Irene Chernova, MD, PhD, instructor of medicine (nephrology) has been selected as the recipient of the 2023 Iva Dostanic, MD, PhD, Physician-Scientist Trainee Award.
The Dostanic Award is presented to a physician-scientist who exemplifies the qualities of the late Iva Dostanic, MD, PhD, a trainee who left a mark on the department.
Chernova is the thirteenth awardee, and was co-nominated by Joseph Craft, MD, Paul B. Beeson Professor of Medicine (Rheumatology) and professor of immunobiology and Stefan Somlo, MD, C. N. H. Long Professor of Medicine (Nephrology) and professor of genetics; chief, Section of Nephrology.
She came to Yale for residency training in 2015, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania MD/PhD program. Chernova completed residency training and fellowship in the ABIM Physician-Scientist Research Pathway and joined the faculty in 2022. Her current research is focused on lupus nephritis and autoimmune inflammation of the kidney.
“The kidney is a very unique, hostile microenvironment. I’ve been seeking to understand how immune cells that hurt the kidney are able to survive, where they have no business being under healthy circumstances, and the implications this has for therapy for patients,” said Chernova.
Chernova developed a new line of research in the Craft Laboratory, exploring the role of ions and Na+-K+-ATPase on B cell survival. “She demonstrated that this ion pump is required for B cell survival during renal ionic stress, with lupus B cells resistant to such Na+ induced death. Their resistance promotes intrinsic kidney damage and subsequent progression of nephritis. This novel physiological finding also explained for the first time why B cell depletion, in addition to its effect on autoantibody reduction, is therapeutically successful in lupus nephritis,” said Craft.
After giving birth to her first child in mid-April, Chernova is set to give the Dostanic Award Lecture at Medical Grand Rounds in June, several months into maternity leave. “I can’t think of a better reason to come in during my leave,” exclaimed Chernova.
She first told her husband and a few friends about being selected for the Dostanic award. Next thing she knew, her husband started an email with family and friends with the subject line, “Pregnant and killing it!” and the congratulations began pouring in.
As an only child of an immigrant family, Dostanic’s story resonates with Chernova. Chernova draws parallels with her own upbringing, having moved to the U.S. at the age of 10. And like Dostanic, Chernova was also recruited to the ABIM Physician-Scientist Research Pathway.
To Chernova, the award means more than winning a national one. “I feel humbled to be recognized by those I admire tremendously at my own institution, and to meet the criteria of the award and all that Iva embodied.”
The history of the award dates back to 2011 when Iva Dostanic, MD, PhD, was recruited to the ABIM Physician-Scientist Research Pathway in the Department of Internal Medicine.
“Iva was extremely productive as an outstanding graduate student, earning her PhD in molecular genetics, biochemistry, and microbiology at the University of Cincinnati. She was first author of five papers in the field of cardiovascular physiology that were very novel at the time. She could have immediately taken a faculty position in a basic science department, but she wanted to be a physician, as well as a scientist. So she decided to attend medical school at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine,” said Peter Aronson, MD, C.N.H Long Professor of Medicine (nephrology), who was involved in her recruitment.
Aronson was the program director of the Physician-Scientist Research Pathway from 2006-2011, and during the interview process Dostanic made an impression as an extraordinarily outstanding candidate. “In addition to her research accomplishments as a graduate student, Iva excelled in her clinical studies in medical school, receiving the student award for excellence in the art and practice of medicine. Iva was a candidate who epitomized the best of being a physician and scientist,” Aronson added.
The day before graduating medical school, Dostanic received devastating news–she had ovarian cancer.
When Dostanic came to New Haven a month later after major surgery and initiation of chemotherapy, leadership knew that the workload of residency training would be far too physically demanding. Dostanic delayed her training due to her health and instead began a research fellowship in the Section of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine in the lab of Patty Lee, MD.
While undergoing chemotherapy, Dostanic continued to work in Lee’s lab.
“Iva researched how lung cells respond to hypoxia and started to identify what the hypoxia-related signal transduction mechanisms were in lung vascular cells, with the ultimate goal of identifying novel therapies for pulmonary hypertension –a deadly disease with no cures,” said Lee.
As Dostanic’s health declined, she was hospitalized at Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH). Faculty visited with Dostanic and her parents, and she radiated positivity even during the most challenging times of her illness.
Jack Elias, MD, the Department of Internal Medicine chair at the time, knew that something had to be done for Dostanic. Many thoughts ran through his head on how to honor her.
“I sat up at night thinking and an idea came to me that we should have an award for the physician-scientist trainee. When I mentioned this, it resonated with everyone and we went ahead and created it. And Iva was the first recipient,” said Elias, Dean Emeritus and Warren Alpert Foundation Professor of Translational Science, Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry, Professor of Medicine at Brown University.
In December 2011, Dostanic lost her battle to cancer at the age of 35. Before passing, Dostanic received what became known as the inaugural Iva Dostanic, MD, PhD, Physician-Scientist Trainee Award in a ceremony held in her hospital room at YNHH.
The following June, Patty Lee described Dostanic’s research in the first Dostanic Award Lecture that Lee presented on behalf of Dostanic.
“She was my role model–despite all the challenges she faced in the final years of her life, she emanated strength, an unstoppable passion for science, and joyful spirit,” said Lee, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Passionate About Science
Science was “easy” for Dostanic–a way of life. Not only did she excel in it, she loved it. Dragana Dostanic, Iva’s mother, likened the lab to her kingdom. “She would tell us about the feeling of taking the elevator to the lab. ‘You cannot imagine that feeling,’ she’d say. Science and medicine was a world worth exploring. She found it endlessly intriguing as she loved solving puzzles. It was her joy, her love, and it wasn’t hard for her to devote long hours to her research.”
Dostanic is described as someone who would brighten any room and a “full human being” by Mark Siegel, MD, director of Department of Internal Medicine’s Traditional Residency Training Program.
Beyond her accomplishments, Dostanic’s parents detail how kind and humble she was. Although she would not describe herself that way, and she was not one to talk about her achievements. “Iva was unique–she found beauty in everything and good in everyone. Every moment was a time for celebration, even from an early age.”
Each morning, Dostanic woke at 5 a.m and read scientific articles followed by going for a run. She loved restaurants, playing tennis and skiing, and also fashion. Dostanic was well dressed, put together and oftentimes sparked questions from others about where she was headed. Her response? “Nowhere!”
She spoke several languages and excelled at most things, but one thing she was not great at was singing. Dostanic’s parents recall laughing about how she could not carry a tune. That didn’t stop her from singing though. When at the Cleveland Clinic she would enter the lab while belting out the national anthem, as she loved to make others laugh.
“Iva had a great sense of humor. She took her work seriously, but not herself seriously,” Dragana explained. A friend to all, Dostanic would uplift whoever she was around. Dragana describes how her daughter found beauty in each of her friends and that each person was a special gift to her.
And like most physician-scientists and scientists, Dostanic was concerned about funding. “She was aware that her research depended on funding and always looked ahead to find new ideas for grants.”
In 2015, Dostanic’s parents–Dragana and Predrag Dostanic–pledged their estate to Yale School of Medicine (YSM) to endow the Iva Dostanic, MD, PhD, Physician-Scientist Fund to support physician-scientist career development in her memory.
For them, it is a way to continue their daughter’s legacy.
Predrag explained, “I think that she would fully approve that we support research and science. We strongly believe that she would want us to do what is important. The pain of losing her stays with us. You cannot beat the pain, you just learn how to live with it.”
“Sometimes I think she lived her life as if she was aware it would not be long. She was a fast burning star,” Dragana shared.
Since over a dozen individuals have been selected for the honor, Dostanic and her story continue to have an impact.
“The award in Iva’s name has provided a small measure of consolation for all of us at Yale who knew her to find meaning in the devastating loss of this exceptional young woman,” said Aronson.
Each December, the department announces a solicitation for nominations with a deadline for submission at the end of January or beginning of February. A physician-scientist is selected by a committee shortly thereafter, and the recipient receives the award and presents the award lecture on a research topic of their choice at Medical Grand Rounds (MGR) in June. The awardee is also recognized at a dinner the preceding evening.
Prior to the pandemic, the Dostanics would visit New Haven for the awardee’s MGR each June. This June will be the first year the Dostanics are joining in person since 2019. “I see Iva in each and every one of the recipients. I see this spark, this intelligence, this enthusiasm, I see her. I see her and I'm so happy to see that,” said Dragana.
What the Award Means to Past Recipients and Thoughts for Future Physician-scientists
“Winning the award was a really nice opportunity to meet the Dostanic family, as they believe in the physician-scientist training modality.
Aspiring physician-scientists should know that being a physician-scientist is truly a labor of love. There are many, many challenges inherent to this career decision,” said Daniel Jane-wit MD/PhD.
“Iva Dostanic was such a talented and dedicated physician scientist that to be recognized with her award was very humbling and an honor. Out of the awards I've received, this one is the most meaningful to me because when I've had challenges in my career, I think of the challenges that Iva had and how her resilience and hard work never stopped her from accomplishing her goals. She was a true role model for early career investigators. She was certainly a role model to me.
Discipline determines destiny, not desire. To achieve your goals, you have to put your head down and do the work to forge your future rather than waiting for people to give you what you desire without actually putting in the work,” said Jose Herazo-Maya, MD.
"Iva left an incredible legacy at YSM, as well as in my own section, and I was (and still am) deeply honored to have received an award in her name. It is an incredible honor to be recognized by one's own institution and colleagues, and this award was even more meaningful in light of Iva's legacy. The award gave me the chance to get to know Iva's wonderful parents, who I still look forward to seeing at the reception every year. The award also afforded me the opportunity to present at MGR, even though I had only joined the faculty the year prior, which was a wonderful opportunity to share my research with the department,” said Lauren Ferrante, MD, MHS.
“I wish I had the privilege of knowing Iva. I only learned about her inspiring life when I received this award. She was a young woman who had a genuine passion for science, for the scientific process. She loved the pursuit of scientific discovery and kept going despite the obstacles life threw her way. I was humbled and honored when I received the award. The award plaque is proudly displayed on my bookshelf in my office at work. Even though it’s been five years since I took this position at UT Southwestern, I have still yet to hang any of my other awards or diplomas in my office, or pictures for that matter. So the Dostanic Award plaque is a primary source of inspiration and constant reminder of Iva’s spirit and perseverance.
Becoming an independent investigator and learning how to build and run a laboratory has been challenging, but also rewarding. Any time I’m stressed about something or dealing with a challenge that at the time seems insurmountable, her memory gives me pause and the motivation to press on. I hope to honor Iva’s memory by being a role model for future scientists by empowering young trainees and instilling a passion for science,” said Sarah Huen, MD, PhD.
“I never met Iva, but from what I learned about her, she was extremely driven, talented, focused, and a tremendous force for good. So, it means a lot to me to be associated with such a person. When I got the award, I had a chance to spend some time with her parents–getting to know them, learning about Iva’s life, and presenting my work at MGR. I think it’s motivated me—thinking about the many things she accomplished, and her tireless approach and work ethic—it definitely helps me to push on when I face challenges,” said Stephen Baldassarri, MD, MHS.
“This award has been an incredible honor. Iva was the consummate physician-scientist, and her passion for research has continued to inspire me over the years. I feel privileged to be associated with her and the qualities she embraced, and thank Dragana and Predrag Dostanic for their generous contribution to the development of physician-scientists at Yale.
I would encourage trainees to find joy in their work, to persevere, and to embrace their individual journey through academic medicine,” said Rupak Datta, MD/PhD, MPH.
“Receiving this award in Iva Dostanic’s memory has meant so much to me. I am incredibly grateful, and it is truly one of my proudest achievements as a physician-scientist. This award has had a significant impact on my career development. The opportunity to present at MGR allowed me to share my work with a broad audience across the Department of Internal Medicine. It has also facilitated my ability to apply for career development awards. The values that Iva Dostanic embodied as a physician-scientist and her excitement, focus, and dedication inspire me. They are a reminder of why I do what I do daily, the love for science and passion for caring for and improving the lives of my patients.
Iva’s story is so moving and inspirational. I am amazed by the impact that she has had on so many, including myself. It was such an honor to receive the award in her memory. I hope to pay tribute to her through my dedication to pursue translational research that can one day impact patient care. I also hope to always approach my research and patient care with the passion and joy that Iva Dostanic exemplified.
I would encourage other aspiring physician-scientists to surround themselves with strong mentors early in their careers. For me, this has included a multidisciplinary team of scientific advisors as well as mentors who have really supported me and guided me in my career development. The path of a physician scientist can be challenging at times, with various transitions, and having a good support system can make all the difference,” said Ana Luisa Perdigoto, MD, PhD.
“Iva was a force of nature; she persevered even when everything seemed to be falling apart. Her spirit of perseverance despite the odds is what I admire most. This award was not only an honor that helped me feel supported by the department, but also helped crystallize my thoughts regarding the potential of my work so that I can further hone my ideas and research direction. In the beginning of my career, it is easy to get excited about many different ideas, but the MGR was helpful in focusing my ideas and getting feedback so that I can identify areas where there may be more excitement that I could then capitalize upon. This award gave me encouragement to continue persevering in the pursuit of my research question.
Mentorship teams are key to navigating the ups and downs of an academic research career. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, who can show us the right directions to look,” said Dennis Shung, MD, MHS, PhD.
“As an intern at Yale, I remember sitting in the grand rounds where the Dostanic award was presented and being so inspired by Iva’s story. Through residency and fellowship, I often thought of Iva’s passion and her legacy. It was such an honor to have received this award and be recognized by one’s own mentors and institution. This award has inspired me to promote the physician-scientist career and help junior trainees navigate this exciting, yet uncertain path,” said Benjamin Goldman-Israelow, MD/PhD.
Past Dostanic Awardees and Lectures
2012–Iva Dostanic, MD, PhD, Pulmonary, “Emerging Roles for Innate Immunity in Lung and Endothelium” (presented by Patty Lee, MD)
2013–Isaac Hall, MD, MS, Nephrology, “Donor Kidney Quality and Acute Kidney Injury with Transplantation”
2014–Daniel Jane-wit, MD/PhD, Cardiology, "Translational Approaches for Studying Cardiac Allograft Vasculopathy"
2015–Jose Herazo-Maya, MD, Pulmonary, “Predicting Outcome in IPF: The Dawn of Genomic Biomarkers”
2016–Lauren Ferrante, MD, MHS, Pulmonary, “Improving Post-ICU Outcomes: A Call to Action”
2017–Sarah Huen, MD, PhD, Nephrology, “Acute Kidney Injury: Not All That is Inflammatory is Pathologic"
2018–Stephen Baldassarri, MD, MHS, Pulmonary, “Electronic Cigarettes: The End of Smoking or a Deadly New Addiction?”
2019–Shelli Farhadian, MD, PhD, Infectious Diseases, “Neuroinflammation During Chronic HIV Infection”
2020–Rupak Datta, MD/PhD, MPH, Infectious Diseases, “Antibiotic Stewardship to Promote Palliative Care in Older Adults Near the End of Life”
2021–Ana Luisa Perdigoto, MD, PhD, Endocrinology, “Clinical and Preclinical Insights into the Mechanisms of Checkpoint Inhibitor-induced Diabetes”
2022–Benjamin Goldman-Israelow, MD/PhD, Infectious Diseases, “Prime and Spike: A Novel Vaccination Strategy for Inducing Mucosal SARS-CoV-2 Immunity”
2022–Dennis Shung, MD, MHS, PhD, Digestive Diseases, “Human+AI in Medicine”
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