An award-winning gastroenterologist examines genetic and environmental factors to improve patient care
By Debby Teich
Photography by Jeffery Salter
Maria T. Abreu, B.S. ’87, M.D. ’90
he Miller School’s Medical Alumni Association (MAA) recently recognized Maria T. Abreu, B.S. ’87, M.D. ’90, with the Hall of Fame Award, the highest honor bestowed by the MAA, for her positive impact on medicine and society. With more than 20 years of experience in research and clinical work, she has focused her work on finding for better treatments for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other debilitating gastrointestinal conditions.
Dr. Abreu always loved science and knew from a young age that she wanted to become a physician. At the Miller School, she became intrigued by immunology and genetics and pursued gastroenterology.
“During medical school, I learned to solve problems on the spot among a diverse patient population,” she said. “This was a key factor in my future success.”
After faculty appointments at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, Dr. Abreu returned to South Florida, becoming the first woman to serve as chief of gastroenterology at the University of Miami. She is the director of the Crohn’s and Colitis Center at the Miller School, where she is also a professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology.
“I always planned to return to my alma mater with a broader perspective, so I could make greater contributions,” she said.
Most of Dr. Abreu’s work as a physician-scientist has focused on identifying novel therapeutic targets with the potential to treat patients with IBD, especially in the Hispanic community. Thanks to her efforts, the Miller School has the largest database of Hispanic patients with IBD in the United States. This project has special meaning for Dr. Abreu, who is of Cuban heritage.
“If we understand the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the development of IBD in Hispanics, we can apply the learning to other groups,” she said.
Dr. Abreu is the 2024 president of the American Gastroenterological Association and hopes to use her position to make the field more equitable for women. She is also chair of the 2023 Sherman Prize Selection Committee, which recognizes outstanding achievements in IBD research. She herself was honored with the Sherman Prize in 2019.
“The future looks brighter for IBD patients as we find new approaches to improving patient care with the next wave of leading-edge therapies,” Dr. Abreu said.