The Three Tenures

Gaining tenure is an extraordinary accomplishment. And Drs. Shadi Nahvi, Yunlei Yang, and Marcel Yotebieng are extraordinary physician-scientists. Their work has significance far beyond the labs and clinics of Montefiore Einstein and will change the way diseases are perceived, prevented, and treated. Working in addiction medicine, neural circuit regulation, and global health, they are among the leaders in their fields.

Shadi Nahvi, M.D., M.S.

Shadi Nahvi, M.D., M.S.

Shadi Nahvi, M.D., M.S.

As the first-born child of Iranian immigrants, Dr. Nahvi joked that it was predestined that she would be a doctor, adding that beyond fate, it was her mother - and her unbounded support, time, curiosity, and delight in the coolness of science - that pushed her to where she is today, which is a newly tenured professor in the departments of medicine (general internal medicine) and psychiatry and behavioral sciences. She is also the co-director of the General Internal Medicine and Addiction Medicine Fellowship.

Dr. Nahvi’s research focuses on optimizing health outcomes and access to care among people with tobacco or opioid use disorder and co-morbid conditions including chronic pain, mental health, and other substance use disorders.

A commitment to health equity and social justice has always informed her work so addiction medicine was a natural focus. “Working in addiction medicine is the perfect way to advance justice in healthcare,” says Dr. Nahvi. “Caring for people who face marginalization, stigmatization, and discrimination with compassion should be the default, but for now, it is still transformative. With our clinical care, education, and research, we have such an important opportunity to expand on that transformational work.”

Dr. Nahvi has spent almost her entire medical career at Montefiore Einstein. She arrived straight out of residency to work as a full-time clinician in the institution’s opioid treatment programs. Adds Dr. Nahvi, “My job has evolved in wonderful ways since, and next summer, I will have been at Montefiore Einstein for 20 years!”

When asked what she is most proud of in her career, Dr. Nahvi says that it is learning in community with others:

“My patients have taught me to listen, to move with compassion, and to love fiercely. The counselors, nurses, peers, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and doctors I work with have shown me how to build a community of collaborative care. The brilliant community leadership board of the IMPOWR-ME Center has pushed me to consider how we bring patients’ voices into our clinical research, and how we make our research processes anti-racist, non-stigmatizing, accessible, and trauma informed. And my generous, inspiring colleagues in the division of general internal medicine have taught me to build the clinical and training programs we want to see; to write, to use research to inform policy, and to grow in a system where peer mentorship and collaboration is the default.”

Yunlei Yang, M.D., Ph.D.

Yunlei Yang, M.D., Ph.D.

Yunlei Yang, M.D., Ph.D.

Deciding to become a doctor came early to Dr. Yang. As a child growing up in Mainland China, he witnessed his grandmother struggling for years with pulmonary disorders and ultimately dying as a result of secondary heart failure.

Dr. Yang, a professor in the department of medicine (endocrinology) and in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience, studies the brain and metabolism.

Why this area?

Dr. Yang explains that while the brain has been studied for decades, it remains a medical mystery.

“The brain plays crucial roles in the regulation of energy and glucose metabolism and certain neurological and psychiatric disorders are commonly co-occurring with obesity and diabetes,” says Dr. Yang “This underscores the significance of studying reciprocal interactions between brain and energy and glucose metabolism.”

The focus of Dr. Yang’s lab research is to decipher and manipulate neural circuits and brain-gut-adipose tissue connections that modulate food intake, glucose and energy metabolism, and animal emotions. Collectively, he and his research group have been studying neural circuit mechanisms for food intake and anxiety; how the brain-gut-adipose tissue axis modulates glucose balance and energy metabolism; and glial regulation of emotions, glucose, and energy metabolism.

Dr. Yang recently received a four-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to study brain circuits that regulate fat metabolism. Specifically, they are looking at the communications of brain cells in the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH), a well-known brain “satiety center,” that prevent weight gain in humans and other animals by controlling adipose tissue function. He and his colleagues will test their hypothesis that subsets of VMH neurons use different brain circuits to control different metabolic processes in fat tissue. Further, they will try to determine which genes and receptors are expressed in those circuits and whether inhibiting cell-type specific signals in VMH neurons can prevent mice fed high-fat diets from becoming obese. Their work could help in designing drugs to combat obesity.

Marcel Yotebieng, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.

Marcel Yotebieng, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.

Marcel Yotebieng, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.

Infectious diseases were a common occurrence in rural Western Cameroon where Dr. Yotebieng was born and raised. In fact, he says that up to his early teens, he couldn’t recall a year that he was not hospitalized. With these early and frequent interactions with the hospital and strong encouragements from his mother, he became strongly committed to becoming a physician. That commitment came before he started high school.

Specializing in global health was an easy decision for him.

“Being from the global south, global health for me is simply health,” says Dr. Yotebieng, who is professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine. “I wanted to give back to communities like the one I grew up in and help prevent the kind of preventable deaths that surrounded me in childhood.”

More than two-thirds of children under the age of five in low-income and poor areas of middle-income countries die from infectious diseases, which influenced Dr. Yotebieng’s focus on infectious disease research. He works extensively to optimize pediatric HIV prevention and care outcomes. Since tuberculosis is a major cause of death in children living with HIV, Dr. Yotebieng has also focused his research on it. Some of his work on when to start antiretroviral treatment in children co-infected with HIV and TB has informed global guidelines. More recently he has expanded this work to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B and other HIV-associated infections. Another area he is actively involved in is undernutrition, a main driver of infectious diseases in children.

Dr. Yotebieng started his career providing care in an HIV and tuberculosis clinic in a large regional hospital in Cameroon and continued across multiple countries in Sub-Saharan Africa as a clinician, public health practitioner, and researcher. He came to Montefiore Einstein in 2019.

Dr. Yotebieng is internationally known as an expert in his field and is sought out as a trusted advisor. He has served as a member of the National TB Program scientific advisory committee and as a member of the Global Fund’s Country Coordinating Mechanism of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition, he was part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Improving the Quality of Health, a contributor to a 2018 report, Crossing the Global Quality Chasm: Improving Healthcare Worldwide, which highlights the defects in the quality of care and offers recommendations on how to improve healthcare quality globally while expanding access to preventive and therapeutic services. He has been continuously funded by the NIH, CDC, WHO, and private foundations.