New research suggests travel to Mars may alter cognition

Cosmic radiation during deep space travel could alter the cognitive function and behavior of astronauts on an extended mission — such as a trip to Mars. Cosmic rays are generated in the shockwaves of exploding stars outside our solar system and are composed primarily of ionized atomic nuclei moving at nearly the speed of light. Exposure to this radiation may be unavoidable for astronauts on any future mission to Mars.

Results of a study led by Jacob Raber, Ph.D., professor of behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine, recently published in the journal BMC Genomics suggest that long-term exposure to cosmic radiation, particularly to Iron-56 ions, could cause symptoms ranging from memory problems to impaired judgment. Moreover, these effects could be long-lasting and perhaps without resolve.

Researchers used mice to test both short- and long-term effects of radiation. They found that exposure to Iron-56 ions significantly affects the hippocampus, which is critical for memory function. The effects of space irradiation were dose- and time-dependent, with mice receiving the lowest and highest doses of radiation exhibiting the most apparent effects, including trouble recognizing new objects in their environments two weeks later.

The research findings suggest that mice receiving the intermediate dose did not suffer memory problems because the brain responded by healing itself via epigenetic changes. The lower dose was not strong enough to trigger a meaningful response but was still damaging enough to elicit the cognitive deficit. The low dose is likely similar to the level of radiation the astronauts would be exposed to on a mission to Mars.

Better understanding the underlying mechanisms could help scientists find ways to monitor and protect astronauts from cosmic radiation in future deep-space missions and lead to the development of potential treatment options.

Research published in the paper, “Short- and long-term effects of 56Fe irradiation on cognition and hippocampal DNA methylation and gene expression,” was supported by NASA grant NNJ12ZSA001N. Soren Impey assistant professor, Oregon Stem Cell Center, was the first author. Additional authors included Timothy JopsonCarl PelzAmanuel TafessuFatema FarehDamian ZuloagaTessa MarzullaLara-Kirstie RiparipBlair StewartSusanna Rosi, and Mitchell S. Turker.

Read the full OHSU news release.

Who’s new at OHSU? Vinay Prasad

Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH

Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH

Vinay Prasad, M.D., M.P.H., is a hematologist-oncologist and assistant professor in the OHSU School of Medicine. He is nationally known for his research on health policy, evidence-based medicine, bias, and medical reversal. Clinically, Dr. Prasad specializes in the care of lymphoma patients. He holds appointments in the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine and the Center for Health Care Ethics, where he is a Senior Scholar. We sat down with Dr. Prasad to talk about the formation of his career, his current projects, and where he sees his work going.

What’s your background?

I’m a Midwesterner from the Chicago area, and I didn’t stray far from home when I started college — I went to Michigan State University and then the University of Chicago. At MSU, I studied philosophy, writing, and science from several terrific professors, who pushed us really hard to think about our assumptions, and question them.

That was a good foundation for my experience at the University of Chicago as a medical student, which was a really special place for people who were thinking critically about medicine. I had a chance to work with physicians who cared about medical ethics, as well as those who cared about medical evidence, and all of them were superb. Finally, I completed my training at Northwestern University — where I had still more excellent role models in evidence-based medicine, and my hematology-oncology training at the National Institutes of Health, which, for me, was the ideal place to train.

When we think of medicine, we think of science, of proof. But it wasn’t until the 70s, 80s, and 90s, that we really developed a field of medicine that prioritized evidence. Before, this time though evidence was used here and there, the bulk of what you learned as a doctor was based on some very senior person telling you that’s how things were done — “This is how you recognize disease and this is what you do about it.” It comes as a shock to people outside of medicine that all medicine wasn’t always based on evidence, and, to some degree, still is not.

What knowledge do you want to see medical students graduate with?

First, you want doctors to be conscious of bedside manner. In 2016, it is of paramount importance to be good at that, and I think our training is getting much better at teaching the right skills.

Second, medical students definitely should graduate knowing how to think critically, evaluate a paper, and how to interpret statistics. The more you practice medicine, it becomes less about memorization and more about critical thinking. I also think that critical thinking is not synonymous with forced research projects. I think maybe we should move away from thinking medical students should graduate with a few research abstracts on their CV, which often rely on very unreliable methods—because that is what can get done in the time allotted. Instead, I think we have to teach the appraisal of medical evidence much more formally—much greater emphasis on study design, reliability, and how to make inferences from data. We have to teach students that medicine in the 21st century is a field where you will always be learning.

The prerequisites for medical school are tangential to medical school — calculus, physics, and organic chemistry — not to say there are no doctors that use those, but most don’t. People say those prerequisites teach you critical thinking, that they teach you memorization. But there are better ways to teach memorization and critical thinking. Philosophy is arguably something that trains you to think very critically; logic trains you to think critically; statistics too. I would consider those things. But again I would experiment, rather than mandate.

It was really in the last year of medical school and the first year of my residency that I got interested in research. I always thought I’d simply go into private practice —then, on a whim almost, I submitted a paper I had worked on — a paper that some senior person deemed “not scholarship”— to a journal. It ended up being published in the Hastings Center report. It’s fair to say that the kind of research I do — not many make a career of it. So it took me a while to realize that you can have any kind of career you want. You just keep doing it and eventually someone calls it a career.

What research are you conducting now?

Well, we have a lot of projects underway. A lot of what we’re doing is at the intersection of policy and funding and we’re doing a lot of work on is how we should pay for medical practices. If you’re in oncology, the cost of drugs is something that you cannot avoid. And we’re doing a little bit of work on in conflict of interest, prioritizing randomized-controlled trials, and some about research funding.

My goal is to try to do work that’s impactful. I aspire to do work that is read and hopefully leads people to change. For that reason I abandon a lot of projects at the outset — projects that I don’t think will be impactful, or will be published in one of the fifty thousand journals that frankly, no one reads. So, I think a lot about what I want the work to be.

Studying FDA drug approval is a big thing. Because, while there are a few drugs that are wonderful, a lot of the drugs the FDA approves are very marginal. So we’re doing a lot of work to ask should those drugs be approved, how should they be studied if they are approved, and under what circumstances should they be pulled off the market.

We have a new paper in JAMA Oncology where we start with what I think is an uncontroversial premise — that the purpose of the FDA is to approve drugs that improve survival or quality of life for people in America. That’s their purpose.

A simple fact is that the majority of drugs approved in cancer over the last 10 years are marginal. The median improvement in survival is about two months. And the clinical trials they’re conducted in are unrepresentative — they study younger and healthier patients. And, finally, when you look at how unrepresentative marginal drugs do in the real world, the answer is that they don’t do well at all — we have some evidence that shows some may not work at all.

Our conclusion is that it’s time to treat overall survival — what has always been a gold standard endpoint — in unrepresentative clinical trials as a surrogate endpoint for survival in the real world. So maybe we should actually have post-marketing commitments and grant only provision approval. Survival is, probably often, merely another surrogate. Like response rate and progression-free survival, as long as it’s conducted in unrepresented populations.

How are you finding OHSU and Portland?

I like being here at OHSU. I’ve been really impressed with my colleagues — across campus there are so many things going on. People at OHSU are working on clever projects. I think the funding for research here allows scientists to treat research as research.

I find a lot of people very like-minded on the topics I research. Pretty much, everyone I’ve met in internal medicine — and people across OHSU really. There are several senior people here who are tremendously supportive.

As for the city of Portland, I love it. I like to ride my bicycle and go on hikes. And to restaurants and the bookstore. But really? I love to binge watch television and movies. Now, Game of Thrones. And, for all time, my favorite show was the Wire.


NIH reports on R01 and R21 trends

NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Mike Lauer looks at funding trends and relationships for R01 and R21 mechanisms in a recent Open Mike blog post. In this follow-up to previous analyses of NIH funding competition, and outcomes for R01 “virtual A2s,”Lauer and team examined how R21s, intended to foster exploratory research at the conceptual stage, compare to R01s in terms of application and success rates and career stage of investigators applying for and receiving funding. They also investigated the relationship between the two mechanisms to see how many R21 awards were followed by similar R01 applications and awards.

Using data from 2001 onward, Lauer identified several clear trends:

Fig. 1 from  Nov. 4 Open Mike

Fig. 1 from Nov. 4 Open Mike

  • The R21 mechanism is increasingly popular but also highly competitive. NIH is seeing many more applications and awards, with growth rates far exceeding those of R01 grants. However, over time, success rates for R21 applications have been either equal to or less than R01 success rates. In FY2015, only 14% of Type 1 R21 applications were funded compared to 16% for Type 1 R01 applications.
  • More than 15% of R21 awards are followed by at least one similar R01 application but only roughly 1/3 of those applications are funded:
Fig. 3

Fig. 3

  • Most R21 applicants and awardees have previously received some NIH funding. Over the last five fiscal years, approximately 35% of R01 applications and 50% of R21 applications are submitted by new investigators. In the case of awards, 35% of R01 awards and only 34% of R21 awards are made to new investigators.

New resources to support diversity in NIH-funded research


The NIH has developed a new portal to information about how scientific workforce diversity is promoted and supported in extramural programs. The website focuses on four main areas:

Learn more and provide feedback.


New core service available for authenticating human cell lines

The OHSU DNA Services Core has just launched a new human cell line authentication service.  The assay run in the core uses the Promega GenePrint® 10 system and the Applied Biosystems 3730xl DNA Analyzer to confirm the identity of human cell lines and detect the presence of cell line contaminants through short tandem repeat (STR) analysis. This assay co-amplifies and detects of 9 STR loci plus Amelogenin (gender determining locus), and requires a DNA input of 10 ng.

Several levels of service are available to match your research needs and budget. For details and more information, visit the DNA Services website or contact Taylor Jones.

Jeanette Mladenovic to retire as executive vice president and provost, OHSU


Jeanette Mladenovic, M.D., M.B.A., M.A.C.P.

Jeanette Mladenovic, M.D., M.B.A., M.A.C.P. will retire at the end of 2016. She has served as OHSU’s executive vice president and provost since 2011.

During Mladenovic’s five-year tenure, she has presided over a major realignment of the university. She was recruited to OHSU to help the university plan and construct the Collaborative Life Sciences Building and move OHSU to an interprofessional model of education. She established OHSU as a leader in this arena, removing significant structural obstacles and aligning the education mission across its numerous programs—she oversaw the alignment of 14 different academic program calendars to a single one, she created a uniform student orientation, and she moved the institution to a unified convocation. She also made it possible for students in different programs to take courses across the university, removing a considerable barrier for students.

Mladenovic also transformed the academic mission at OHSU. She led the effort to establish a joint School of Public Health with Portland State University, bringing together two universities with very different cultures. She created a state-of-the-art simulation program by aligning several programs and creating world-class facilities.   She initiated a new model for addressing rural health issues by creating the Campus for Rural Health. She consolidated and expanded the reach of OHSU Global, including a unique multi-mission partnership in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

Mladenovic has been a champion for students. She established the OHSU Tuition Promise, which protects students from steep rises in tuition during their time at OHSU. She created new financial advising services to reduce debt and better tracking of available scholarship dollars. She oversaw new efforts that significantly boosted student diversity, establishing the Scholars for a Healthy Oregon Initiative and the President’s Fund, both of which recruit and retain diverse students. Student debt has markedly decreased, and OHSU’s tuition is no longer the highest in the nation. She also established several successful pipeline programs.

In addition to her work with students, Mladenovic has strongly advocated for faculty and for more transparent, uniform faculty governance. She established the OHSU Faculty News to keep faculty informed of important institutional news. She made faculty titles and ranks more consistent across the university and recruited and hired a university ombudsman. She created a new vice provost for academic career development specifically to oversee physician scientist training. She promoted the creation and funding of named professorships. And she advocated for a larger voice for faculty in important university decisions, creating the Research Strategic Advisory Council and the Neurosciences Leadership Group, as well as working with the Faculty Senate to expand its role.

Mladenovic guided successful NWCCU accreditation and the revision of OHSU’s strategic plan. She brought together provost operations and university operations into two groups that made strategic operational and budgetary decisions for OHSU, creating savings by aligning functions.  She also presided over numerous critical recruitments: regional associate deans for the campus for rural health; deans for the schools of dentistry, nursing, and public health; the director of the Vollum Institute; and vice presidents of human resources, campus safety, and equity and inclusion.

Prior to her work at OHSU, Mladenovic had numerous other leadership roles. An AOA graduate of the University of Washington School Of Medicine, she completed internal medicine residency training at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Stanford University, and her chief residency and hematology fellowship at the University of Washington. She has held leadership roles at the University of Minnesota, University of Colorado, the State University of New York, and the University of Miami. She won several teaching awards throughout her career, and for 18 years directed an NIH-funded laboratory focused on hematopoietic stem cell differentiation. Her clinical activities have included hospital medicine and the care of patients with myeloproliferative diseases.

Nationally, she has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Board of Internal Medicine, its Executive Committee, and has chaired the Examination Committees in Internal Medicine. She has also been active as a member of the American Board of Medical Specialties, the Association of Professors of Medicine and its Board, and the American Society of Hematology, and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. She has authored more than 90 papers and edited four books. She is also a leading advocate for point-of-care ultrasound in medicine and medical education.


Medical Research Foundation honors Oregon scientists

The Medical Research Foundation has announced its award winners for 2016. Two scientists from OHSU — Stephen Back, M.D., Ph.D., and Richard Stouffer, Ph.D. — won awards, as well as Oleh Taratula, Ph.D., from Oregon State University.

Stephen Back, M.D., Ph.D.

The 2016 Discovery Award was given to Stephen Back, M.D., Ph.D., for his seminal work in the molecular pathways of brain repair. Dr. Back is professor of Pediatrics, Neurology and Anesthesiology-Critical Care Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University — Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. He is director of the Division of Pediatric Neuroscience and holds the Clyde and Elda Munson Professorship in Pediatric Research. Dr. Back’s early work defined cellular and molecular mechanisms of preterm brain injury related to cerebral palsy. These discoveries led to the present focus of his lab: developing strategies to promote regeneration and repair of chronic brain injury in preterm infants and adults that arises after stroke. Dr. Back and his team have provided unexpected insights into the remarkable potential of the preterm brain to repair itself after injury. This work has led to the discovery of new molecular pathways that prevent brain repair after injury. By defining the roadblocks to repair, Dr. Back’s lab has been able to focus on developing promising new drugs to circumvent maladaptive responses of the brain that impede repair. These studies have broad relevance to several adult brain disorders, from multiple sclerosis to vascular cognitive impairment and dementia related to aging. These adult conditions, surprisingly, share many common features with the disturbances in brain repair pathways identified in preterm infants.

Richard Stouffer, Ph.D.

Richard Stouffer, Ph.D.

The MRF Committee also recognized Richard Stouffer, Ph.D., with the 2016 Mentor Award for his exemplary work as a scientist and mentor. Since his dissertation research in the 1970s, Dr. Stouffer’s primary research focus has been on understanding the structure, function and regulation of the ovary to understand and improve women’s reproductive health. In 1985, he joined the Oregon National Primate Research Center to take advantage of its exceptional nonhuman primate resources and support services, its outstanding faculty studying reproductive biology—and the opportunity to train graduate students and fellows. Dr. Stouffer has a deep commitment to mentoring students, fellows, and young faculty, and the international success of his trainees is a distinguished legacy. He has mentored over 40 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and as division chief, he was actively involved in mentoring early-career faculty from across OHSU. He continues his work as advisor and mentor: As of August, 2015, Dr. Stouffer became scientific director of the NIH-funded WRHR (Women’s Health) Scholar Program in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine. Dr. Stouffer was chief of the Division of Reproductive & Developmental Sciences at the Oregon National Primate Research Center from 1996-2014. He now serves as professor in the Division of Reproductive & Developmental Sciences, ONPRC, with joint appointments in the OHSU School of Medicine’s departments of obstetrics and gynecology and physiology and pharmacology.

Oleh Taratula, Ph.D.

Oleh Taratula, Ph.D.

Finally, Oleh Taratula, Ph.D., was awarded the 2016 Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award. Dr. Taratula is an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University. The major focus of his research is the development of multifunctional nanomedicine platforms that can detect and kill cancer cells using novel combinatorial therapeutic modalities. Dr. Taratula’s work in nanotechnology allows him to understand and exploit the molecular processes of cancer as they happen in real time. This work is important because delivering therapeutic and diagnostic agents directly to cancer sites can both improve treatment and reduce side effects of treatment. His goal is to provide oncologists with nanotechnology approaches that can be used both for delineating tumors with real-time fluorescence signals during surgery and for targeted treatment to further eliminate unresected disease sites. In addition to his appointment at Oregon State, he also holds an appointment as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering, School of Medicine, at Oregon Health & Sciences University.


2017 ICOregon Innovation Showcase registration open

OHSU builds collaborations and resources that help investigators translate research innovations into medical products and services. This is one of the ways we improve human health and wellness. Faculty, students, and the public are invited to attend the 2017 ICOregon Innovation Showcase to learn more about available resources that help make this translation happen.

The event will bring together Oregon’s four major research universities, industry, and government to demonstrate how our universities are a driving force in the Oregon innovation ecosystem. Presenters will discuss university innovation and commercialization efforts, innovation resources throughout Oregon, and growing support for innovation at the governmental level.  The 2017 ICOregon Innovation Showcase will promote interaction between industry, legislators, and Oregon research universities.

Title: 2017 ICOregon Innovation Showcase
Theme: The Oregon Innovation Ecosystem: The Driving Force of Oregon’s Universities and Partners
Date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Location: Salem Convention Center
200 Commercial Street SE, Salem, Oregon 97301
2017 ICOregon Innovation Showcase information and registration
*Discounted registration fees through January 31

Conference collaborators include OHSU, Oregon State University, Portland State University, University of Oregon, Oregon Translational Research and Development Institute, Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, and OregonBest.

Reminder: What’s new with peer review? Second panel discussion this Thursday

You’re invited to hear a panel discussion with OHSU faculty who are currently serving on NIH study sections to learn about best practices for grant writing–and especially what they’re seeing in grants they’re reviewing with respect to the new requirements on rigor and reproducibility and more. Among other things, they will discuss guidance they’ve received from NIH as reviewers, as well as how study sections are responding. Bring your questions!csr-logo

 Thursday, Nov. 10
11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Mackenzie Hall 1162


Training Opportunity for Responsible Conduct of Research

Are you participating in an NIH training grant award or fellowship? Do you need in-person RCR training? The Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute (OCTRI) is offering an 8-hour seminar that meets RCR requirements for Ks, Ts, and other career development or individual fellowship grants. This seminar is an interactive and practical experience  focused on addressing real issues that have arisen in the course of your research. These may be related to ethics, integrity, or regulatory matters, including anything from how to recruit and consent patients to how to keep laboratory notebooks to determining authorship.

This seminar is also open to training grant faculty who have an RCR requirement—faculty members are needed to serve as small group facilitators. Priority is given to scholars and trainees funded by an NIH K-award or clinical or translational, postdoctoral T-award or any federal or non-federal career development grant.

Schedule – must attend all 4 sessions:
Session 1: February 3, 2 to 4 p.m.
Session 2: February 17, 2 to 4 p.m.
Session 3: March 3, 2 to 4 p.m.
Session 4: March 17, 2 to 4 p.m.

Please contact Karen McCracken for questions and to register.

View this on the OCTRI web site >>


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