Translational Teams

Clinician Leadership Team

David C Whitcomb MD PhD (Gastroenterology – Pancreatitis)

investigator_whitcombDavid C Whitcomb MD PhD. Professor Whitcomb is a physician-scientists and focused on complex disorders and personalized (precision) medicine (PMID 21952059; 22614753; 26561988). He designed and initiated the GREAT Study and has successfully implemented it in within the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition within the Department of Medicine where he serves as Division Chief. Professor Whitcomb also serves as a member of the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer (CMSO) committee to advise and support precision medicine implementation at UPMC. Professor Whitcomb is responsible for the overall coordination of the GREAT Study within the University of Pittsburgh and precision medicine for complex disorders within UPMC. He has the administrative responsibility of assuring that the project operates within the framework of University, Medical Center, Institutional Review Board and governing authority rules, policies and guidelines. With his staff he also organizes and maintains communication between co-investigators, patients and administrators, and works to support the many Departments, Centers, Institutes, Service Lines and educational program at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC.


Jaideep Behari MD PhD (Gastroenterology – Liver diseases)

investigator_behariDr. Behari is an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition and Co-Director of Translational Liver Research in the University of Pittsburgh Liver-Pancreas Institute. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Transplant Hepatology. He is a physician-scientist with clinical and research interests in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). His research is focused on understanding the hepatic and systemic metabolic perturbations associated with NAFLD. As a founding member and Director of the multidisciplinary UPMC Fatty Liver Clinic at the Digestive Disorders Center, he is involved in several patient-centered studies aimed at developing innovative models of care and novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for NAFLD.



David Binion MD (Gastroenterology – IBD and nutrition)

investigator_binionDr. Binion is a physician-scientist who has committed his career to improving the lives of patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD; Crohn’s disease (CD), ulcerative colitis). He is also a CD patient. He continually studied IBD for over two decades, maintaining both an active clinic and a productive laboratory. He reported discoveries on how the microvasculature of the bowel is regulated, and how it is altered in chronic inflammation. He personally cares for >2,000 IBD patients, largely those with severe and refractory disease. His scientific background prompted him to take a structured approach into the clinic, where every clinical encounter has employed scoring metrics for disease activity, standard laboratory sets, quality of life scores, etc, which have been prospectively tracked in databases over the past decade. This structured approach to IBD clinical care has allowed his team to identify emerging clinical issues and subgroups of patients who have struggled, the “unmet need” in IBD.  They gained insight into the natural history of patient subgroups, publishing important findings regarding IBD and Clostridium difficile, autonomic dysfunction, chronic narcotic use, rapid abdominal re-operation, durability of biologic therapy, and permanent work disability. His team is currently are tracking >2,400 consented IBD patients and from this prospective longitudinal natural history cohort and have initiated genotype-phenotype association analysis through the GREAT study and other research projects.



Philip Empey PharmD, PhD, BSPC (Pharmacogenetics and Pharmacy) 

investigator_empeyDr. Philip Empey is the Associate Director for Pharmacogenomics of the Pitt/UPMC Institute of Personalized Medicine and leads the PreCISE-Rx team to implement pharmacogenomics clinical and research initiatives. As a clinician-scientist in the Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, Dr. Empey conducts NIH-funded clinical and translational research aimed at understanding the mechanisms of the variability in drug response to improve medication-related outcomes in critically-ill patients. He received his PharmD from the University of Rhode Island, completed PGY1 and PGY2 residencies in Pharmacy Practice and Critical Care at the University of Kentucky, and is a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist. He earned a PhD in Clinical Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Kentucky before completing postdoctoral research training at the University of Pittsburgh. Current research interests include understanding the role/impact of xenobiotic transporters following neurological injury, transporter pharmacogenomics, the pharmacogenomics clinical implementation, collection of medication-related phenotype information, genotype-phenotype discovery, and innovative models of education.



Erin Kershaw MD (Endocrinology – Obesity, Diabetes, Lipid Disorders, and Adipose Tissue Disorders)

investigator_kershawErin E. Kershaw, MD, is an Associate Professor in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a physician-scientist dedicated to the prevention and treatment of obesity and its complications (i.e. diabetes, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, etc.). She has broad experience in the field of endocrinology and metabolism, including over 20 years of experience specifically devoted to clinical and scientific efforts to understand obesity and associated metabolic complications. She is board certified in 1) Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism by the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2) Obesity Medicine by the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and 3) Clinical Lipidology by the American Board of Clinical Lipidology. In addition to her clinical practice, she runs her own externally-funded translational research program focused on obesity, lipid metabolism, and adipose tissue biology. Her work has contributed to the understanding of important genes that influence fundamental metabolic processes including adipose triglyceride lipase / Pnpla2 (the main enzyme that breaks down fat) and adiponutrin / Pnpla3 (currently the strongest genetic risk factor and biomarker for fatty liver disease in humans). Her work as been funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health. A major goal of her research is to identify and characterize novel genes and pathways that contribute to obesity and related metabolic diseases in order to promote novel preventive and therapeutic strategies to combat these increasingly prevalent disorders.



Larry Moreland MD (Rheumatology – rheumatoid arthritis)

investigator_morelandDr. Moreland’s research focuses on therapies for various autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, vasculitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, spondyloarthropathies) and osteoarthritis. He and collaborators have established multicenter collaborative efforts in several areas of research. Examples of active research include evaluating genetic and environmental factors in pathogenesis of African Americans with rheumatoid arthritis, evaluating efficacy (and molecular mechanisms) of various disease modifying agents used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and new approaches aimed at developing disease remission for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.



Ajay Wasan MD, MSc. (Anesthesiology – Pain)

investigator_wasanDr. Wasan is the Vice Chair for Pain Medicine in the Department of Anesthesiology at UPMC and Professor of Anesthesiology and Psychiatry in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He was recruited from Boston where Dr. Wasan was an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Section of Clinical Pain Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. His overall clinical and research interest are in interventional procedures, neuropathic pain medications, opioids, psychotropic medication, and the psychiatric co-morbidities of chronic pain. Dr. Wasan also supervises clinical care across seven hospital pain clinics in the UPMC system, 10 clinical faculty members, the Department of Anesthesiology Pain Medicine Fellowship Program, and all Division of Pain Medicine research. This research is funded from a variety of sources, such as the National Institutes of Health and industry funds. Dr. Wasan’s current research interests are in the areas of tracking pain treatment outcomes using electronic records, mechanism-based treatment studies of negative affect in pain, quantitative sensory testing, FMRI, and in preventing prescription opioid misuse in patients with chronic pain. His publications are in the general area of pain outcomes research, and cover topics such as opioid treatment, interventional treatments, neuropathic pain assessment, the brain physiology of chronic pain, and the impact of psychiatric factors on pain response.



Zongqi Xia, MD PhD (Neurology – Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology)

investigator_xiaDr. Xia is a physician-scientist at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurology, a principal investigator in the Pittsburgh Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases, and a core faculty member in the Pittsburgh Institute of Multiple Sclerosis Care and Research. In addition, he is an associated scientist at the Broad Institute of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a collaborator scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a visiting scientist at Harvard Medical School. He is a board-certfied neurologist and has subspecialty expertise in neuroinflammation and neuroimmunology, including multiple sclerosis. He has extensive experience in leading large-scale multi-centered human translational and clinical research studies.  Dr. Xia leads the Laboratory of Translational Neurology and Neuroinflammation at University of Pittsburgh and UPMC.  His research team harnesses multi-dimensional patient-derived information (genomics, transcriptomics, epignomics, microbiomes, immune profiling, electronic health records, biometric measurements and neuroimaging phenotypes) and deploy integrative computational and analytical approaches to gain insights into the underlying disease process and translate these findings into the clinical arena to improve individualized risk prediction, prevention, and management in multiple sclerosis and other related disorders of neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.



Inflammatory Bowel Disease

  • Clinical Co-leaders
    • David Binion MD
    • Miguel Regueiro MD
  • Tramslational leaders
    • Ian McGowan MD PhD – mucosal biology (J&J)
    • Annette Wilson PhD – Sample processing and bioassays
  • Support team
    • Weiping (Ping) DeBlasio RN – GREAT study coordinator
    • Claudia Rivers-Ramos MD – database management



  • Clinical Co-leaders
    • Randall E Brand MD – cancer risk
    • George Papachristou MD PhD – acute pancreatitis
    • Adam Slivka MD PhD – imaging and endoscopic therapy
    • Dhiraj Yadav MD MPH – chronic pancreatitis
  • Translational leaders
    • Aatur Singhi MD PhD – pathology
    • David Whitcomb MD PhD – genetics and modeling
  • Clinical Support team
    • Weiping (Ping) DeBlasio RN – GREAT study coordinator
    • Celeste Shelton MS LCGC – genetic counselor
    • Phil Greer MS – information management
    • Melissa Saul – EHR phenotyping approaches
    • Kim Stello – Whitcomb lab manager and sample processing
    • Daniel Dwryer – GREAT study registry


Fatty Liver Diseases

  • Co-Leaders
    • Jaideep Behari MD PhD – Hepatology
    • Maja Stefanovic-Racic MD PhD – Endocrinology and metabolism.
  • Clinical co-investigator team
    • Vikrant Rachakonda MD PhD Hepatology (interest in metabolic liver diseases and nutrition)
    • Allison Jazwinski MD MSc – hepatology (interest in complex trait genetics)
    • Mike Dunn MD – hepatology (Epicare and registry)
  • Biological Mechanisms Team
    • Erin Kershaw MD – endocrinology
    • John Jakicic PhD – NORC obesity center
    • Dan Weeks PhD – Genetics of obesity.
    • TBN – systems biology and modeling
  • Clinical Support team
    • Amy Schmotzer RN – clinical research nurse
    • Weiping (Ping) DeBlasio RN – GREAT study coordinator
    • Celeste Shelton MS LCGC – genetic counselor
    • Phil Greer MS – information management
    • Melissa Saul – EHR phenotyping approaches
    • Kim Stello – Whitcomb lab manager and sample processing


Obesity, Diabetes, Lipid Disorders, and Adipose Tissue Disorders

  • Co-Leaders
    • Erin E. Kershaw, MD – Endocrinology
    • Maja Stefanovic-Racic, MD – Endocrinology
  • Clinical Co-Investigator Team
    • David Rometo, MD – Endocrinology
  • Translational Investigative Team
    • Fred Toledo, MD – Endocrinology
    • John Jakicic, PhD – Health and Physical Activity


(in development)

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
    • Larry Moreland MD
  • Asthma
    • Sally Wenzel MD
  • Hypertension
    • Thomas R. Kleyman MD
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Pain
  • Pharmacogenetics
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis