Nationally recognized liver research team joins IU School of Medicine

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INDIANAPOLIS—Already established as a national leader in liver disease research, Indiana University School of Medicine has further cemented that status with the recent recruitment of three leading scientists to join the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Led by Gianfranco Alpini, PhD, the group also includes Heather Francis, PhD, and Fanyin Meng, PhD, who come to IU School of Medicine from Texas A&M College of Medicine. The researchers bring with them $7.5 million in grant funding from agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Their team includes more than a dozen post doctorate investigators and technicians to staff their labs at the Richard L. Roudebush Indianapolis VA Medical Center.

“This team adds substantially to our critical mass of researchers who are focused on a range of devastating liver diseases,” said Naga Chalasani, MD, chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in the Department of Medicine and associate dean for clinical research at IU School of Medicine. “With their recruitment, we are continuing to bring together liver researchers from a variety of disciplines to form a high-quality, interdepartmental program that I think is unparalleled anywhere in the country.”

Alpini is internationally regarded as one of the foremost cholangiocyte biology and cholestatic liver disease experts.

Cholestatic liver disease refers to a group of conditions in which the biliary system malfunctions and does not produce enough bile necessary for digestion. The conditions are very serious, and a liver transplant is currently the only cure for patients with advanced disease. Cholestatic liver disease accounts for 18 percent of adult liver transplants and the majority of pediatric liver transplants.

The group’s research has also recently expanded to alcoholic liver disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease—both of which are on the rise in the United States.

“I was very impressed by the reputation of Indiana University School of Medicine and the prestigious caliber of the liver research program here,” Alpini said. “I feel confident that this environment will enable me and my colleagues to translate our discoveries into clinical practice so we can help patients lead longer and healthier lives.”

Alpini and the group were recruited in part through the Indiana University Health – Indiana University School of Medicine Strategic Research Initiative. The initiative is intended to build nationally recognized research programs, enhance joint capabilities that facilitate new discoveries, recruit internationally renowned clinicians and researchers, and bring leading-edge therapies to patients.

“IU School of Medicine’s research programs have seen record growth in the last several years, and this recruitment will contribute to the continued upward trajectory,” said Anantha Shekhar, MD, PhD, the school’s executive associate dean for research affairs and IU’s associate vice president for research and university clinical affairs. “Researchers of this caliber add jobs to the economy, spur Indiana’s reputation as a life science leader and—most importantly—are critical to the development of new therapies for Hoosiers.”

ABOUT THE RESEARCHERS

Gianfranco Alpini, PhD

Alpini was most recently the Dr. Nicholas C. Hightower Centennial Chair in Gastroenterology at Texas A&M College of Medicine, where he had been a member of the faculty since 1994. Alpini joins the Division of Gastroenterology Hepatology as the John Hickam Professor of Medicine.

“Besides continuing to advance research and train new scientists, one of my goals is to develop an internationally recognized state-of-the-art liver center that will attract patients with chronic cholestatic liver disease,” Alpini said.

Heather Francis, PhD

Francis joins IU School of Medicine after more than seven years as a faculty member at Texas A&M, most recently as an associate professor of medical physiology. She will serve the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology as a professor of medicine.

“My decision to move from Texas to IU School of Medicine was centered around the prominent and impressive gastroenterology and hepatology program that IU has created which is strengthened by basic, translational and clinical research,” Francis said. “Our goal is to build upon this strong foundation and create a state-of-the-art center for liver research that will bring together scientists, physicians and trainees to deliver high quality, clinically relevant research geared toward developing cures for end-stage liver disease.”

Fanyin Meng, PhD

Before joining IU School of Medicine, Meng had worked as an associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Texas A&M.

“I am excited to help both the clinical and research aspects of the liver program reach their full potential,” said Meng, an associate professor of medicine. “Our vision is to establish IU School of Medicine as one of the premier centers for liver care and liver-related research in the U.S.”

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