Arshiya Baig,MD & Alexander Pearson,MD,PhD: Recipients of the Leif B. Sorensen,MD,PhD Faculty Research Award

Arshiya Baig,MD and Alexander Pearson,MD,PhD have been named as the 2022 recipients of the Leif B. Sorensen,MD,PhD Faculty Research Award.  Dr. Baig currently serves as Associate Professor of Medicine in the Section of General Internal Medicine. She is a highly talented investigator conducting community-based research to improve diabetes care and outcomes, with a focus on Latino populations. Dr. Baig uses her community-based research and relationships to innovate and test new interventions to improve Latino health disparities. Dr. Pearson’s research is unique, innovative, and leverages his quantitative background within oncology. There are three primary domains of his research, which include machine learning for prognostic subset creation in cancer data, mathematical systems biology for combination cancer treatment optimization, and clinical head/neck cancer research. His machine learning research entails development of a deep learning pipeline to automatically analyze pathology data and clinical data to predict hidden genomic features or clinically relevant outcomes. Furthermore, his group has developed new methods to reduce artificial intelligence model bias which can disproportionately affect groups subject to disparities.

Dr. Baig served her internal meedicine residency at the University of Michigan, then headed to UCLA for fellowship training through the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars. She received support as a Fulbright Scholar and completed a six-month term of research and teaching in Bogotá, Colombia. During her research fellowship, Dr. Baig focused on addressing the problem of hypertension through community-based models.  She has been tremendously successful in building her program of community research since joining our faculty in 2008.  She started by meeting with community leaders in the Latino Little Village community on Chicago’s near west side, to identify health topics of importance to community members.  She successfully garnered a K-23 career development award, which focused on developing and implementing an intervention in collaboration with the Latino churches to help patients with diabetes improve their self-management and access medical care in their community.

Dr. Baig’s primary research involved collaborative studies in two large Latino Catholic churches in Chicago’s Pilsen/Little Village neighborhoods, with effective linkage back into the clinical setting.  She’s implemented group meetings at the churches where patients with diabetes and their family members can learn about how to care better for their diabetes. She uses a very innovative approach entitled “photovoice” which involves participants with diabetes taking pictures of their home life and neighborhood surroundings, to facilitate discussion of practical challenges and solutions for persons with diabetes.

Dr. Baig has developed effective partnerships and conducted advocacy with community organizations, for which she’s been recognized with community awards including the Chicago Foundation for Women Asian American Leadership Council “Breaking Barriers in Health and Wellness” Award and the Taller de Jose (faith-based nonprofit organization) “Companion Award” for exemplary community service.

Dr. Baig is currently completing a five-year federal grant (R01-equivalent) from the DHHS through their “Partnerships to Achieve Health Equity” program. She is one of six grantees nationally. For this project, she is working with Midwest Clinicians’ Network, which comprises approximately 120 community health centers throughout the Midwest, in a cluster randomized controlled trial to test the impact of diabetes group visits on clinical and self-reported outcomes of adults with diabetes. Through this five-year grant, she has been able to train more health centers staff on implementing group visits and will assess 2-year outcomes on group visit patients.

Building off the group visit trial, this past year, Dr. Baig also received a 5-year NIMHD R01 award to test virtual group visits for adults with diabetes across two large health systems in Chicago, Advocate Arora Health and ACCESS health system. As a part of the C3EN P50 center led by Dr. Elbert Huang, this study is using a cluster randomized study design to assess implementation of virtual group visits across two health systems and the impact of these visits on patient outcomes. Patient recruitment will be starting this fall.

Dr. Baig recently garnered a new NIDDK R25 Research Education Training Program to launch the DULCE program (Diabetes InqUiry through a Learning Collaborative Experience) at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine to inspire medical students to pursue careers in diabetes mellitus research through exposure to the full continuum from basic science to translational DM research and the interdisciplinary collaboration needed to care for patients with DM.

Dr. Baig has become recognized as a national leader in behavioral approaches to diabetes. She was elected as co-President for the l BRIDGE (Behavioral Research in Diabetes Group Exchange) consortium and  is currently president of the Midwest Region of the Society of General Internal Medicine .

Dr. Pearson joined the faculty in the Section of Hematology/Oncology (Head and Neck Cancer Program) as an assistant professor in 2017 after completing his Internal Medicine residency and Hematology/Oncology fellowship training (including selection as Chief Fellow) at the University of Michigan. Over the past several years, his outstanding research and leadership skills led to his appointment as the Co-Director (2019) and then Director (May 2022) of the Head and Neck Cancer Program.    Dr. Pearson has a unique phenotype in that his PhD is in statistics with a mathematical focus. However, he cares deeply about patients and has applied his quantitative skills to improving clinical outcomes.   Dr. Pearson is a highly successful researcher, outstanding mentor, compassionate physician, and rising leader in a cutting-edge field.

In support of this work, he is Co-Investigator of an NIH-U01 grant, PI of an NIH/NIDCR R56  and was the recipient of the Center for Data and Computing (CDAC) Discovery Challenge Award.

Extending from the ability to use simple H&E slides to glean genomic information, he also has a systems biology research program that evaluates cellular real-time interactions between immune cells and tumor cells using multi-scale mathematical models. The goal of this arm of his lab work is to better characterize tumor stem cells over time with a focus on cancer cell motility, cytoskeletal features, and interleukin signaling systems—all with mathematical models.

In addition to the AI/ML aspect to his research, Dr. Pearson is a principal investigator for nine clinical trials, including two investigator-initiated studies. He served on the Program Committee for the ASCO Breakthrough Meeting 2021-2025, as well as the Program Committee for the 2022 Multi-disciplinary head/neck cancers symposium.

Dr. Pearson has received recent accolades, including: the 2019 HemOnc Today Next Gen Innovator Award winner; the 2019 HaloCures 40 under 40 Chicago Scientists Award, the 2019 Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation Kara Gelb Memorial Award for early- and mid-career investigators, and the 2020 University of Chicago Department of Medicine Janet Rowley Faculty Abstract Award