IFFGD Presents 2018 Research Recognition Awards at DDW

Four young investigators honored for contributions to the field of digestive health


For Immediate Release

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MILWAUKEE, WI (May 29, 2018) — In recognition of the importance of research in shaping the future of the treatment and care of chronic digestive disorders, the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) will honor four young investigators as recipients of the 2018 IFFGD Research Recognition Awards. The awards will be presented during Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2018, to be held June 2-5 in Washington, DC.

"With the awards, we recognize and honor the contributions of young investigators who have demonstrated a commitment to research that will improve the diagnosis, treatment, and care of people with chronic digestive disorders," said IFFGD President Ceciel T. Rooker. "Through these awards we encourage the participation of young clinicians and scientists in work that will advance the field."

The award recipients were selected by a committee of leaders in the medical and research community. The winners of the 2018 IFFGD Research Recognition Awards are:

  • Cristina Martinez, PhD, Vall d'Hebron Research Institute
  • Katja Kovacic, MD, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Ans Pauwels, MPharm, PhD, Translational Research Center for Gastrointestinal Disorders (TARGID), University of Leuven
  • Amaranath Karunanayake, PhD, Univeristy of Ruhuna

Since 2003, IFFGD has presented awards to 42 investigators from around the world engaged in research aimed at advancing the understanding and treatment of chronic gastrointestinal disorders in adults and children. "Hope for new treatments, and perhaps one day, cures, can only come through the continued interest of young investigators in research into the basic mechanisms and clinical care of these conditions," concluded Rooker. "We are pleased to help support the research efforts of these dedicated investigators through our research awards program."

About the Award Recipients

Cristina Martinez, PhD

Vall d'Hebron Research Institute

Dr. Cristina Martinez is a researcher in the neuro-immuno-gastroenterology group at Vall d'Hebron Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain. Her current research focuses on molecular and functional approaches to the study of epithelial barrier function and its association to intestinal pathology.

Katja Kovacic, MD

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin

Dr. Katja Kovacic is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and serves as the Director of Pediatric Gastrointestinal Motility and Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome programs within the Pediatric Neurogastroenterology, Motility, and Autonomic Disorders Program at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Dr. Kovacic's work currently focuses on investigating the brain-gut mechanisms of auricular neurostimulation via functional neuroimaging. 

Ans Pauwels, MPharm, PhD

Translational Research Center for Gastrointestinal Disorders (TARGID)

University of Leuven

Dr. Ans Pauwels is a researcher in the Translational Research Center for Gastrointestinal Disorders (TARGID) at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. She is currently investigating the mechanisms of symptom generation in reflux hypersensitivity and functional heartburn as well as studying the overlap between gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and functional dyspepsia and other esophageal disorders, such as rumination syndrome, supra-gastric belching, and extra-esophageal symptoms of reflux.

Amaranath Karunanayake, PhD

University of Ruhuna

Dr. Amaranath Karunanayake is a researcher working in the Department of Physiology at the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka. He is primarily interested in the epidemiology, pathophysiology, and management of functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) in Sri Lanka. Dr. Karunanayake's current research activities include exploring the epidemiology of FGIDs in different communities in Sri Lanka and assessment of autonomic functions and pain-related behaviors.


The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) is a nonprofit education and research organization dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. Founded in 1991, IFFGD helps improve care by enhancing awareness, improving education, and supporting and encouraging research into treatments and cures for chronic GI conditions.