Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology David Kawatu joined the UC Davis faculty in 2012 from Hasbro Children’s Hospital/Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he served as associate director of pediatric gastroenterology and previously director of the pediatric gastroenterology fellowship training program. At UC Davis he’s currently overseeing a trend in program development and faculty growth in the rare specialty, with an eye to position UC Davis Children’s Hospital as the leading center for pediatric GI services north of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Q: What sparked your interest in pediatric GI, and why did you choose it as a career path?

A: I was immediately attracted to pediatrics as soon as I entered medical training. I view pediatrics as a critical part of our modern society’s systems for optimizing each individual’s growth and development from birth on. Ultimately, each child should enter adulthood functioning at his or her full potential. The interplay between the environment and nutrient assimilation is key to growth and development. The integrity of the digestive system is fundamental to nutrient assimilation.

Pediatric gastroenterology in a fuller sense is about understanding the function of the digestive system and addressing its dysfunctions. In that regard pediatric GI is at least central to pediatrics.

Q: Why did you choose UC Davis? What attracted you?

A: I was fortunate to remain at Brown University after completion of fellowship. It is there that I developed as a gastroenterologist and an educator. If the climate was the same everywhere, I most likely would still be at Brown. UC Davis was among the many places whose climate was desirable. UC Davis however stood out for its tremendous promise of growth in pediatric GI and pediatrics in general. I wanted to be part of that transformation.

Q: What’s your role at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and in the spectrum of pediatric care and research at UC Davis?

A: UC Davis Health System has in place all of the elements to establish an unmatched, stable, multi-pronged division that fully addresses all the pediatric GI clinical, educational, research and advocacy needs of our community. I consider my role as fairly straightforward, although not necessarily easy. Through collaboration and leadership support, I hope to position UC Davis Children’s Hospital as the leading hospital in our area for all pediatric GI needs.

Q: What kind or range of patients do you serve, in terms of level of care, acuity and complexity?

A: The pediatric GI program currently serves children with all levels of acuity and complexity.

Q: What are some individual areas of clinical interest and expertise you’d like to highlight?

A: I find all areas of pediatric gastroenterology to be interesting. Having said that, I have gravitated more toward inflammatory bowel diseases and clinical nutrition support.

Q: Can you share what’s new in your (growing) division? What additional services or benefits will the expansion offer the region?

A: In collaboration with pediatrics leadership we have identified key areas of program development that include functional gastrointestinal disorders, gastrointestinal motility, gastrointestinal allergies, inflammatory bowel diseases, liver diseases (including non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases) and clinical nutrition support which encompassed intestinal rehabilitation. With the support of UC Davis Children’s Hospital leadership, we have made progress towards attracting outstanding new faculty who will develop these programs.

Our recently hired faculty members also bring unique clinical skills that will enable us to offer advanced diagnostic, therapeutic and procedural services. Motility testing, double balloon endoscopy and expert GI allergy evaluation are just a few examples of advanced services we can now offer.

I should also note that positive changes that have occurred in other departments will facilitate the development of these unique services and programs. For, example new faculty additions in pediatric surgery will enable us to offer surgical treatment options to our pediatric patients with IBD. This concurrent development puts UC Davis in a position to build the only full-service IBD center for children in our area. These service and program developments will position UC Davis Children’s Hospital as the leading hospital for pediatric GI services north of the Bay Area.

Q: What are your thoughts on current trends in pediatric gastroenterology, and what’s on the horizon?

A: These are exciting times in pediatric gastroenterology in general. The landscape of peptic ulcer diseases completely changed with the discovery of helicobacter pylori as the cause of most ulcers. The last few decades saw a major transformation in the therapy of inflammatory bowel diseases with the introduction of biologics. I think that our evolving understanding of the role that the microbiome plays in health and disease will shape how we care for a significant segment of our patients.