2014 Rubenstein Prize Goes to Cheng and Kai

This year's recipients of the Paul Rubenstein, MD Prize for Excellence in Resident Research went straight from the heart. Both Richard Cheng, MD, and Brandon Kai, MD, focused on cardiac transplants, with the goal of improving patient outcomes, in their winning abstract presentations June 4 at the annual awards event in Cedars-Sinai's Harvey Morse Auditorium.

Named for Paul Rubenstein, MD, the first director of medical education at Cedars-Sinai, the competitive $3,000 prize recognizes outstanding research by residents. It is sponsored by the Burns and Allen Research Institute and the Cedars-Sinai Clinical and Translational Research Center, a partner in the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI).

Cheng and Kai were among four finalists selected by the Rubenstein Award Committee to present abstracts at the event, which more than 70 people attended. In opening remarks, committee chair Leslie Raffel, MD, the CTSI site director at Cedars-Sinai, cited the high quality of the 19-member field of applicants. "The committee had a very difficult time selecting the four finalists," she said.

Cheng's research abstract was "Elevated Immune Monitoring Early After Cardiac Transplantation Is Associated With Increased Plaque Progression by Intravascular Ultrasound." The study addressed the problem of cardiac allograft vasculopathy, a type of coronary artery disease that may develop after heart transplants and is a major cause of late transplant failure.

Cheng's goal was to validate a noninvasive way to detect vasculopathy in its early stages, using immune monitoring, so that transplant patients could more promptly receive therapies for this condition. His mentor was Babak Azarbal, MD, cardiologist at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and the associate program director for the Fellowship Training Program in Interventional Cardiology.

Kai's abstract was "Does Gender Mismatch Increase the Risk of Antibody-Mediated Rejection?" For this project, Kai reviewed patient outcomes of cardiac transplants as reported in a series of past studies and sorted them according to the gender of the heart donor and the recipient.

He found higher mortality rates in mixed-gender versus same-gender transplants and also a higher risk of antibody-mediated rejection in male-to-female transplants. His mentor was Jon A. Kobashigawa, MD, director of Advanced Heart Disease and the Heart Transplant Program at the Heart Institute.

The two other prize finalists were Boris Arbit, MD, presenting "Gender Differences in Prognostic Value of Exercise," and Eric Shah, MD, presenting "The Comparative Effectiveness of Biologics and Immunomodulators for the Treatment of Ulcerative Colitis."

The Rubenstein Prize is one of three awards granted to trainees at Cedars-Sinai. The others are the Bohdan (Danny) Malaniak Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research, announced in January; and the Clinical Fellows Award for Excellence in Research, announced in May.


Photo (l. to r.): Rubenstein Prize winners Brandon Kai, MD, and Richard Cheng, MD