UCI Health gastroenterologist recognized as Innovator of the Year

UCI vaccine center director also honored for global impact

September 10, 2021
OC Business Journal awards

From left, Dr. Kenneth Chang; Dr. Steve Goldstein, UCI Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs; Professor Philip Felgner at the OCBJ Innovator of the Year Awards ceremony. Photo credit: Laurel Hungerford Photography.

Dr. Kenneth Chang, gastroenterologist and executive director of the UCI Health Digestive Health Institute, has been named Orange County Business Journal’s Innovator of the Year. The publication’s special Global Impact award went to UCI’s Philip Felgner, PhD, professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Physiology & Biophysics and director of UCI’s Vaccine Research and Development Center.

The Innovator of the Year award recognizes Chang’s development of the endoscopic ultrasound-guided portal pressure gradient (EUS-guided PPG), a tool critical to diagnosing liver health, especially in those with a form of fatty liver disease that can lead to needing a liver transplant.

After Chang demonstrated the safety and accuracy of the procedure in pilot studies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the procedure last year, and he has since taught the procedure to hundreds of GI specialists around the world.

As an internationally recognized clinician and innovator with advanced expertise in gastrointestinal endoscopy, Chang was recently invited to participate in the Johns Hopkins 2021 International Therapeutic Endoscopy Course where he moderated a live peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM) case and conducted a live laparoscopic hiatal hernia repair (c-TIF) case to GI endoscopy professionals worldwide.

Chang has devoted his career to advancing the standards of care for those suffering from digestive diseases. His clinical research focuses on development of endoscopic modalities for cancer and pre-cancer diagnosis, staging and therapy. He holds five patents and has paved the way for interventional endoscopy and interventional EUS by developing and pioneering the use of EUS-guided fine needle aspiration (FNA) and EUS-guided fine needle injection (FNI). One of the most widely used endoscopic devices world-wide is the Barrx90 radiofrequency device, which bears the name “Chang Cap,” recognizing his advances. 

Under Chang’s leadership, the UCI Health Digestive Health Institute has become one of the world’s leading centers in this specialty.

Professor Felgner was recognized for his lifelong work that supported the development of the first commercially available mRNA vaccines, specifically the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for SARS-CoV-2. In June, he was one of seven scholars worldwide to win Spain’s prestigious Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research in recognition of their contributions to designing COVID-19 vaccines.

The Felgner lab studies the immune response to infectious agents to identify antigens in bodily fluids. This has included the development of high throughput approaches to clone and express all proteins encoded in a microorganism’s DNA and print them to microarrays. This novel process has led to cloning 70,000 genes from 35 microorganisms and, combined with an inventory of over 25,000 sera from infected, vaccinated and healthy people worldwide, has allowed the identification of the best antigens for blood tests and vaccines including for SARS-CoV-2, its variants and other viruses. This work set the stage for the massive undertaking of professor Felgner and his team to provide evidence-based, actionable data in support of public health efforts across Orange County from the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

UCI Health is the clinical enterprise of the University of California, Irvine, and the only academic health system in Orange County. Patients can access UCI Health at primary and specialty care offices across Orange County and at its main campus, UCI Medical Center in Orange, Calif. The 418-bed acute care hospital, listed among America’s Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report for 21 consecutive years, provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, behavioral health and rehabilitation services. UCI Medical Center is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centerhigh-risk perinatal/neonatal program and American College of Surgeons-verified Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma center and regional burn center. UCI Health serves a region of nearly 4 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn and Twitter.