Breast cancer conference focuses on technology, biology around early detection, Aug. 6

This August, leading breast cancer researchers from around the world will travel to Portland for the 30th International Association for Breast Cancer Research Conference. The theme for this year’s event is “Confronting the confusion: How to think about breast cancer screening.” Programming will focus on the biology and technology needed to enable earlier detection of lethal breast cancers.

OHSU_Mktg_EventFlyer_uStore_O_237913_57861Breast Cancer Research Conference
Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016
2 to 5 p.m.
Collaborative Life Sciences Building

After the forum, attendees will have the opportunity to visit with scientists during an interactive reception. Speakers include:

  • Judith Salerno, M.D., M.S., president and CEO, Susan G. Komen
  • Joe Gray, Ph.D., professor and Gordon Moore Endowed Chair of Biomedical Engineering, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute
  • Heidi Nelson, M.D., M.P.H., medical director, Providence Women and Children’s Program and Research Center, and research professor, departments of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology and Medicine, OHSU
  • Thea Tlsty, Ph.D., professor of pathology and director of the Center for Translational Research in the Molecular Genetics of Cancer, UCSF; director, Program in Cell Cycling and Signaling, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Toni Storm-Dickerson, M.D., breast surgical oncologist, Compass Oncology
  • Pepper Schedin, Ph.D., professor, Cell, Developmental and Cancer Biology, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute
  • Sue Best, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., palliative care services, OHSU
  • June Cooley, breast cancer survivor and Knight Cancer Institute research advocate

This event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited, so please register by Friday, July 29.

Visit the conference website for more information.

This event is co-hosted by Susan G. Komen, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, and the International Association for Breast Cancer Research.

OHSU Emerging Technology Fund, letters of intent due Sept. 15

The Office of the Senior Vice President for Research is seeking applications for the OHSU Emerging Technology Fund, which provides funds for OHSU faculty members to purchase major equipment or technology needed to conduct state-of-the-art research. Technologies funded by this award could include novel instrumentation previously unavailable at OHSU, as well as the replacement of high-end equipment that has become obsolete due to technical advances. Funds may be awarded to a group of investigators, a department, center, or institute, or a university core facility. Successful applications must include a sound financial plan ensuring that major infrastructure elements, including space and personnel, will be provided from other sources for a minimum of five years.

The purpose of this program is to support emerging science by funding high-end instruments or technologies that will substantially advance OHSU research or keep it at the forefront of a particular research area. It is designed to support equipment that has few other mechanisms of support other than private philanthropy; thus, the minimum total cost of the equipment must be $400,000 or above (including necessary accessories). Funding is available up to $500,000.

Letters of intent are due Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. Full applications are due Sept. 30, 2016.

View more information, including application instructions and previous recipients.

Coming soon: MIRA funding for early-stage investigators

We first reported on the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) for New and Early-Stage Investigators (R35) mechanism when it was introduced by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences about a year ago. The pilot program represented a new funding strategy focused on supporting PIs rather than specific projects. The rationale behind this novel funding strategy was to improve funding distribution and invest in scientists, thereby providing them with funding stability to explore new, creative directions in their research.

Pilot testing of this program is now being expanded to target early-stage investigators. NIGMS intends to publish a Funding Opportunity Announcement this summer with an expected application due date in fall 2016. The FOA will be a reissue of the parent announcement with the notable change that new investigators who are no longer early stage investigators will not be eligible. A few additional minor changes to improve clarity are expected.  The pre-announcement issued on July 12 encourages early stage investigators engaged in research related to the NIGMS mission to consider applying in the fall. We’ll be tracking the release of this FOA, so stay tuned.

Heads up: new required attachment for NIH F series applications

If you are a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow who is planning to apply for an F30, F31, or F32 (otherwise known as NRSAs), you should be aware of a new required attachment, “Description of Institutional Environment and CommitmeNIH_Master_Logo_Vertical_2Colornt to Training.”  This new requirement as of May 25, 2016 calls for a new 2-page attachment that documents the institutional resources devoted to career enhancement and the overall intellectual environment. This new attachment also encompasses the “Additional Educational Information” required for F30 and F31 applications.

Here’s what the instructions say:

The sponsoring institution must document a strong, well-established research program related to the candidate’s area of interest, including the names of key faculty members relevant to the candidate’s proposed developmental plan. Referring to the resources description (Section F.220 – R&R Other Project Information Form, Facilities and Other Resources), indicate how the necessary facilities and other resources will be made available for career enhancement as well as the research proposed in this application. Describe opportunities for intellectual interactions with other investigators, including courses offered, journal clubs, seminars, and presentations. This information should be coordinated with information provided under Sponsor and Co-Sponsor Statements, Training Plan, Environment, Research Facilities.

Additional Educational Information (required for F30 and F31 applications):
Describe the institution’s dual-degree (F30) or graduate (F31) program in which the applicant is enrolled, e.g. the structure of the program, required milestones and their usual timing (number of courses, any teaching commitments, qualifying exams, etc.) and the average time to degree over the past 10 years. Describe the progress/status of the applicant in relation to the program’s timeline, and the frequency and method by which the program formally monitors and evaluates a student’s progress. This information is typically provided by the director of the graduate program or the department chair. Include the name of the individual providing this information at the end of the description.

Note that a listing of the applicant’s courses and grades must be included in the Fellowship Applicant Biographical Sketch, and NOT in this attachment.

Attach this information as a PDF file.

This attachment is required. Follow the page limits for Fellowship Applications in the Table of Page Limits at, unless specified otherwise in the FOA.

These instructions leave some room for interpretation, so here are some initial suggestions until we get more clarity or the instructions are updated. Essentially, this attachment seems to be asking you to distill information that will also be elsewhere in the application, perhaps to aid review. This attachment may feel a bit redundant–just make sure you don’t use exactly the same wording (which reviewers tend to find irritating) and that the information is consistent with other parts of the application.

For graduate (F30, F31) applications, your program director or department chair will supply the “Additional Educational Information,” as before. That leaves you about a page to describe the overall intellectual environment, list the key faculty members and their titles, the major journal clubs and seminars that you’ll participate in, and additional professional development resources available to you.

For postdoctoral (F32) applications, you should contact our Office of Postdoctoral Affairs for help with filling out this attachment. Mike Matrone, the postdoctoral affairs officer, can supply you with text about all the professional development resources that this office provides. Otherwise, the advice is similar: start out with a description of the intellectual environment, list the key faculty members you’ll interact with (whether they are mentors or not), the journal clubs and seminars, and any other important details. If you have access to special instrumentation, you may want to note that here as well.

For all applications: a couple of suggestions. First, you don’t need to put this on letterhead to ‘document the commitment.’ Our Office of Proposal and Award Management indicates that simply including the attachment is documentation, since when we submit the application, we are certifying that everything in it is true.

Second, in the Facilities and Resources section, you may want to refer to the attachment and vice versa. The Facilities and Resources section does not have a formal page limit, so you may want to include additional detail there if the page limits of the attachment don’t allow you to provide all the information you think is relevant (although don’t abuse the lack of page limits here, either–you don’t want to go on and on).  Conversely, especially for postdoctoral applications, you may want to mostly refer to the attachment when you’re describing the professional and career development resources and spend the bulk of Facilities and Resources detailing the facilities you need to accomplish the work–the laboratory, animal, clinical, computer and office, and core facilities.

In our experience, general boilerplate about OHSU and our scope and funding of research is not particularly useful for fellowship applications. It’s better to describe the department or institute where you’ll be carrying out your work. The reviewers want to know what it’s like to be a trainee in the particular intellectual milieu, not that OHSU overall had $376 million dollars in research in FY2015. Reviewers tend to like specificity. They want to know how the environment will help you become a productive scientist.

Guidelines for this section may change again when information addressing rigor and reproducibility will be required beginning in 2017. We will keep you posted.






Co-invented by OHSU’s David Huang 25 years ago, OCT technology helps detect and stop blindness

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the invention of Optical Coherence Tomography technology, co-invented by Oregon Health & Science University Casey Eye Institute’s David Huang, M.D., Ph.D., while Huang was a Ph.D. student with James Fujimoto, Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To commemorate the anniversary, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) published a special anniversary edition in their journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science with more than 70 articles.

David Huang, M.D., Ph.D., and his team at the Center for Opthalmic Center for Ophthalmic Optics and Lasers Lab, or COOL Lab, at Casey Eye Institute

David Huang, M.D., Ph.D., and his team at the Center for Opthalmic Center for Ophthalmic Optics and Lasers Lab, or COOL Lab, at Casey Eye Institute

OCT is the most commonly used ophthalmic diagnostic technology worldwide, with an estimated 30 million OCT imaging procedures performed every year. The technology has evolved over the past 25 years to help diagnose and treat the most common causes of blindness: age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. OCT use continues to grow exponentially in ophthalmology and other medical specialties, including cardiology, dermatology, neurology, and gastroenterology.

OCT has transformed the way ophthalmologists are able to diagnose, monitor and treat devastating eye diseases, and it has advanced drug discovery and development. The technology is particularly suitable for the early detection of glaucoma and macular degeneration, diseases that may cause significant damage prior to the appearance of symptoms. OCT is also widely used for diabetic macular edema, the leading cause of blindness in young patients.

“Dr. Huang’s contribution to the field of ophthalmology has been tremendous and we are very fortunate to have such a brilliant mind here at Casey Eye Institute and in Oregon,” says David J. Wilson, M.D., director of the OHSU Casey Eye Institute and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “This anniversary is a perfect opportunity to celebrate OCT as a truly transformative medical technology. Such transformations do not occur often in medicine.”

OCT technology has also evolved over the past 25 years with great advances in imaging speed and quality. Ophthalmologists can now study disease at the microscopic level without biopsy, and with complete patient comfort. For the first time, eye physicians can visualize and measure blood flow in the smallest of blood vessels, without the need to inject contrast agents.  Non-invasive visualization and measurement of blood flow gives great insight into the cause and progression of eye disease.

Huang, who was recently ranked the 4th most influential figure in the world of ophthalmology by The Ophthalmologist PowerList 2016, runs the Center for Ophthalmic Optics and Lasers Lab, or COOL Lab, at Casey Eye Institute which includes a team of top scientists from around the world who have been perfecting OCT technology for more than 15 years. Several members of the lab have contributed articles for the special issue in IOVS (see Related Content for links to articles).

Key OHSU collaborators with Huang’s lab include Ou Tan, Ph.D., John C. Morrison, M.D., Yali Jia, Ph.D., Winston Chamberlain, M.D., Ph.D., Steven Bailey, M.D., Thomas S. Hwang, M.D., and Douglas D. Koch, M.D. at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The papers published in the ARVO special issue by OHSU faculty were supported by the National Institutes of Health, Research to Prevent Blindness, Optovue, Inc. and the Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute.

Change to eligibility for NSF graduate research fellowships

If you are a graduate student applying for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Eligibility Program, you should be aware of an impending change in eligibility.

nsf1 Program solicitations for the NSF GRFP are due to be released in late July or early August. Effective as of the 2017 competition (deadlines in late Oct. or early Nov. 2016, based on discipline), graduate students will be limited to only one application to the GRFP, submitted in either the first or second year of graduate school. The intent is to increase the number of applicants applying as senior undergraduates, a population that’s more diverse in terms of women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities and veterans, as well as to ease the workload for applicants, reference writers, and reviewers.

How will this impact OHSU’s graduate students wanting to apply to the GRFP? The new rules are being phased in so if you applied as a first-year graduate student in fall 2015, you are eligible to apply this fall as a second- year graduate student. Likewise, if you applied as an undergraduate, as soon as you begin graduate school, you can submit again but only once:  as either a first- or second-year graduate student. Work closely with you advisor to determine if you’ve demonstrated sufficient achievement in your first year to be competitive or whether your application would be stronger the following year. If you have additional questions about this new rule, check out NSF’s FAQ’s on this rule change.

Still have questions? Contact us at

Who’s new at OHSU? Nathalie Pamir, Ph.D.

Nathalie Pamir, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the School of Medicine, Knight Cardiovascular Institute (KCVI), where she focuses on preventive cardiology.

Where are you from originally?
I’m from a Russian family but I was born in Turkey and spent my childhood there. I then went through the French school system and returned to Turkey to get my undergraduate degree. From there I moved to Vancouver, B.C., where I earned my master’s degree at the University of British Columbia and finally my doctorate degree at the University of Washington. This is also where I completed my postdoctoral research.pamir

What brought you to OHSU?
I was ready to move. I felt like I needed a change for myself and new openings for my research.  I immediately saw the benefits. At OHSU I have access to human samples that would have been very difficult for me to get at UW. Here that resource is much more available and people expect you to do something with it. [KCVI] is an institute very much embedded in a clinic environment. I moved from basic science to translational work in a year and that’s because of how KCVI is structured. I go to staff meetings where I’m sitting next to cardiologists and I get to hear what they’re doing and observing and if I ask a question, people will direct me to the right people or resources. People here don’t mind sharing.

What is the focus of your research?
I’m currently working on two separate but related areas: cholesterol and adipose tissue, or body fat. On the cholesterol front, we want to know:  Is good HDL really good? If so, why? Or have we found a way through our lifestyle to make it bad so it’s no longer working? We do know that HDL levels have a hereditary component; roughly 50% is unchangeable. So you can only modify the remaining 50%. You can think of HDL particles as tiny balls, about one thousandth the size of a cell nucleus, infiltrating every tissue in the body, removing cholesterol from cells and bringing it back to the liver. That’s their job.  Historically we always cared about the number of “balls” but that’s now considered irrelevant because so many studies have shown that raising HDL levels does not necessarily provide cardiovascular benefits.

The discussion now is around how efficient, how good these particles are at removing cholesterol from cells and bringing it back to the liver. Testing for function isn’t at the clinical level yet but there are four large epidemiology studies looking at HDL function and cardiovascular risk. What I want to know is the function genetically regulated? If so, what’s the wiggle room for improvement? I currently have an American Heart Association Scientist Development Grant to look at HDL proteome (a set of proteins expressed) and function across hundreds of strains of mice. I’m using a genetic tool developed by UCLA that allows you to map a phenotypic trait, say HDL function, and then identify a couple of genes that associate with that trait – so, these genes regulate that trait. In my studies I’ve shown that HDL function and HDL proteome are genetically regulated. The most amazing part is that just by looking at the HDL proteome of 80 to 100 proteins, you can predict the genealogy of a trait with statistical analysis.

Another interesting area I’m exploring is we know HDL function correlates with CVD but in most cases, it’s not the CVD that kills you, it’s a stroke event. But why? The relationship between HDL cholesterol and stroke is not very well defined. So I’m working with Nabil Alkayed, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Cerebrovascular Research in the OHSU School of Medicine to better understand this link. We tested 15 patients and found a tremendous difference not only in HDL function but also in the HDL proteome. The reason that’s important is we believe protein dictates function. If we understand what these HDL “balls” are made of protein-wise then maybe we can understand why they’re good at, or failing, at their function. Sergio Fazio M.D., Ph.D., head of preventive cardiology introduced me to REGARDS (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) researchers and I’ve been granted access to samples from this large epidemiology study to further explore this research question. I have 3,000 samples total – 1,000 healthy, 1,000 CVD, and 1,000 stroke to look at HDL biology, function, proteome, and genetics. Now I need to do the science and have requested funding from NIH.

My work examining adipose tissue focuses on metabolism. Why do we get fat? What happens in the body when we get fat? Again, the tool we use to answer these questions is to study the structure and function of proteins, proteomics. We recently developed the first reliable proteomics method for examining adipose tissue and I’m writing my first paper on this new method at the moment. Until now there were no reliable methods for identifying proteins in adipose tissue, not even in mouse models. But because I used proteomics to study HDL, I knew how disassociate lipids from proteins and I transferred that expertise to adipose tissue. Now we can get lipids out of the way so we can study the proteins.

I’ve also teamed up with Wohaib Hasan, Ph.D, another investigator here at KCVI, who receives donor hearts for his research. We’re looking at epicardial fat, the fat around the outside of the heart, in both “healthy” hearts and those that have failed. We know the volume or mass of that fat increases with age and with obesity. But it’s also a separate risk factor for cardiovascular disease, even in the absence of other risk factors such as age and weight and we don’t know why that is. In the past, we could only study epicardial fat through non-invasive external investigation but now, for the first time, we have proteomics as a tool to look more closely at this fat and what it secretes. Amongst all the proteins identified with this new method, we hope to pinpoint the culprit(s) causing the heart to malfunction. The plan is to do a screen of the tissue, the secretome, and of the group of proteins that get packed into tiny vesicles called “exosomes” that enter the blood stream and appear to be programmed with a destination. I have shown that when comparing adipose tissue and muscle, adipose tissue secretes quite a bit within 2-3 days of culture while muscle continues to secrete. We surmise epicardial fat secretes proteins, via exosomal particles, that cause endothelial dysfunction in the heart or smooth muscle abnormalities that can cause heart failure.

This is a hypotheses that we’re now equipped to test. Proteomics is a kick start. We can see which proteins are in the tissue, in the secretome, and in the exosomal vesicles, and then test changes to them in assay: Does x do something to the function? Does y change the health of endothelial cell? If we know what’s coming out of epicardial fat, what is unique to that fat, and what’s causing harm, the hope is that one day we’ll be able to identify it in plasma. This could potentially produce a biomarker for heart failure. We might also find that the damage is specific to a close-proximity effect, in which case maybe we take a pharmacological approach that targets that specific protein.

Portland or Seattle?
I like Portland much better. I grew up in Istanbul and was educated in Paris. Both places are very neighborhood-driven cities and that neighborhood aspect…. I found it here in Portland. It feels much more European to me. It feels almost like home.

Study led by OHSU researchers provides evidence of immune therapy efficacy in treating metastatic prostate cancer

Programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) inhibitors have shown anti-tumor activity in patients with melanoma, renal cell, non-small cell lung cancer, and bladder cancer. However, patients with castration-resistant prostate cancer demonstrated no response to such immunotherapies in past studies. Now, a research team led by Julie Graff, M.D., assistant professor and oncologist with the Knight Cancer Institute, has shown clear evidence of meaningful clinical activity for PD-1 blockade in men with metastatic prostate cancer resistant to androgen deprivation.

The team’s paper, published on July 13 in Oncotarget, outlines the study involving 10 men with metastatic prostate cancer who were treated with pembrolizumab, a monoclonal antibody that binds to the PD-1 receptor. Three of the first 10 participants enrolled in the ongoing clinical trial experienced rapid reductions in prostate specific antigen, or PSA, an early measure of treatment effect. The participants who responded to PD-1 blockade started with serum PSA levels of 46, 71 and 2,503 ng/ml. These PSA levels plummeted to less than 0.1 ng/ml after treatment, and these three patients remain free of progression at 30, 55 and 16 weeks of follow-up, respectively.

“It’s pretty remarkable, especially in light of the fact that many people doubted this approach could work at all,” said Graff. “You don’t get responses like this with almost any other treatment.” The study’s authors note these results are preliminary but the surprising and robust responses seen in this study warrant to re-examination of PD-1 inhibition in prostate cancer. Future studies are in the planning stages.

Read the full press release here.

In addition to lead author Graff, the following OHSU investigators contributed to this study: Joshi Alumkal, M.D., George Thomas, M.D., Jeremy Cetnar, M.D., M.S.H.P.R., Frederick Ey, M.D., F.A.C.P., Raymond Bergan, M.D., Rachel Slottke, and Tomasz Beer, M.D., F.A.C.P. Additional authors include researchers from the VA Portland Health Care System, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Providence Portland Medical Center.

Supported in part by a research grant from Investigator-Initiated Studies Program of Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. Funds from the Bloomberg Kimmel Institute supported a portion of the laboratory work.

Grompe lab discovery offers new clues to diabetes causes and treatment

Diabetes affects nearly 30 million people in the United States. The disease is caused by dysfunction or loss of insulin-producing beta cells that normalize blood sugar levels in the body. Until now, only one type of beta cell was known to exist. But OHSU researchers have developed a method allowing them to identify and isolate four separate subtypes that differ in their susceptibility to metabolic stress and their capacity to proliferate or change from one cell type to another. The results of their research, published July 11 in Nature Communications, may provide new and important avenues for research and treatment of diabetes.

“This study marks the first description of several different kinds of human insulin-producing beta cells,” said Markus Grompe, M.D., principal investigator, director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center at OHSU and the Papé Family Pediatric Research Institute at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “Some of the cells are better at releasing insulin than others, whereas others may regenerate quicker. Therefore, it is possible that people with different percentages of the subtypes are more prone to diabetes. Further understanding of cell characteristics could be the key to uncovering new treatment options, as well as the reason why some people are diabetic and others are not.”

The paper, “Human islets contain four distinct subtypes of cells,” was supported by the National Institutes of Health (Grant #s DK105831 and DK089569) and the Helmsley Trust. Craig Dorrell, Ph.D., and Grompe co-wrote the manuscript. Additional researchers from OHSU, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and the University of California, San Francisco contributed to this study.

Proposal development webinar for clinical, population, and comparative effectiveness researchers, July 8

Are you an investigator in clinical, population or comparative effectiveness? Do you want to learn more about developing successful proposals to move your research forward? Come hear from experienced scientific investigators who are part of Accelerating Data Value across a National Community Health Center Network, or ADVANCE.

The ADVANCE Clinical Data Research Network is led by Oregon Community Health Information Network, or OCHIN, in partnership with Oregon Clinical & Translational Research Institute, Health Choice Network, and Fenway Health. The goal of the Clinical Data Research Network is to build and maintain a “community laboratory” of Federally Qualified Health Centers serving safety net patients, including the uninsured, the under-insured, undocumented immigrants, and other vulnerable populations. The Research Data Warehouse maintains data on over two million patients and is the nation’s most comprehensive dataset on care and health outcomes in safety net patients. Research conducted in this dataset has the potential to address myriad questions about improving care quality and outcomes among our nation’s most vulnerable patients.

Friday, July 8
Noon to 1 p.m.
Register here.

During this webinar you will:

  • Hear from investigators whose proposals for comparative research funding have been successful
  • Learn more about using the ADVANCE data warehouse
  • Network with other investigators in the ADVANCE network
  • Ask specific questions pertaining to your research and barriers to successful proposal development

Welcome to the Research News Blog

Welcome to the Research News Blog

OHSU Research News is your portal to information about all things research at Oregon Health & Science University. Visit often for updates on events, discoveries, and important funding information.

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