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The Legacy of Irene Holmes Perstein Lives on Through the Innovative Research of Two Outstanding School of Medicine Faculty Members

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By Lesley Snyder

When Irene Holmes Perstein died in 1995, she left a bequest to provide annual awards to outstanding fulltime, junior women faculty members of the UCSF School of Medicine.

Since 2007, the School of Medicine Perstein Awards have supported women faculty members, appointed at the assistant professor rank, who are expected to develop high caliber independent research programs in basic, clinical, or translational science. The highly competitive awards are based on criteria including the novelty and innovation of the science, and the potential impact on human health.

2019 Irene Perstein Award Winners

Lucy Zumwinkle Kornblith Surgeon-scientist Lucy Zumwinkle Kornblith, MD is an Assistant Professor in the UCSF Department of Surgery, and is a Trauma and Acute Care Surgeon at Zuckerberg San Francisco General (ZSFG). Dr. Kornblith trained in General Surgery, Surgical Critical Care, and Trauma & Acute Care Surgery at UCSF and ZSFG.

Dr. Kornblith performs translational research in the fields of post-injury hemorrhage and trauma-induced coagulopathy, because trauma is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and the majority of early preventable deaths are due to hemorrhage. Dr. Kornblith is specifically focused on the study of post-injury platelet biology, because despite the pivotal role of platelets in normal clotting, their behavior in the setting of injury is poorly understood. According to Dr. Kornblith, this creates uncertainty regarding the role of platelet-based treatments for her bleeding patients.

Dr. Kornblith says working at ZSFG provides the valuable opportunity to perform ‘bench to bedside’ research on blood samples from trauma patients, and supports collaboration with other clinicians and researchers who share her area of interest.

“UCSF offers an excellent research infrastructure and environment, which allows me the ability to collect samples from trauma patients immediately after injury, before any treatments or interventions that would impact their circulating blood cells,” said Dr. Kornblith. “It is one of the best, most supportive environments to be both a clinician and a scientist.”

In addition, in keeping with Irene Perstein’s legacy, Dr. Kornblith has committed herself to the advancement and support of women in medicine, developing and co-chairing the UCSF Muriel Steele Society, an inclusive community dedicated to inspiring, supporting, and promoting women surgeons so they can thrive at all stages of their careers.

Renuka Nayak

Renuka Nayak, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in the UCSF Department of Medicine, is a physician-scientist dedicated to advancing the care and treatment of patients with rheumatologic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriatic arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases. Dr. Nayak came to UCSF for residency training in Internal Medicine and stayed for a fellowship in Rheumatology, because of “UCSF’s collaborative environment and clinical rigor, built on a strong scientific research foundation.”

Dr. Nayak uses her unique backgrounds in biology, computer science, and clinical rheumatology to investigate the role of the human gut microbiome in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. She uses an innovative combination of patient specimens, microbiology, next generation sequencing, and gnotobiotic mouse models to better understand how our microbiome, which many consider our "second genome," influences health and disease.

Questions on the role of the microbiome in human health abound: What are the trillions of microorganisms in our gut doing? Are they contributing to or helping prevent disease? And how are they impacting treatment? And does that explain why some patients respond well to treatment whereas others do not? These are some of the questions Dr. Nayak’s research seeks to answer.

“There is profound potential for the microbiome to impact treatment response,” said Dr. Nayak. “It would be great for more people to be asking these questions when treating patients. It might help us predict what patients will or won’t respond to treatment, and what drugs we could offer patients based on their gut microbiome.”

As one of the few female MD-PhDs with a degree in computer science, Dr. Nayak is no stranger to being under-represented in her chosen field. She is committed to the advancement of women in basic science and has spearheaded initiatives to foster community and network-building among physician-scientists performing bench research at UCSF.