Collaborative Research Teams

Brain and Behavioral Development 

Chairs: Christopher Kroenke, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral neuroscience, OHSU School of Medicine, and Joel Nigg, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, OHSU School of Medicine

Researchers in this group are investigating how the maternal/intrauterine environment affects brain development in the fetus and in subsequent offspring. Environmental insults include fetal exposure to alcohol and anesthetics during pregnancy. Research investigates the effects of maternal diet on fetal central nervous system development, such as protein restriction, manipulation of dietary fatty acid composition, and examination of the effects of a high-fat (western style) diet. The team uses state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain imaging to map the fetal central nervous system's development over time. They frequently observe inflammation in the developing central nervous system in response to the experimental conditions of unhealthy diet and other negative conditions. This can lead to later behavioral abnormalities or even a propensity for a stroke.

Endothelium and Developmental Origins

Chair: Monica Hinds, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering, OHSU School of Medicine

The endothelium is a single cell thick layer that lines the entire vascular system. It controls transportation of molecules between blood and tissue. Thus the endothelium is the first responder to anything wrong in the blood.  It is important to understand how a mother's diet or diabetes will affect the endothelium's ability to sense changes in disease states. The group speculates that the environment in the womb will hamper the cells' ability to respond to disease states later in the child's life and will lead to cardiovascular disease.

Heart and Blood Vessel Development

Chair: George Giraud, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine

This research team is determined to find the mechanisms in the fetus that lead to adult cardiovascular disease. They want to know why people who have very high and very low birth weights are likely to get heart disease. They study how a person's blood cholesterol interacts with the endothelium in the blood vessels in the heart to cause a heart attack.

Inflammation, Immunology and Second Hit 

Chair: Nancy Haigwood, Ph.D., director and senior scientist, Oregon National Primate Research Center; adjunct professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, OHSU School of Medicine

This group's major goal is to support other groups by providing expertise on inflammation. Inflammation is not a well understood process. It is important in fighting infectious organisms, and to eliminate them. Many disease conditions—including obesity, arthritis and heart disease-- are affected by an ongoing inflammation even when there is no infection. The group is also looking at how prenatal nutrition regulates the inflammatory state in newborns, and whether chronic inflammation during pregnancy predisposes the offspring to obesity and diabetes.

Metabolism and Development 

Co-chairs: Jon Hennebold, Ph.D., associate scientist, Oregon National Primate Research Center; assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, OHSU School of Medicine, and Jonathan Purnell, M.D., professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine; associate director, OHSU Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness

During fetal development, maternal under-nutrition and over-nutrition are associated with an elevated risk of chronic diseases later in life. Thus, the overall objective of this group includes defining how abnormalities in maternal nutrition and metabolism affect critical developmental processes that lead to later disease. This includes studies of germ cell development and epigenetic effects that persist following fertilization, the uterine environment during implantation, as well as placental and organ formation and function and related development of chronic diseases after birth.

Placental Origin of Disease 

Co-chairs: Leslie Myatt, Ph.D. professor of obstetrics and gynecology, OHSU School of Medicine, and Antonio Frias, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, OHSU School of Medicine

This group's goal is to better understand how the growth of the placenta affects fetal development and long-term disease risk. The placenta functions as the fetal respiratory, renal, hepatic, endocrine and immune system. Placental research is currently limited by inadequate imaging modalities to understand its function in real time.