Schwimmer First to Receive AGA/GRG Young Investigator Clinical Science Award, UC San Diego

Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer

San Diego, May 17, 2010 - Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer, Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Director of Weight and Wellness, and Director of the Fatty Liver Clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, was awarded the 2010 Young Investigator Award in Clinical Science from the Gastroenterology Research Group (GRG) and the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA).

Presented at Digestive Disease Week in New Orleans on May 3, 2010, Schwimmer is the first person at UC San Diego to win this award in Clinical Science, and was selected in part because of his work in childhood obesity.

The award recognizes Schwimmer's tremendous contributions to the field of gastroenterology, (specifically in investigating, publishing, and teaching the epidemiology, clinical phenotype, histology), and the diagnostic and therapeutic approach to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children and adults.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a disease where droplets of fat are stored within liver cells without any correlation to excessive alcohol use. The spectrum of disease includes hepatitis and cirrhosis. It is related to insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome, and may respond to treatments originally developed for other insulin-resistant states (e.g. type 2 diabetes.)

According to a groundbreaking study conducted and published by Schwimmer, 9.6% of children in the U.S. have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This statistic is staggering for a disease thought to be virtually non-existent in children. This carefully designed study showed that prevalence increases with age, is more common in boys than girls, and that Hispanic Americans are at the highest risk for disease.

“The scientific contributions of Dr. Schwimmer’s work can truly be considered significant,” remarks Dr. Elizabeth Brunt, a leader in the field of fatty liver disease, and professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University in St. Louis, School of Medicine. “Dr. Schwimmer’s published works are the manifestation of his insight, his careful approaches to studies, and his obvious abilities to collaborate.”

Over the past 8 years, Schwimmer has consistently produced landmark studies that demonstrate that he is one of the most productive clinical investigators of his generation in digestive health. Schwimmer was the first to establish the relationship between biopsy-proven NAFLD and insulin resistance in children, and to demonstrate the increased risk for NAFLD in young adult women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Dr. Schwimmer also demonstrated that children with NAFLD may not only develop cirrhosis, but may also have an increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease that goes well the beyond the risk posed by obesity. The cumulative impact of his work has greatly increased awareness of NAFLD and helped produce national guidelines that promote screening for NAFLD in overweight and obese children.

Recently, Dr. Schwimmer has developed innovative technical and methodological contributions to study NAFLD in collaboration with Dr. Claude Sirlin in the Department of Radiology at UCSD. Schwimmer was recently appointed as the Director of Hepatology for the Liver Imaging Group. With new collaborative experiments underway, Schwimmer continues to play an integral role in steering the technical development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging towards asking clinically relevant questions. These studies hold promise for the non-invasive diagnosis and monitoring of NAFLD.

NAFLD is a complex disease that intersects cardiology, endocrinology, genetics and immunology. As a result, Schwimmer’s work has had immense translational importance on other fields impacted by obesity and insulin resistance, for which NAFLD is a co-morbidity.

"It is a tremendous honor to receive this award, and unbelievably fulfilling,” remarks Schwimmer. “Ten years ago when I was just starting my career in pediatric gastroenterology, people were somewhat skeptical if focusing on obesity was a good career choice. But with a lot of perseverance, in a relatively short time (a decade), I was able to make an impact on the field in such a way that ultimately will help children everywhere.”

WRITTEN BY: Shivani Singh, Sr. Writer, Dept. of Pediatrics, UC San Diego

SCIENTIFIC CONTACT: Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer, Division of Gastroenterology, Dept of Pediatrics, UC San Diego; Director of Weight and Wellness; Director of the Fatty Liver Clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego