Tracing the mechanisms of pain and empathy for pain

Representative photomicrographs of hM4Di viral expression, within the D) anterior cingulate cortex (orange) with DAPI in blue E) somatosensory cortex (orange) and DAPI in blue.

Representative photomicrographs of hM4Di viral expression, within the D) anterior cingulate cortex (orange) with DAPI in blue E) somatosensory cortex (orange) and DAPI in blue.

A new study finds a potential neural overlap between physically induced and socially transferred increased sensitivity to pain, or hyperalgesia. Previous research has shown that pain sensitivity associated with alcohol withdrawal can be communicated to nearby individuals by olfactory cues. But how this social transfer of pain occurs is not known.

Scientists at OHSU have now demonstrated that pain and empathy for pain activate partially overlapping regions of the brain in mice and that those experiences are reversed by inhibiting activity in one region of the brain—the anterior cingulate cortex. Monique Smith, Ph.D., led the research, published in eNeuro, which was conducted in the lab of Andrey Ryabinin, Ph.D., a professor of behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine.

The researchers first mapped changing activity in brain regions associated with pain and empathy for pain and then inhibited some of the activated brain regions. Brain activity of three groups of mice were monitored: primary mice with access to increasing concentrations of ethanol, bystander mice housed in the same room, and control mice housed in a separate room. The primary mice showed increased activity in the dorsal medial hypothalamus when access to alcohol was removed, which may indicate a role for this area in alcohol withdrawal. In contrast, bystander mice showed increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and insula. Inhibiting activity in the anterior cingulate cortex reversed hyperalgesia in both primary and bystander mice.

One important observation: The two forms of hyperalgesia in this study do not have a basis in tissue or nerve injury. Rather, the results confirm that withdrawal-related hyperalgesia can be socially transferred in mice housed together. These findings set the stage for research to determine if there are distinct circuits within the anterior cingulate cortex that govern physically induced and socially transferred hyperalgesia.

OHSU Commercialization Conference, Sept. 14

The signature conference of OHSU Technology Transfer and Business Development connects OHSU innovators, industry partners, investors, and community collaborators. The day includes startup pitches, insights from industry thought leaders, and successful collaboration stories.

In the first panel of the 2017 Commercialization Conference, Brian Druker, M.D., and four industry leaders will discuss breakthroughs that are transforming healthcare. Harry Glorkian from GE Ventures will moderate the panel that includes Druker, Brian Lawrence from global technology company Welch Allyn/Hill-Rom, John Hill from GE, and Sam Adams from IBM.

Register today
Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017
7:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Collaborative Life Sciences Building

What’s in store—some highlights:
Industry trends:

  • Executive panel: Breakthrough innovations transforming healthcare
  • Pharma’s transition from internal R&D to external collaborations
  • Role of molecular imaging in the modern era of medicine
  • Women’s contributions to innovation in science and business

Strategies for funding:

  • Drawing interest from VC’s and Angel investors
  • Alternative funding for innovation and startup companies

The 2017 slate of speakers includes two keynote speakers:

  • William Ruh, digital transformer and CEO of GE Digital
  • Gerry Langeler, venture capitalist and managing director of OVP Venture Partners

All OHSU faculty, researchers, students, and staff are welcome to attend. Speaker information and the full agenda can be found at the 2017 Commercialization Conference website.

2017 Mentor Award Nominations Deadline Extended to Sept.1

The Medical Research Foundation (MRF) of Oregon is seeking nominations for the annual Mentor Award.

The Mentor Award is presented to an Oregonian who has provided outstanding leadership in support or development of health research, education or the advancement of health care. The Mentor Award recipient will receive a cash award of $6,000 and a commemorative award.

The winner will be selected by the members of the MRF Committee. Guidelines, lists of past award recipients (eligible for renomination) and a list of current MRF committee members (ineligible for nomination) can be found at

Nomination must include:

  • A nomination letter clearly specifying the award for which the individual is being nominated and addressing how the individual meets the guidelines for that award.
  • The nominee’s curriculum vitae
  • No more than five letters of support. Letters of support signed by more than one person are discouraged.
  • Competitive nominations will include letters from outside your institution.

All documents should be submitted at one time, as one packet by the nominator.

Please send electronic submission (one pdf) to
Nomination deadline: 5:00 p.m. on September 1, 2017

The deadline for the Discovery and Richard T. Jones New Investigator awards has passed.

Contact Nicole Good 503-552-0677 |


North campus steam shutdown, Saturday, Aug. 5

A 17-hour steam plant shutdown will affect building heat, all hot water systems, and process steam to autoclaves in six north campus buildings. The shutdown is required for repairs to the steam plant and steam turbine connections. steam plant shut down

Steam supply to autoclaves will not be available during shutdown.

Buildings affected: Vollum Institute, Medical Research Building, Biomedical Research Building, Richard Jones Hall, Baird Hall, and MacKenzie Hall.

Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017 
5 a.m. – 10 p.m.

This shutdown is weather dependent. It could be postponed if a cold front is forecast.

If you have any questions, please contact Carl Gioia at



Launching a portal to streamline research services at the DCM

Announcing a single portal for animal research: DCM Operations
The Department of Comparative Medicine will be transitioning to a web-based system for research-associated tasks. The centralized system is designed to improve the efficiency of DCM so that researchers can spend more time on research and less time on paperwork.

A platform that is familiar to the research community
The new system, DCM-OPS, is based on the same Huron Click™ platform as the IRB, IBC and IACUC systems. It also is integrated with IACUC protocols and serves as a single portal for animal care management.

comparative-medicine-bannerThrough the DCM-OPS portal, research staff will be able to:

  • Order animals
  • Initiate animal import, export, and transfer requests
  • Request DCM services (e.g., anesthesia machine rentals, drug and transportation requests, etc.)
  • Manage billing accounts
  • View monthly invoices

Training to precede rollout
Training on DCM-OPS will be delivered to research teams according to a rollout calendar. DCM will contact teams in the coming months to discuss the system transition. Be on the lookout for upcoming announcements and training events.

For questions regarding our transition to DCM-OPS, contact Dr. Tracy Gluckman at or 503-494-2477.

Modifying a battlefield dressing to prevent maternal death

Every day around the globe, more than 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in developing countries, where resources are limited and childbirth occurs outside of the health care system. Postpartum hemorrhage is one of the primary causes of maternal death and the leading cause of death for new mothers in developing countries. A major challenge in treating postpartum hemorrhage is that it is not possible to use tourniquets and other forms of wound compression to stop the bleeding.

Above: The MSD trauma applicator. Below: Revised design of obstetrical applicator and sponge removal system. “Sponges in a bag” system for ease of vaginal removal.

Above: The MSD trauma applicator. Below: Revised design of obstetrical applicator and sponge removal system. “Sponges in a bag” system for ease of vaginal removal.

A technique used to manage non-compressible wounds in battlefields and trauma settings is now being adapted by a team led by Maria I. Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H., to treat severe postpartum hemorrhage. The trauma dressing and applicator device, XStat™ Mini Sponge Dressing, applies highly compressed medical sponges—similar to the ‘instant’ sponges sold in grocery stores—that stop high-flow arterial bleeding in about 20 seconds. Rodriguez, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine, and a team including Jeffrey JensenM.D., M.P.H., Alison EdelmanM.D., M.P.H., and Kenton Gregory, M.D., reported in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth an adaptation of the device that allows for obstetrical use of the dressing.

This device addresses a key gap in a major treatment for postpartum hemorrhage—uterine tamponade—by adapting it for use in low-resource settings. Tamponade, which physically stems bleeding, stabilizes hemorrhage while transporting a woman or preparing her for surgery. Current methods to deliver uterine tamponade include uterine balloons and packing the uterus with gauze. These methods can be helpful but are not ideal for low-resource settings—each requires specialized skill equipment.

Rodriguez’s adaptation of the XStat has a long, tapered applicator that can be deployed during vaginal examination by nonspecialists, and it administers three times the volume of the sponges contained in the trauma applicator. Unlike the trauma device, the design of the obstetrical applicator allows for the sponges to be removed without surgery. In initial testing, it demonstrated excellent uterine fill and higher average uterine pressure than gauze packing or the uterine balloon, suggesting it may be a more effective alternative. Animal testing also showed good uterine fill and no short-term signs of uterine trauma or infection. The next step for Rodriguez’s team is a Phase 1 clinical study.


In addition to Rodriguez, Jensen, Gregory, and Edelman, co-authors included Mary Bullard, Paul Longo, and Jerry Heidel.

This research was supported by Saving Lives at Birth partners: The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and the U.K. Government (AID-OAA-F-14-00007).

OHSU researcher Horner-Johnson: Groundbreaking research on disability and pregnancy


Height adjustable exam tables, scales that accommodate wheelchair users, and tactile models of the birth canal are not common equipment in OB/GYN offices. These are examples of accommodations that can improve prenatal care and the experience of pregnancy for women with specific disabilities. Often missing, too, are the knowledge and skills necessary to provide information to women with intellectual disabilities or to adjust the volume on a sonogram for women with hearing impairments.

These are increasingly important considerations, given that women with disabilities are now as likely to become pregnant as women without disabilities. Among women giving birth, the proportion with disabilities more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to data from California. However, there continue to be major gaps in knowledge on maternal health and pregnancy outcomes for these women—particularly within disability subgroups. New findings make clear that more attention to this population is needed in order to develop better care practices that may impact maternal and perinatal outcomes.

In the July 2017 Disability and Health Journal, a team led by Willi Horner-Johnson, Ph.D., published two first-of-their-kind studies: an analysis of live birth, miscarriage, and abortion in a national sample of women with and without disabilities, and a time-trend analysis of births and cesarean deliveries for women with physical, sensory, or intellectual disabilities. These studies are part of a larger pregnancy and disability project led by Horner-Johnson, an associate professor in the collaborative OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and in OHSU’s Institute on Development and Disability.

The study on live birth, miscarriage, and abortion among U.S. women with and without disabilities demonstrated that there is a good likelihood that women with disabilities will deliver successfully. Rates of live births and miscarriages (84 percent and 14 percent, respectively) for women with disabilities were similar to those for women without disabilities when adjusting for factors such as maternal age, marital status, and health status. There was no gap in rates of abortion.

The publication on time trends in births and cesarean deliveries builds on a previous paper on cesarean delivery among women with physical, sensory, or intellectual disabilities, published in the May–June 2017 Women’s Health Issues by Horner-Johnson’s team. That study found that women with disabilities were twice as likely as women without disabilities to deliver by cesarean—32 percent compared to 16 percent. Differences in cesarean delivery by disability subgroup were remarkable—58 percent of women with vision disabilities delivered their first child by cesarean, while women with hearing impairments had cesarean deliveries at roughly the same rate as women without disabilities. The new paper examines patterns of cesarean delivery across time, from 2000-2010. While differences between women with and without disabilities were apparent in every year of data analyzed, the size of the gap was significantly smaller in the most recent years than it had been in earlier years. Additionally, there was a steady increase in representation of women with disabilities among those giving birth in California during this time period.

These studies are some of the first to examine more than one type of disability. Horner-Johnson’s research underscores that understanding the heterogeneity across disability subgroups is important to addressing the distinct needs of women with particular types of disability—and to guiding clinical practice.


Horner-Johnson’s coauthors were Aaron B. Caughey, M.D., Ph.D., Sheetal Kulkarni-Rajasekhara, M.P.H., Blair Darney, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Mekhala Dissanayake, M.P.H., C.P.H. (Live birth, miscarriage, and abortion among U.S. women with and without disabilities);  Caughey, Fran Biel, M.P.H., M.S., and Darney (Time trends in births and cesarean deliveries among women with disabilities); and Caughey, Darney, Biel, and Brian Quigley (Primary cesarean delivery patterns among women with physical, sensory, or intellectual disabilities). 

Research reported in these publications was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under award #R21HD081309 (Horner-Johnson, PI). Support for Horner-Johnson’s time was provided by grant #K12HS022981 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (Guise, PI).

OHSU scientist Mandel elected to Society for Neuroscience leadership post


Gail Mandel, Ph.D., has been elected to the governing body of the Society for Neuroscience. Mandel, a senior scientist at the Vollum Institute and professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the School of Medicine, begins her four-year term on November 11, 2017.

Mandel’s lab focuses on understanding how neuronal cell identity is established and maintained. Her team discovered that this is achieved primarily through a repressor mechanism with the DNA-binding protein, REST, at its heart. The discovery provides a window into the molecular events governing nervous system formation.

Recently, she extended her studies to explore neuronal:glial interactions, uncovering a potential role for glia in inducing neuronal dysfunction in Rett Syndrome, one of the most common causes of mental retardation in young girls. The lab’s goal is to identify how the glial genes or proteins cause the underlying neuronal pathology.

Mandel joined the Vollum Institute in 2006 after holding faculty positions at Tufts-New England Medical Center and Stony Brook University—where she advanced to the rank of Distinguished Professor. She was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator from 1997 to 2016.

A recipient of the Jacob J. Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award, Mandel was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2008. She received the 2011 Discovery Award from the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon and a 2013-2018 NIH Transformative Research Award. She has also served as the senior editor of the Journal of Neuroscience.

The Society for Neuroscience, founded in 1969, now has nearly 38,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide. It is the largest and most prestigious organization representing scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system.


Clinical trials administration reorganized to speed processes

Shortening clinical trials contract turnaround by 20 percent—that is the goal of the new Clinical Research Support Office (CRSO). Processes for study staff and investigators will be simplified over time, and the institutional support functions are being brought under a single umbrella.

contract turnaround-aThe new structure, launched on July 3, will streamline communications and functions across administrative units and offices, including clinical trials contracting, clinical research billing, and the clinical trials management system. The contracting triage function will continue to provide customer service for all the contracting offices at OHSU, including determining the appropriate contract office for execution.

Improved processes have already reduced the turnaround times for industry-sponsored clinical trials contracts. The average turnaround time in 2016 was 112 days. In the first quarter of 2017, it was 101 days. The goal for the next 12 months is a 90-day turnaround time.

A new director, currently being recruited, will be charged with ensuring the research community receives the support they need. This includes customer service, adherence to regulatory requirements, risk assessment and mitigation, and operational excellence. The director and office will report to the vice president for research operations with joint reporting to the associate vice president for clinical and translational research and will work closely with key programs and units within OCTRI.

Five innovative education projects awarded mini-grants

Members of the School of Medicine community embrace “outside the box” thinking when it comes to advancing the education mission. In order to spur this inventiveness, five projects designed to generate and support innovation within the school’s educational programs have been awarded mini-grants.

Faculty members, trainees, and staff in the school submitted 18 project ideas in response to the call for proposals earlier this year. The funded projects were chosen for their originality, feasibility, impact, sustainability, and plans for dissemination. The review group included members of the Educators’ Collaborative with expertise in undergraduate medical education and graduate studies programs.

The titles and team members of the funded projects are:

  • Women’s Leadership Development Program: An innovative curriculum for dissemination
    Megan Furnari, M.D., instructor in pediatric neonatology; Elizabeth Lahti, M.D., assistant professor of medicine
  • Implementation of a Jeopardy Point Study in the OHSU Internal Medicine Residency Program
    Erin Bonura, M.D., assistant professor of medicine; Claire Zeigler, M.D., M.P.H.; resident Kellie Littlefield, D.O.; Kelsey Shaver, M.D.
  • Development of a Mobile App for Entrustable Professional Activities
    Mark Engelstad, D.D.S., M.D., associate professor oral and maxillofacial surgery and NLM bioinformatics; James Morrison, M.D., clinical informatics fellow; Ryan Palmer, Ed.D., assistant professor of family medicine.
  • Innovation Support Workshops
    Aditi Martin, Ph.D., OCTRI Pilot Awards program director; Jonathan Jubera, OCTRI Biomedical Innovation Program project manager; David Ellison, M.D., professor of medicine and OCTRI director; Brendan Rauw, M.B.A., vice president of Technology Transfer and Business Development; Sarah Biber, Ph.D., OTRADI.
  • Education Scholarship Writing Group
    Jackie Wirz, Ph.D., assistant dean of Graduate Studies Student Affairs and director of the Career and Professional Development Center at the School of Medicine; Amy Miller Juve Ed. D, M.Ed., director of education and assistant professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine; Sylvia Nelsen, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell development and cancer biology.

Originally posted by Jennifer Smith in Inside the SoM.


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