therapeutic strategies for personalized treatment for human liver cancer patients.


    Project Title: "Mechanistic analysis of Zfp791 functions in hepatocellular carcinoma"

    Summary: The incidences and mortality of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) are rising rapidly in the United States, but effective mechanism-based therapy is lacking. Activating mutations in CTNNB1, encoding β-catenin, have been detected in 20%-40% of HCC cases. Thus, pharmaceutical inhibition of aberrant Wnt/β-catenin signaling has been considered in HCC therapy, although no efficacious targeting strategy has been developed so far. Here we aim to investigate a new biomarker in CTNNB1 mutated liver cancer and elucidate the underlying mechanism of their regulation in Wnt/β-catenin signaling that will be targeted. Successful completion of this project will characterize a new signaling mechanism in hepatocarcinogenesis and will identify a novel pharmaceutical target for HCC therapy.

  • ​Tae Gyu Oh, PhD

    ​Tae Gyu Oh, PhD

    Bioinformatic Scientist, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

    About the Awardee: Dr. Oh's academic knowledge and professional experiences were obtained from research in the field of bioinformatics and molecular biology targeting inflammation-associated metabolic disorders, fibrosis, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and cancers. He mainly focuses on developing a Machine Learning (ML)-based diagnostic model for inflammation-associated metabolic diseases. Ultimately, Dr. Oh's aim is to solve critical and basic concerns about the junction of Nuclear Receptor (NR)-dependent gene regulation and host cellular responses, using state-of-art wet and dry lab technologies.


    Project Title: "Single-cell transcriptome and chromatin profiling of FXR agonism against non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma"

    Summary: In recent years, the number of people with liver-related conditions such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has increased, and these conditions can lead to more serious liver problems. Our previous research has shown that a molecule called FXR may play a significant role in the development of liver diseases. The main goal of my current research is to use cutting-edge “single cell” technologies to understand how genetic and epigenetic changes of liver and immune cells caused by FXR contribute to the development of NAFLD and related conditions such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

2022-2023 Awardee

Jon I. Isenberg Fellowship Award ($40,000):

  • Hiromi I. Wettersten, DVM, PhD

    Hiromi I. Wettersten, DVM, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Pathology Department

    About the Awardee: Dr. Wettersten received a Veterinary Medicine in Japan before coming to the United States where she received a PhD and postdoctoral training in cancer biology. She is currently an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego where her research focuses on the talk between cancer cells and their local environment. In this project, she will use her skills as a veterinarian and cancer biologist, to study a protein related to cancer progression in a mouse model of pancreatitis as a possible therapeutic target for chronic pancreatitis.


    Project Title: "Integrin αvβ3: A double-edged sword in pancreatitis"

    Summary: Acute pancreatitis, a condition where the pancreas becomes acutely damaged, can progress to a chronic pancreatitis state which may not be reversible. Dr. Wettersten’s early research shows a protein, integrin αvβ3, which is involved in pancreatic cancer progression, may also be involved in the recovery from pancreatitis. This study will further explore what integrin αvβ3 does to help recover from acute pancreatitis. Findings from this study will lead to future research on new therapies for chronic pancreatitis.