Bezerra Heads West

Nationally Honored Liver Disease Leader at Cincinnati Children’s Accepts Post as Chair of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern, Pediatrician-in-Chief at Children's Medical Center Dallas

Bezerra Heads West

Nationally Honored Liver Disease Leader at Cincinnati Children’s Accepts Post as Chair of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern, Pediatrician-in-Chief at Children's Medical Center Dallas

Only a select few physicians devote 28 years of their careers to one institution. Even fewer have made as much of those years as Jorge Bezerra, MD.

As a veteran gastroenterologist and director of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Cincinnati Children’s since 2015, Jorge led an outstanding team of faculty and staff to be ranked #1 in Pediatric Gastroenterology and GI Surgery in the most recent (2022-23) rankings from "U.S. News and World Report."

As a scientist, Jorge built a collection of more than 160 peer-reviewed studies, including a host of high-impact discoveries about the causes of and potential treatments for biliary atresia, the leading cause of pediatric liver transplantation.

As a leader in his field, Jorge rose to serve as the 2020 president of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, the world’s largest association of liver specialists.

As a warm-hearted physician who helped save and improve countless lives, he has been consistently ranked among Cincinnati’s and America’s top doctors. As a mentor, he has influenced the careers of aspiring liver experts across the country and around the world.

Effective October 1, Jorge will weave the many threads of his career together in Texas as the new Chair of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern and Pediatrician-in-Chief at Children's Medical Center Dallas. His last day at Cincinnati Children’s was September 4.

“My long-held career goal has been to help design the future with innovation, research, and the integration of research into better clinical care,” Jorge says. “We have done it here [in Cincinnati] in G.I., and now I have an opportunity to continue this for pediatrics as a whole.”

From Brazil to Cincinnati

Jorge is a native of Brazil and a fluent speaker of Portuguese and English. He earned his medical degree in 1984 at the Federal University Rio Grande Norte in Natal, Brazil, then completed his residency at the University of Arizona in 1989.

He came to Cincinnati in 1990 to pursue a fellowship under the legendary gastroenterologist and liver expert Bill Balistreri, MD. Jorge completed his fellowship in 1994 and ultimately became the division director after Mitchell Cohen, MD, who had succeeded Bill as division director, moved to Alabama to chair the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alabama. Jorge has also held the William and Rebecca Balistreri Chair in Pediatric Hepatology.

During his tenure as director, Jorge helped expand the Digestive Health Center, one of 17 Silvio O. Conte Digestive Diseases Research Core Centers (DDRCC) in the nation. Bezerra also served as site principal investigator for Cincinnati Children’s participation in the Childhood Liver Disease Research Network, a major network of pediatric centers studying biliary atresia, Alagille syndrome, bile acid metabolism defects, primary sclerosing cholangitis and other conditions.

The division launched the Center of Autoimmune Liver Disease, headed by Alexander Miethke, MD, and a a new Center for Undiagnosed Rare Liver Disease that focuses on genetic causes of liver diseases.

In addition to these achievements, Jorge was proud to see Cholbam, the brainchild of Kenneth Setchell, PhD, and the late James Heubi, MD, for treating bile acid metabolism defects finally achieve FDA approval in 2020.

Jorge chats with a patient.

An early photo of Jorge Bezerra, circa 1992.

"Dr. Bezerra is the epitome of a physician scientist—his clinical practice is focused on pediatric hepatology, and his laboratory and clinical studies investigate mechanisms and management of neonatal cholestasis. He is a role model for us all—he develops and extends a culture of collaboration to all professionals in the divisions and the healthcare team. He sets a high bar for humanism, work ethic, pursuit of excellence, and accomplishments and inspires us with his calm demeanor, decency, humor, positivity, and kindness. He has led our division to #1 in the nation in the 2022-23 list of Best Children's Hospitals published by 'U.S. News & World Report.' As he heads west, his spirit will remain—manifest in the continued success of his trainees, colleagues, programs, collaboratives, and his division. On their behalf, and with the gratitude of his dedicated patients…thank you!"

Bill Balistreri, MD, professor and former director, Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

Progress Against Biliary Atresia

Cincinnati Children’s has long been a leader in the study and treatment of biliary atresia, a rare disorder that destroys the bile ducts that carry bile from the liver into the gall bladder and, eventually, the small intestine.

Experts here perform many Kasai procedures and liver transplants to treat children who reach end-stage liver disease. But Jorge and colleagues have strived to prevent children from ever needing such procedures.

“We went from knowing almost nothing to knowing a lot more,” Jorge says. “Our work right here at Cincinnati Children’s changed the field by providing new knowledge about the causes of biliary atresia. We dissected how the immune system targets the bile duct in the young baby. We also showed how the intestinal microbiome influences susceptibility to biliary disease. More recently, we showed that babies with biliary atresia have a defect that delays epithelium development and makes them more susceptible to injury.”

His work has included developing the highly accurate MMP-7 blood test for biliary atresia, which helped clinicians make earlier diagnoses of the disease and enables surgeons to perform Kasai procedures.

“The national success rate for Kasai procedures is about 50 percent, but we have put this knowledge together to design a new treatment plan to achieve a much better success rate,” Jorge says.

Memories That Will Last

While some of Jorge’s research work and funding will follow him to Texas, the support from the NIH to continue the innovative work catalyzed by the Digestive Health Center and the Cincinnati Center role as a member of the multi-center network built here will stay at Cincinnati Children's.

“It was a daily joy to come here and interact with so many highly creative people in such a natural way,” Jorge says. “It is fascinating how this conglomeration of buildings at Cincinnati Children’s created a place without walls, a collaborative environment from the top all the way down. Gastroenterology here isn’t a division, it’s a family. This enduring legacy stays here.”

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