In 2016, the Foundation created the Young Investigator Research Grant Award with the North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease (NASSCD). Because of the acute lack of funding from NIH and other grant sources for celiac disease research relative to other autoimmune and digestive diseases, young researchers were gravitat­ing towards diseases with greater opportunity for funding and advancement. We created this award with the inten­tion of keeping some of the best and brightest researchers focused on finding treatments and a cure for celiac disease.

2019 Young Investigator Award Recipients

Our 2019 awards, totaling $505,650, will fund critical investigation at three of the world’s leading academic research centers. The experts we consulted believe each of these research portfolios will advance our understanding of celiac disease and its diagnosis.

Benjamin Lebwohl, MD, MS

Winning Proposal: Microbiome and Population-Based Outcomes Research in Celiac Disease
Institution: Columbia University
Award: $145,650

Dr. Lebwohl Bio

Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl is the Director of Clinical Research at The Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University and is the President-Elect of the Society for the Study of Celiac Disease (SSCD). He is a graduate of Harvard College, where he majored in music. He received his MD from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2003, and then completed his internship, residency, and chief residency in internal medicine at Columbia. As a fellow in Digestive and Liver Disease, he also obtained a Masters in Patient Oriented Research from the Department of Biostatistics at the Mailman School of Public Health. He was a post-doctoral fellow in a National Cancer Institute-funded Training Program in Cancer-Related Population Sciences and joined the faculty of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in 2010.

Project Aims

Dr. Lebwohl and his team will seek to answer two critical questions in his research:

  1. What happens to the diversity of the microbiome in celiac patients exposed to gluten and does it relate to the variance in the severity of symptoms suffered by this patient community; and
  2. Using an epidemiological approach to a longitudinal Swedish database, has the relative mortality rate of celiac patients changed over time given higher diagnostic rates, improved access to gluten-free foods,
    and better patient awareness?

Expert Reviewer's Comments

“This work looks at a couple of important questions, namely the role of the microbiome (the currently super-hot topic in gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases) as well as what looks like a very solid epidemiological approach to updating our estimates of celiac disease sequelae and mortality. For this proposal, I would have high confidence that they could deliver the results they are planning for.”

Dr. Kristin Yarema
Board of Directors – Celiac Disease Foundation
Vice President, Global Marketing/Global Product Strategy – Amgen

Jocelyn Silvester, MD, PhD

Winning Proposal: Use of HLA-DQ-Gluten Tetramer Assay in the Diagnosis of Celiac Disease
Institution: Boston Children’s Hospital
Award: $180,000

Dr. Silvester Bio

Dr. Jocelyn Silvester is an attending physician at Boston Children’s Hospital and an instructor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Silvester chairs the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) Celiac Special Interest Group. She completed her PhD in Biology at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, prior to receiving her MD from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in 2008. Dr. Silvester completed her residency at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada and her Fellowship in Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Silvester continues to work as a general pediatrician in remote regions of Northern Canada as well as at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Project Aims

Dr. Jocelyn Silvester and her team at Boston Children’s Hospital are proposing to evaluate a new diagnostic test that can identify celiac disease much earlier in the disease development arc than current diagnostic tests, does not need a gluten challenge nor an endoscopy to confirm, and is more accurate than the current blood test.

Dr. Silvester will apply the award to the following specific aims:

  1. Establish whether gluten-reactive memory T cells are a marker of pediatric celiac disease.
  2. Determine whether gluten-reactive memory T cells predict response to gluten challenge.
  3. Determine whether gluten-reactive T cells are present in potential celiac disease.

Expert Reviewer's Comments

“This work aims to deliver better and potentially much less invasive diagnostic tests. The lack of correlation between antibody tests and biopsy results is really troubling for patients as well as probably for health care professionals. Can we really trust antibody test results? Do we really want to be subjected to one or more endoscopies? While not a treatment or cure, a better test would improve patient quality of life and could dramatically improve patient peace of mind.”

Dr. Kristin Yarema
Board of Directors – Celiac Disease Foundation
Vice President, Global Marketing/Global Product Strategy – Amgen

Valérie Abadie, PhD

Winning Proposal: Impact of B Cell Depletion of T Cell Mediated Immune Responses and Tissue Destruction in Celiac Disease
Institution: The University of Chicago
Award: $180,000

Dr. Abadie Bio

Valérie Abadie received her undergraduate degrees in cellular biology and physiology at Paul Sabatier University, Toulouse, France. She next completed a Master degree in microbiology at Paris V-Necker Enfants malades and obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology-Virology from the University of Paris VII in 2005.

Project Aims

Dr. Abadie will be employing specially developed mice models that mimic celiac disease to learn if blocking B cells can mitigate or prevent damage to the intestinal villi when someone with celiac disease ingests gluten.

Dr. Abadie and her team will be using this award to address the following aims:

  1. Assess the contribution of B cells to the activation and amplification of the anti-gluten CD4+ T cell response
  2. Determine whether targeting B cells prevents IE-CTLs activation and development of villous atrophy

Expert Reviewer's Comments

“We already have medicines that can ablate B cells that will soon be relatively inexpensive generics (anti-CD20 medications). If Dr. Abadie’s work demonstrates that B cells are a primary mediator, we could probably interest someone relatively quickly in doing clinical studies. Given that the medications are already approved by the FDA, timelines are vastly shorter and de-risked. I see this proposal as most directly/quickly leading to potential effective treatments for celiac disease.”

Dr. Kristin Yarema
Board of Directors – Celiac Disease Foundation
Vice President, Global Marketing/Global Product Strategy – Amgen

Support the Young Investigator Award

The Young Investigator Research Grant Awards rely entirely on generous tax-deductible contributions from concerned donors like you. We are making steady progress on multiple fronts in fighting celiac disease, but we cannot pause until effective FDA-approved treatments are available to our patient community, and until there is a cure. Help us win this fight.