PFF Scholars

Helping Emerging Scientists Grow

In 2019, the PFF redefined its objectives for funding research and introduced the PFF Scholars program, which has replaced the Established and Junior Investigator awards. The PFF Scholars program will focus on engaging early-career investigators in their emerging research in the field of pulmonary fibrosis. With the goal of advancing research that could translate into successful therapies for PF, the PFF Scholars program is designed to support and enable promising researchers to obtain independent funding and continue their cutting- edge research. Scholars will receive up to $50,000 over a two-year period.

2020 Recipients

drusoJoseph E. Druso, PhD
University of Vermont Medical Center
Funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Dr. Joseph E. Druso is a Postdoctoral Associate at The University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, where he studies the contributions of altered redox biology in pulmonary fibrosis under the mentorship of Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger. Joe received his PhD from Cornell University in the laboratory of Dr. Richard Cerione studying the roles of the small GTPase Cdc42 in normal development and breast cancer.  Following graduate school, he joined the laboratory of Dr. Claudia Fischbach in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University, where he studied the design and use of novel engineered cell culture systems to model human disease.  Joe is now applying his background in molecular medicine and biomedical engineering to investigate how altered redox states, specifically those determined by protein S-glutathionylation, affect lung cell differentiation and fibrotic tissue remodeling in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

GokeyJason Gokey, PhD
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

I am a new Research Instructor in Allergy, Pulmonary, and Critical Care Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center under the mentorship of Dr. Timothy Blackwell and Dr. Jon Kropski. My research is focusing on the abnormal epithelial cell signaling associated with the progression of interstitial lung diseases including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

I obtained by PhD training at the State university of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse NY, where I studied asymmetric patterning of the body axis using the zebrafish model system. Under the mentorship of Dr. Jeffrey Amack, I gained a foundation in understanding developmental signaling networks and how they interact. I then transitioned to my post-doctoral training under the guidance of Dr. Jeffrey Whitsett at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center where I studied pulmonary biology and utilized mouse models of lung development and injury.

GoobieGiilian Goobie, MD
University of Pittsburgh
Funded by the The Peter L. O’Neill Memorial Fund

Dr. Gillian Goobie completed her MD and Internal Medicine residency at the University of Calgary prior to entering into her Respiratory Medicine fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Dr. Goobie’s research during medical residency and fellowship focused on understanding the pathophysiology of autoimmune and interstitial lung diseases. During her clinical training, she was mentored by Dr. Kerri Johannson, Dr. Charlene Fell, and Dr. Chris Ryerson. Her early research experiences drove Dr. Goobie to pursue a PhD in Human Genetics in the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh, supervised by Dr. Daniel Kass, Dr. Yingze Zhang, and Dr. S. Mehdi Nouraie. Her PhD research is focused on elucidating the role that air pollution plays in the development and progression of interstitial lung diseases. She is specifically interested in how air pollution modifies the epigenome of these patients, leading to downstream gene expression alterations and disease development. When she is not in the hospital or working on her research, Gillian enjoys traveling and exploring the outdoors either by foot, bike, or skis.

graneyBridget Graney, MD
University of Colorado
This award is partially funded by the Jenny H. Krauss and Otto F. Krauss Charitable Foundation Trust, in memory of Stephen N. Dirks

Dr. Bridget Graney is an Instructor in the Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Colorado. She earned her medical degree at the University of Nebraska followed by residency training and chief resident year in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Indiana University. She subsequently completed fellowship training at the University of Colorado where she has stayed on as faculty following the completion of an additional year of research training. During her fellowship and research training, Dr. Graney has worked under the mentorship of Drs. Jeffrey J. Swigris, David Bekelman and Joyce S. Lee.  Her current research focuses on the dynamic interrelationship between patients with interstitial lung disease and their caregivers. Recognizing that none of us exist in isolation, Dr. Graney seeks to understand the impact of disease on caregivers of patients with ILD, specifically the degree of caregiver burden experienced that is frequently unrecognized but has negative health consequences for caregivers. Her long term goal is to improve outcomes, specifically quality of life, for both patients and caregivers by focusing on interventions for patient-caregiver dyads (pairs).

untermanAvraham Unterman, MD, MBA
Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Tel Aviv, Israel
Funded by the Chuck and Monica McQuaid Family Foundation

Dr. Unterman is a physician-scientist focusing his career on research and clinical practice in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and other interstitial lung diseases. After completing his pulmonary fellowship at the Rabin Medical Center in Israel, he joined Dr. Naftali Kaminski’s laboratory as an Instructor at Yale School of Medicine, where he studied the immune system in IPF using the powerful technology of single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq). During the COVID-19 pandemic he led a large collaborative scRNA-seq study at Yale, uncovering the dyssynchrony of the innate and adaptive immune system in progressive COVID-19.  

Dr. Unterman attended medical school at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology, and completed residency training in internal medicine at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel. He holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the Technion and has published over 20 research articles and book chapters. Starting from December 2020, he will be joining the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel, where he will head the Interstitial Lung Disease Service as well as a research laboratory. His current research focuses on single-cell immune profiling of the peripheral blood to identify the immunological mechanisms that distinguish immune-driven forms of pulmonary fibrosis from IPF, and facilitate the development of precision medicine approaches for diagnosis and treatment.

valenziEleanor B. Valenzi, MD
University of Pittsburgh
Funded by the The Peter L. O’Neill Memorial Fund

Dr. Valenzi is a Research Instructor and Clinical Instructor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.  She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, and internal medicine training at the University of Chicago. During fellowship, she joined the lab of Dr. Robert Lafyatis to investigate the regulation of fibroblast transformation in systemic sclerosis-associated interstitial lung disease.  Her current research utilizes novel single-cell sequencing technologies to understand fibroblast gene regulatory networks in healthy and fibrotic human lungs. Clinically, Dr. Valenzi specializes in the management of interstitial lung disease and is an attending physician in the Dorothy P. and Richard P. Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

2019 Recipients

KatzenJeremy Katzen, MD

Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania
This award is funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Dr. Katzen is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his clinical fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, he joined Dr. Michael Beers’ laboratory, where he has studied quality control dysfunction in the distal lung epithelium as it relates to diffuse parenchymal lung disease and pulmonary fibrosis.  Specifically, he has modeled mutations in SFTPC to drive dysfunctional epithelial cellular phenotypes and studied the pathways from epithelial dysfunction to lung fibrosis.  Prior to coming to Penn Dr. Katzen completed his internal medicine training Northwestern University, where he did research in lung epithelial host-defense in Dr. Iasha Sznajder’s laboratory.  He completed his medical training at the University of Rochester School or Medicine and Dentistry and his undergraduate education at Bowdoin College.  Clinically, Dr. Katzen specializes in the management of interstitial lung diseases, and he is an Attending Physician in the University of Pennsylvania Interstitial Lung Disease Clinic.  

ObierneSarah O’Beirne, PhD
Joan & Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University
This award is funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc

Dr. O’Beirne, MD, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetic Medicine and Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. She received her MD from National University of Ireland, Galway and Translational PhD from University College Dublin, Ireland where she studied the role of epithelial to mesenchymal transition in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. She completed her internal medicine residency and pulmonary fellowship through the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, followed by a pulmonary and critical care fellowship in New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine. Since completing her fellowship, Dr. O’Beirne has been undertaking translational pulmonary research in the Department of Genetic Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine focused on the effects of exposures including tobacco smoke and ambient pollution on the airway epithelium and alveolar macrophage transcriptome, and the consequences of its dysregulation in the pathogenesis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Her current research utilizes single cell RNA-sequencing to study interstitial lung diseases including hypersensitivity pneumonitis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

AronsonKerri Aronson, MD
Joan & Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University
This award is funded by Chuck McQuaid

Dr. Kerri Aronson will be a Clinical Instructor in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine in the fall of 2019 at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. Dr. Aronson attended medical school at the State University of New York, Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York where she was inducted into the AOA medical honor society.  She completed residency training in Internal Medicine and subsequently served as Chief Medical Resident at Weill Cornell Medical College. She further completed fellowship training in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. During fellowship, Dr. Aronson worked under the mentorship of Dr. Monika Safford, Dr. Fernando Martinez, and Dr. Robert Kaner to complete a project aimed at better understanding patient experiences of living with Chronic Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis and to better define determinants of quality of life specific to this disease. Dr. Aronson’s current research focuses on the development and validation of a disease-specific health related quality of life instrument for patients with hypersensitivity pneumonitis for use in both clinical practice and research.

farrandErica Farrand, MD
University of California, San Francisco
This award is funded by the Cohen, Veilleux, Tocher, and Feiger Families in fond memory of Eli Cohen

Dr. Farrand’s career in medicine began with an academic and practical education in health policy, followed quickly by early connections with academic physicians who recognized the value of using large, real-world datasets to study the effectiveness of interventions and improve healthcare delivery. This combination of influences has been transformative, and inspired Farrand to pursue research that crosses the traditional silos of academic research and clinical practice, using the clinical delivery system to answer questions that matter most to stakeholders, including clinicians, methodologists, payers, regulators, ethicists, and most importantly patients. Her research program is particularly relevant to the field of interstitial lung disease, in which there is limited evidence to support the complex clinical decisions faced by stakeholders.

Dr. Farrand completed her undergraduate education at the University of Virginia, followed by medical school and internal medicine training at Columbia University. After working for two years as an internist, she joined the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Allergy and Sleep Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Since completing clinical training, she joined the Interstitial Lung Disease group, developing a research program that aims to (1) advance the delivery of safe, efficient, high-quality care by supporting data-driven decision making and (2) develop a reusable, sustainable model for health-system embedded clinical research in ILD. When not at work, she enjoys hiking, biking and dancing with her husband, daughters, and dog Angus.

KimJohn Kim, MD
Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia
This award is partially funded by the Jenny H. Krauss and Otto F. Krauss Charitable Foundation Trust, in memory of Stephen N. Dirks.

Dr. John Kim is a pulmonary and critical care physician who’s research focuses on the identification of modifiable risk factors in pulmonary fibrosis. John earned his medical degree at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (Baltimore, MD). He completed his internal medicine residency and chief resident year at the University of Texas Southwestern (Dallas, TX) followed by a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care at Columbia University (New York, NY). Under the mentorship of Dr. David Lederer during his fellowship at Columbia, Dr. Kim investigated the role of sleep disordered-breathing in subclinical interstitial lung disease and has transitioned to examining the potential protective role of omega-3 fatty acids. John will continue his research in pulmonary fibrosis at the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA) as an Assistant Professor starting in the Fall of 2019 under the mentorship of Dr. Imre Noth.


Andrew Haak, PhD
Mayo Clinic

While attending Minnesota State University Moorhead, Andrew joined the combined laboratory of Drs. Joseph Provost and Mark Wallert where he investigated the role of the sodium hydrogen (NHE1) exchanger in non-small cell lung cancer migration, proliferation, and anchorage independent growth. For his doctoral work at The University of Michigan, he studied with Dr. Richard Neubig, an expert in the field of pharmacology and drug discovery. Following a high-throughput screening campaign, Andrew developed a potent and selective inhibitor of MRTF which effectively blocked in vivo melanoma lung metastasis and dermal fibrosis. This work led him to focus his postdoctoral research on pulmonary fibrosis. Andrew joined Dr. Tschumperlin’s group at The Mayo Clinic with the idea of combining Dr. Tschumperlin’s expertise in mechanosignaling and pulmonary fibrosis with Andrew’s background in pharmacology and drug discovery to identify and target novel mechanisms of fibroblast activation that could dramatically impact the outcome of this disease.


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