Pilot Project Program

Grant number: P30-DK050306

Program Goal

The Purpose of Penn’s Center for Molecular Studies in Digestive and Liver Diseases (CMSDLD) is to unite investigators with interests in digestive and liver physiology and disease and to stimulate others in the biomedical community to enter this area of research. One of the most important parts of this effort is the funding of Pilot and Feasibility Projects.

Research Focus

The proposed Pilot/Feasibility Project should be related to the focus of the Center, which encompasses molecular studies on the biology or disease of the alimentary tract, pancreas, and liver. Relevant investigations include those in developmental biology, nutrition, regulation of gene expression, growth, differentiation, the biology of stem cells, molecular genetics, bioengineering approaches to digestive diseases, gene therapy, and immunology, including growth factors and cytokines. Preference is given to junior investigators and to proposals studying areas other than cancer. Pilot project awards are for $40,000 for 1 year with a second year possible through a competitive renewal. Candidates will be notified by May 15, 2024. The funding start date is June 1, 2024.


All faculty members of the University scientific community (at the rank of instructor and above) who meet the eligibility requirements below are invited to submit proposals. Applicants must be U.S. Citizens or hold permanent resident visas. There are three categories of applications:

1. New investigators who have never held extramural support at the level of a NIH R01.

2. Established investigators in other areas of biomedical research who wish to apply their expertise to a problem in digestive and liver diseases.

3. Established digestive and liver investigators who wish to study an area that represents a significant departure from currently funded work.

Pilot project awardees are eligible for two years of funding; renewals are evaluated competitively.

Proposal Preparation

1. Submit documents either through the online form or by sending the documents outlined below to the Center address below. Complete proposals are due by Monday, February 26, 2024.

2. Format (Submit as a single PDF, in this order)

a. Cover page: must include an abstract of up to 250 words and a list of approved or pending IACUC/IRB protocols. If embryonic cell lines will be used, they must be from the NIH Embryonic Stem Cell Registry and you must provide a list within your cover page. Finally, if your pilot grant will include Human Subject research, involving more than minimal risk, that will need to be included in the letter as well. NIH has to approve these studies in advance of an award.

*If you are not currently a faculty member but will be by the project start date of June 1, 2024, please state that explicitly in the cover letter.
b. NIH Biosketch
c. NIH Other Support
d. Budget and justification: one year, $40,000, one page only. No PI salary allowed.
e. Background, preliminary results, estimated core usage, research plan including statistical analyses, and future directions; up to three pages total
f. Senior investigators should indicate how this project represents a new direction in their research

g. References: one page only
h. Appendix: tables or high-resolution images pertaining to preliminary data that is already reported in the research section only, no reprints


Please note: The top applicants will be asked to present a 5-minute summary of their proposal to the Center’s External Advisory Board on Thursday, April 26, 2024. Applications from top candidates identified by the EAB will be reviewed further by Center leadership and members of the Center Community Advisory Board.

For additional information, please contact: The Center for Molecular Studies in Digestive and Liver Diseases. Telephone: 215-573-4264; Fax: 215-898-0573; email: kimmeyer@pennmedicine.upenn.edu.

Current Awardees


Sydney Shaffer, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Bioengineering – “Spatial multiomic profiling of metabolic ecology in the highly heterocellular PDAC tumor microenvironment”
Marie Guerraty, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Cardiology – “ The Role of Human FOG2A1969G in Liver Disease”
Michael Abt, PhD, Assistant Professor of Microbiology – “Dissecting immune driven adaptive evolution of Clostridioides difficile within the intestinal lumen” (Co-funded by PenNSAM)

Previous Awardees

Jina Ko - "Single Extracellular Vesicle BEAMing for Early Diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer"

Moira Hilscher - "The intra-hepatic immune environment facilitates the development of hepatocellular carcinoma in Fontan Associated Liver Disease"

Avery Posey - "Defining the epigenetic regulation of truncated O-glycosylation in pancreatic cancer and inflammatory diseases"

Nicholas Hand- “A Novel Translational Approach to Treat Alagille Syndrome

Michael Lampson- “Impacts of Mechanical Stress on Mitotic Fidelity in Fatty Liver

  • Paul Titchenell - "Hepatic mTORC1-dependent control of phospholipid biogenesis and NAFLD"
  • Lukasz Bugaj - "Optogenetic control of intestinal cell plasticity"
  • Raymond Soccio - "Antifibrotic effects of PPARα and PPARδ in hepatic stellate cells in NAFLD"

  • Katherine Bar - "Stability of the rectal microbiome among men who have sex with men: impact of bacterial sexually transmitted infections of the rectum and HIV status"
  • Rotonya Carr - "The role of ceramide synthase 6 in hepatic extracellular vesicle biogenesis in NAFLD"
  • Christopher Lengner - "Dissecting the enteroendocrine-immune interface during intestinal infection and inflammation "
  • Igor Brodsky - "Dissecting the enteroendocrine-immune interface during intestinal infection and inflammation "
  • Jason Pitarresi - "Dissecting transcriptional regulators of pancreatic acinar-to-ductal metaplasia"

  • Michael Abt - "Immune Microbiota interactions in defense against enteric pathogens"
  • Maayan Levy - "Decoding interactions between the epithelial innate immune system and microbial metagenome"
  • Ben Stanger - "Epigenetic regulation of the epithelial-mesenchymal-transition"
  • Rachel Stine - "Prdm 16 is required for metabolic regulation of stem cell differentiation in adult mice"
  • Christoph Thaiss - "The impact of psychological stress on IBD"

  • Donita Brady - "Characterizing Copper as a Modulator of PKM2 Activity and Cellular Function in HCC"
  • De’Broski Herbert - "Trefoil factor/LINGO axis regulates intestinal regeneration"
  • Josephine Ni - "Unique Growth Characteristics of E. Coli via the NtrB/NtrC Two-Component Systems in Vitro vs. in Vivo – a Signal Transduction Pathway Associated with Dysbiosis in IBD"
  • Ben Stanger - "Epigenetic regulation of the epithelial-mesenchymal-transition:
  • Natalie Terry - "High-throughput screening of enteroids to identify molecules involved in intestinal adaptation in short bowel syndrome"
  • Klaus Kaestner - "Mapping the stem cell-niche interactions governing intestinal regeneration"
  • Judith Kelsen - "Cytotoxic killing defects in patients with very early-onset inflammatory bowel disease (VEO-IBD)"

  • Bryson Katona - "Menin as a regulator of the colonic epithelial ER stress response"
  • Ravikanth Maddipati - "The role of progenitor cells in pancreatic acinar renewal and pre-malignant progression"
  • Hiroshi Nakagawa - "Notch signaling and EMT in novel ESCC lung metastasis models"
  • Sandra Ryeom - "E-cadherin is the gatekeeper to primary gastric tumorigenesis"
  • Kelly Whelan - "Targeting the mTORC-autophagy axis in Eosinophilic Esophagitis"

  • Bryson Katona - "Targeting SECRA in menin-mutated pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors"
  • Patrick Seale - "PRDM16-mediated maintenance of intestinal integrity in adult mice"
  • Ting-Chin (David) Shen - "Role of bacterial urease in host and gut microbiota amino acid metabolism"
  • Christina Twyman-St. Victor - "Combined radiation therapy and immune checkpoint inhibitors in pancreatic adenocarcinoma"
  • Kirk Wangensteen - "Elucidation of the genetic profile of repopulating hepatocytes"
  • Xiao Zhao - "The role of redox signaling in toxin-induced biliary atresia"

  • Joseph Baur - "Targeting mTORC1 to treat metabolic diseases: a cell preamble peptide approach"
  • Kathryn Hamilton - "Role of mRNA-binding protein Imp1 in colon tumor microenvironment"
  • Ravikanth Maddipati - "The origins of clonal heterogeneity in metastatic pancreatic cancer"
  • Patrick Seale - "PRDM16 is required for the maintenance of intestinal epithelium in adult mice"
  • Vesselin Tomov - "T cell response to human norovirus in patients with inflammatory bowel disease"

  • Rotonya Carr - "Perilipins in the histopathologic distinction of alcohol and non alcoholic fatty liver disease"
  • Sara Cherry - "Nutrient signaling, the microbiome and antiviral defense: deciphering complex interactions using a simple model"
  • Blair Madison - "LIN28B regulation of epithelial identity in the intestinal epithelium"
  • Gregory Sonnenberg - "Innate lymphoid cell regulation of pathogenic CD4+ T cell response in intestinal epithelium"
  • Vesselin Tomov - "T cell response to human norovirus in patients with inflammatory bowel disease"

  • Gregory Beatty - "The role of adaptive immunity in regulating macrophage biology within the tumor microenvironment of pancreatic cance"
  • Igor Brodsky - "Mechanisms of salmonella innate immune evasion"
  • Christopher  Lengner - "Regulation of intestinal stem cell dynamics by Msi RNA binding protein"
  • Andrew Rhim - "Dissecting the genetic and histologic basis of pancreatic cancer development"
  • George Shaw - "Molecular clones or replication competent HCV genotype 6 transmitted/founder genomes"

  • David Artis - "Immune regulation of intestinal barrier function following HIV infection"
  • Igor Brodsky - "Mechanisms of salmonella innate immune evasion"
  • Christopher Lengner - "Control of stem cell-driven intestinal tumorigenesis by Musashi RNA binding proteins"
  • Matthew Levine - "Pilot study developing a mouse model for biliary ischemic injury in donor after cardiac death (DCD) liver transplantation and mitigation of this injury using histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibition"
  • John Lynch - "Mouse models for esophageal Cox-2 oxidative stress and DNA damage - Does autophagy contribute to the pathogenesis and progression of Barrett’s esophagus?"

  • Russell Carstens - "Development of Esrp1 conditional knockout (CKO) mice and determination of the role of an epithelial splicing program in development and differentiation of gastrointestinal epithelia"
  • Christopher Hunter - "IL-27p28 as an antagonist of gastric cancer"
  • Terri Laufer - "Regulation of intestinal homeostasis by innate immunity"
  • Sunil Singhal - "Neoadjuvant Gene-mediated Cytotoxic Immunotherapy For Esophageal Carcinoma"
  • Mei-lun Wang - "The role of TLR3-mediated induction of ICAM-1 in eosinophil adhesion to human esophageal epithelial cells"

  • John Chang – “Asymmetric cell division as a mechanism for generating diverse T cell fates for colitis
  • Brad Johnson – “Role of the intestinal stem cell niche in a mouse model of telomere dysfunction
  • David Kaplan – “Cellular immunity in hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Brett Kaufman – “The contribution of mitochondrial DNA organization to liver disease progression
  • Erle Robertson – “Identification of microbes associated with gastric carcinomas

  • Joshua Friedman – “Chemokine Signaling in Experimental Biliary Atresia
  • Wei Guo – “The Role of Exocyst Complex in Intestinal Epithelial Cell Polarity and Secretion
  • Mark Kahn – “Regulation of GI Development by MATH6 and GATA Transcription Factors
  • Makoto Senoo – “GI Epithelial Stem Cells and Tumorigenesis
  • Rebecca Wells – “Isolation of a Toxin Causing Biliary Atresia from Dysphania Species