BENFRA project core leads
Dr. Amala Soumyanath is a professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine. She has 30 years of research experience in pharmacognosy, ranging from quality control to preclinical and clinical studies of botanicals. Her previous work encompassed botanicals used for diabetes or skin diseases but has focused on botanicals for neurological disorders since 2003.
Program Director and Administrative Core Lead: Dr. Soumyanath directs the work of the BENFRA Center, providing leadership and coordination for the timely accomplishment of the Center’s goals.
Project 2 Co-Lead: Dr. Soumyanath oversees the coordination of chemical and biological evaluation of botanical extracts.
Botanical Research Core Co-Investigator: Dr. Soumyanath assists with determining product integrity, production of extracts and fractions, and developing analytical methods for botanical-derived compounds in mouse or human plasma, in conjunction with the Bioanalytical Shared Resource Pharmacokinetic Core at OHSU.
Dr. Nora Gray is an assistant professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine. She has over 15 years of experience working with rodent models and considerable expertise in the cognitive assessments used in mouse models of aging and neurodegenerative disease. Through her post-doctoral training and current work, she also has significant experience working with botanical agents.
Project 1 Lead: Dr. Gray directs the project, providing leadership and coordination for the timely accomplishment of the project goals. She contributes her personal expertise in cognitive behavioral assessments as well as the biochemical measurements of circulating hormone levels.
Project 2 Co-Investigator: Dr. Gray is responsible for the in vitro experiments testing Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera derivatives on primary neurons.
Dr. Doris Kretzschmar is a professor of molecular and medical genetics in the OHSU School of Medicine and the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Science. She is an expert on the Drosophila melanogaster model for neurodegeneration, sleep, and circadian rhythms.
Project 2 Lead: Dr. Kretzschmar oversees the experiments related to testing Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera in Drosophila.
Dr. Miranda Lim is an associate professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine and a sleep physician at the Portland VA. Her current research involves basic, translational, and clinical research studies of neurological disease with a focus on sleep, aging, and neurodegeneration. Her research program spans from work on preclinical models to human interventional clinical trials.
Project 1 Co-Lead: Dr. Lim oversees and coordinates all of the major tasks involving sleep phenotyping in this project.
Dr. Claudia Maier is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and director of the Mass Spectrometry Center at Oregon State University. Dr. Maier has over 25 years of experience in mass spectrometry and has led her own research laboratory at OSU since 2002.
Botanical Research Core Lead: Dr. Maier oversees the mass spectrometry analysis of botanical materials and provide mass spectral support for the molecular characterization of plant fractions. Dr. Maier also guides the “omics” studies to reveal the biological effect of intake of botanicals.
Lucy Allison, M.S.
Lucy Allison has a background in botanical sciences and project management with interests in plant evolution and botanical medicine research.
BENFRA Center Administrator: Ms Allison serves as the Administrator of the BENFRA Center, working closely with Dr. Soumyanath to serve as an interface to all collaborating institutions and external inquiries, assists in the coordination of Center research activities and finances, and assists in connecting graduate students and postdoctoral trainee candidates with potential mentors on the collaborative team.
Natasha Cerruti is a scientist at Oregon’s Wild Harvest. She has significant experience with growing high-value and specialty crops and organic pest and disease management.
Botanical Research Core Co-Investigator: Ms. Cerruti conducts the indoor cultivation studies of Centella asiatica and coordinate supply and quality control of Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera.
Dr. Kenton Hokanson is Director of the Electrophysiology Facility at Oregon State University. He has a decade of experience conducting electrophysiological experiments, including patch clamp and extracellular recordings.
Project 2 Co-Investigator: Dr. Hokanson is responsible for the electrophysiological experiments testing effects on GABAergic signaling in brain slices.
Janis McFerrin is a scientist at Oregon’s Wild Harvest. She has extensive expertise in quality control of raw materials and finished products and how different cultivation methods can affect potency in various plants.
Botanical Research Core Co-Investigator: Ms. McFerrin coordinates supply and quality control of Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera.
Dr. Anusha Mishra is an associate professor of neurology at the Jungers Center for Neurosciences Research. She has over 15 years of experience studying neurovascular coupling in health and disease. Her lab is investigating the mechanisms by which cerebrovascular dysregulation contribute to cognitive decline and dementia.
Project 2 Co-Investigator: Dr. Mishra supervises the ex vivo brain slice experiments to test the effect of Centella extracts on vascular tone. She is responsible for experimental design, data analysis, and manuscript contributions.
Dr. Thuan Nguyen is an associate professor of biostatistics in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and contributing faculty to the OHSU Biostatistics and Design program. Dr. Nguyen’s research experience includes mixed effects models, statistical genetics, model selection, small area estimation, and longitudinal analysis.
Administrative Core Co-Investigator: Dr. Nguyen provides guidance to the data manager and bioinformatician regarding analytic work. She also works with the research associate of the Botanical Core to conduct the bio-chemometric correlations for identification of active compounds using data generated from Project 2 and the Botanical Core.
Dr. Martin Pike is an associate professor at the Advanced Imaging Research Center (AIRC) at OHSU. Dr. Pike has over 30 years of research experience in magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy with rodent disease models, including extensive experience with anatomical and perfusion arterial spin labeling (ASL) MRI in the mouse brain.
Project 1 Co-Investigator: Dr. Pike supervises and assists with all ASL/MRS data acquisition and analysis.
Dr. Joseph Quinn is the Wayne and Sandra Ericksen Endowed Professor for Neurodegeneration Research at OHSU. He has 24 years of experience in translational research in brain aging, including experience with botanical therapies in murine models and human subjects. He has collaborated extensively with Dr. Gray and Dr. Soumyanath on projects leading up to the BDSRC.
Project 1 Co-Investigator: Dr. Quinn assists with the experimental planning and interpretation of results from the cognitive assessments in this project.
Administrative Core Advisor: With extensive experience of leading research centers, Dr. Quinn acts as advisor to Dr. Soumyanath in her leadership role in the BDSRC.
Dr. Jacob Raber is a professor of behavioral neuroscience, neurology, and radiation medicine, and an affiliate scientist in the Division of Neuroscience, ONPRC, at OHSU. He also has a courtesy appointment in the College of Pharmacy at OSU. He has over 29 years of experience conducting research with various animal models of neurological disease, including developing behavioral and cognitive tests in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Project 1 Co-Investigator: Dr. Raber assists with the experimental planning and interpretation of results from the mood experiments in this project.
Dr. Manoj Sammi is a research assistant professor at the Advanced Imaging Research Center (AIRC) at OHSU. He has 17 years of experience in theory and application of magnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging, including expertise in proton (1H) and phosphorus (31P) magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and high-resolution imaging (MRI) at high field.
Project 1 Co-Investigator: Dr. Sammi designs MRI and MRS data acquisition protocols and assists with setup, data processing, and analysis, along with contributing to reports and manuscripts.
Dr. Fred Stevens is a professor in the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University and has directed an independent laboratory at OSU since 2002. He has 30 years of experience in mass spectrometry of natural products from plants and is an expert in plant metabolomics.
Botanical Research Core Co-Investigator: Dr. Stevens provides his expertise in pharmacognosy for fractionation of botanical extracts and identification of natural products.
Dr. Roland Strauss is a Professor at the Institute of Developmental Biology and Neurobiology, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany; using the Drosophila model to study memory and complex behaviors. He has collaborated extensively with Dr. Kretzschmar investigating memory deficits in Drosophila models of neurodegenerative diseases.
Project 2 Collaborator: Dr. Strauss is responsible for experiments to study the effects of botanicals on depression-like symptoms in Drosophila.
Dr. Natascha Techen is a research scientist at the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR). She is an expert in the development of DNA barcodes for (medicinal) plants, which are helpful for identifying raw plant material and plant material present in dietary supplements to provide quality control of medicinal products.
Botanical Research Core Co-Investigator: Dr. Techen performs DNA fingerprinting and barcoding studies of Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera.
Dr. Charles Allen is a professor in the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences and the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience at OHSU. His research is focused in circadian biology and specifically, how intercellular signaling mechanisms generate a robust and precise circadian rhythm from imprecise neuronal oscillators.
Project 2 Advisor: Dr. Allen acts as an advisor, providing his expertise for the studies on neurotransmitters.
Dr. Lucia Carbone is an associate professor in the School of Medicine and director of the Knight Cardiovascular (KCVI) Epigenetics Consortium. Moreover, she is an associate professor in the division of genetics at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC), where she is also a faculty advisor for the Bioinformatics and Biostatistics core. She is an expert in epigenetics, genomics, and bioinformatics.
Project 1 Advisor: Dr. Carbone directly supervises the acquisition and analysis of DNA methylation data.
Dr. Philip Copenhaver is a professor of cell, developmental and cancer biology at OHSU. His research has focused on the normal and abnormal functions of amyloid precursor protein in the developing and aging nervous system. In addition, he has experience investigating the neuroprotective mechanisms of candidate compounds in models of aging and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Projects 1 and 2 Advisor: Dr. Copenhaver provides his expertise on cellular mechanisms of aging to advise on how candidate botanical compounds may mitigate the activation of cellular senescent pathways linked with aging and neurodegeneration.
Dr. Andrea DeBarber is associate director of the Bioanalytical Shared Resource Pharmacokinetic Core (BSR/PKCore) at OHSU. In this role, Dr. DeBarber is involved in the development and validation of bioanalytical methods for identification and quantification of small molecules in biological matrices.
Botanical Research Core Advisor: Dr. DeBarber provides her expertise on bioanalytical methodology to advise on the development of methods to analyze Centella and Withania compounds in plasma.
Dr. Ikhlas Khan is director of the National Center for Natural Product Research, recognized by the FDA as a Center of Excellence. He is also a distinguished professor of pharmacognosy at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Khan has an extensive background in natural products chemistry and botanical dietary supplement research.
Administrative Core Advisor: Dr. Khan serves on the Internal Steering Committee.
Botanical Research Core Advisor: Dr. Khan is an advisor and provide his expertise on analytical methods for Withania and Centella and for future clinical trials.
Dr. Dennis Koop is director of the Bioanalytical Shared Resource Pharmacokinetic Core (BSR/PKCore) at OHSU. In this role, he provides investigators with access to analytical instrumentation for small molecules and assists in the development of analytical methods as investigators require.
Botanical Research Core Advisor: Dr. Koop provides his expertise on bioanalytical methodology to advise on the development of methods to analyze Centella and Withania compounds in plasma.
Joanne Roberts is the director of research and development at Oregon’s Wild Harvest. She has worked in the field of dietary supplements for 24 years in quality assurance, regulatory compliance, galenic formulation, and research and development.
Botanical Research Core Advisor: Ms. Roberts provides guidance on product development for future clinical trials.
Other research personnel
Md Nure Alam
Md Nure Alam is an Analytical Chemistry graduate student in Dr. Maier’s lab. His research focuses on combining mass spectrometry methods with computational tools to advance the analyses of complex small molecule mixtures.
Graduate Research Assistant, Botanical Research Core: Md Nure Alam assists in the plant metabolomic analyses of the extracts derived from the greenhouse-grown Centella asiatica cultivars.
Melissa Bollen, M.S.
Melissa Bollen is a graduate of Portland’s National University of Natural Medicine Integrative Medicine Research and Global Health. She has an interest in botanical medicine research and ethnopharmacology of traditional botanical remedies. She has experience in conducting human clinical trials and analyzing plasma and urine samples from human pharmacokinetics studies of Centella asiatica.
Research Assistant, Botanical Research Core: Ms Bollen assists with the production, curation and distribution of extracts and compounds from Centella asiatica and Ashwagandha to BENFRA Center investigators and collaborators. She is involved in developing methods for analysis of compounds derived from ashwagandha in mouse plasma.
Jaewoo Choi, Ph.D.
Dr. Jaewoo Choi is the manager of the Analytical Services Core laboratory in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. He is an analytical/bio-organic chemist with experience in metabolomics, lipidomics, and organic synthesis.
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Botanical Research Core: Dr. Choi performs chemical profiling of natural products extracts and fractions using mass spectrometry via targeted/untargeted analysis.
Brett Davis, M.S.
Mr. Davis is a bioinformatics analyst at the Knight Cardiovascular Institute Epigenetics Consortium.
Bioinformatics Analyst, Project 1: Mr. Davis is responsible for the analysis of RRBS data generated for Project 1.
Wyatt Hack, A.S.
Wyatt Hack is a research assistant who has been working with Dr. Gray and Dr. Quinn for several years. She has almost a decade of experience working with mice, and has expertise in performing behavioral assays and studying possible treatments in models of aging and neurodegenerative diseases.
Project 1: research assistant, Wyatt works with Dr. Gray on the Centella asiatica project, performing behavioral tests associated with cognition and memory such as Conditioned Fear Response, Novel Object Recognition Test, and Light-Dark Box.
Project 2: research assistant, Wyatt assists Dr. Gray with Sholl analysis.
Helen Holvoet, M.S.
Helen Holvoet has a Masters degree in behavioral neuroscience and her current research focuses on understanding the phytopharmaceutical-induced resilience to a depression-like state in Drosophila melanogaster. She is trained to perform behavioral assays, immunohistochemistry and confocal microscopy using Drosophila.
Graduate Student, Project 2: As a PhD student in the Strauss lab, Ms. Holvoet performs the experiments evaluating the effect of Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera on depression-like symptoms in Drosophila.
Laura M. Knittel, Ph.D.
Dr. Laura Knittel is a Research Assistant in the laboratory of Dr. Anusha Mishra. After receiving training in the field of developmental neuroscience, she took an extended leave of absence to focus on her family.
Research Assistant, Projects 1 and 2: Dr. Knittel assists Dr. Mishra and Dr. Zimmerman in taking care of the animals necessary for the ex vivo brain slice experiments on vascular tone as well as the in vivo MRS and MRI experiments to quantify vascular function.
Seiji Koike, M.A.S.
Seiji Koike is a graduate of Oregon State University and has several years of experience as a biostatistician. He is proficient in programming languages for statistical analysis and has experience implementing data quality procedures for clinical studies.
Data manager and Statistician, Administrative Core: Seiji sets up databases for deposition of study results from the Botanical Core and two Research Projects. He acts as a primary interface for requests for data from collaborators as well as external inquiries and works with Dr. Nguyen to create descriptive analyses and reports.
Alexander Law, B.S.
Alex Law has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and has extensive experience in Drosophila husbandry. He is also trained to perform behavioral assays using Drosophila and is experienced in various molecular techniques.
Research Assistant, Project 2: Mr. Law has worked with Dr. Kretzschmar for several years. He is an expert in the locomotor/cognition assays that are used in Project 2 and is well-experienced in performing molecular analyses addressing possible effects on targets.
Dani Long, Ph.D.
Dr. Long has extensive training in the analysis of molecular and behavioral circadian rhythms in Drosophila. They are also experienced in Drosophila genetics, immunohistochemistry, and confocal microscopy.
Postdoctoral Scholar, Project 2: Dr. Long performs all the experiments related to determining effects on sleep.
Luke Marney, Ph.D.
Dr. Luke Marney is a Research Associate at Oregon State University’s Mass Spectrometry Center, bringing a chemometrics and clinical laboratory background to the analytical chemistry investigations of plant extracts, botanicals, and biological samples.
Postdoctoral Scholar, Botanical Research Core: Dr. Marney is developing and applying analytical chemistry and chemometric methods for in-depth chemical characterization of plant extracts, botanicals, and biological samples using chromatography and mass spectrometry technique.
Burkhard Poeck, Ph.D.
Dr. Burkhard Poeck is a senior research scientist at the Institute of Developmental Biology and Neurobiology, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany.
Project 2 Collaborator: Dr. Poeck assists with the experimental planning and interpretation of results from the studies addressing effect on depression in Drosophila.
Karon Rowe is a senior at Portland State University majoring in Biology and minoring in Psychology. Her interests include research into all Complementary and Alternative medicine (CAM) modalities and bringing this knowledge into Western medicine. She especially wants to help spread the word about these CAM therapies to give people more options than just what western medicine prescribes and to offer hope to help lift people out of their pain and into a mind/body awareness where they can take control of their health.
Project 2: Research assistant, Karon Rowe works with Dr. Kretzschmar to test extracts and compounds from Centella asiatica for their effects on phototaxis in aged Drosophila melanogaster flies.
Alex Speers, N.D., M.S.
Dr. Alex Speers is a postdoctoral scholar in the neurology department of OHSU School of Medicine. He is a naturopathic doctor with experience in integrative medicine research. Dr. Speers is supported by an NIH/NCCIH T32 training grant (AT002688-16).
Postdoctoral Scholar, Projects 1 and 2: Dr. Speers will assist with biological testing of Centella asiatica using in vivo models for Project 1 and in vitro assays for Project 2.
Postdoctoral Scholar, Botanical Research Core: Dr. Speers assists with characterization of materials in the Botanical Research Core.
Kirsten Wright, N.D., M.C.R., M.S.
Dr. Kirsten Wright is an assistant professor of Neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine. Her current research involves translational and clinical research studies of neurological disease with a focus on botanical interventions and the use of digital technologies to understand dietary behavior, nutrition, aging, and neurodegeneration.
Botanical Research Core Co-Investigator: Dr Wright brings expertise in translational studies of botanicals and the measurement of phytochemical analytes in mouse plasma obtained from in vivo experiments of Centella asiatica.
Liping Yang, Ph.D.
Dr. Liping Yang is a Senior Faculty Research Assistant Research Associate in Oregon State University’s Mass Spectrometry Center.
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Botanical Research Core: Dr. Yang is developing and applying mass spectrometric approaches for the targeted quantification of phytochemical compounds in plant extracts, botanicals, and other diverse matrices.
Benjamin Zimmerman, Ph.D.
Dr. Ben Zimmerman is a postdoctoral research investigator at the National University of Natural Medicine and the Department of Neurology at OHSU. His research has focused on the effects of cerebrovascular health on cognitive aging. He is supported by an NIH/NCCIH R90 training grant (AT008924) under the primary mentorship of Dr. Amala Soumyanath.
Project 1: Postdoctoral Scholar, Under the co-mentorship of Dr. Martin Pike and Dr. Manoj Sammi, Dr. Zimmerman assists with the MRI and MRS in vivo experiments.
Project 2: Postdoctoral Scholar, Under the mentorship of Dr. Anusha Mishra, Dr. Zimmerman conducts ex vivo brain slice experiments to measure the effect of Centella asiatica extracts on vascular tone.
Former BENFRA staff
Armando Alcázar, PhD
Dr. Armando Alcázar served as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Oregon State University’s Mass Spectrometry Center and The Linus Pauling Institute under the mentoring of Professors Claudia Maier and Fred Stevens. Dr. Alcázar was a member of the Botanical Research Core and focused on the development and application of analytical methods for in-depth chemical characterization of Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera raw materials and extracts using mass spectrometry in conjunction with separation and enrichment techniques.
Mikah Brandes, B.S.
Mikah Brandes graduated from Portland State University and worked with Dr. Nora Gray and Dr. Joseph Quinn as a BUILD EXITO Scholar on research projects relating to cognitive decline in aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Mikah served as a Research Assistant on Project 1, assisting in behavioral assessments. Mikah also served as a Research Assistant in the Botanical Research Core assisting with preparation and curation of botanical test materials.
He also served as the Center administrator from 2020-2021.
Kadine Cabey, M.S.
Kadine Cabey has a Master’s degree in Integrative Medicine Research. While at BENFRA she served as a Research Assistant investigating the use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha) and Centella asiatica (gotu kola) to treat age-associated changes in cognition and sleep. Kadine helped with the creation of extracts of the herbs, analysis of the extracts using thin layer chromatography, and the testing of the extracts in Drosophila melanogaster.
Steve Chamberlin, N.D., M.Ac., M.S.
Dr. Steve Chamberlin is a post-doctoral scholar and instructor in the Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology in the OHSU School of Medicine. He has a background in naturopathy, Chinese medicine and data science. His research interest is the application of computational methods to study botanical medicines, natural products and health restoration. Dr Chamberlin participated in a cross component study spanning BENFRA Project 2 and the Botanical Research Core. He investigated mechanisms of actions compounds found in Centella asiatica, using both transcriptomic and metabolomic data of mouse primary cortical neurons treated with Centella asiatica extracts and compounds.
Alicia Johnson, M.P.H., Data Manager
Alicia Johnson, MPH studied Biostatistics in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and has worked on a variety of projects as a study coordinator and statistician. She was the BENFRA center’s first Data Manager and set up databases and study folders to organize incoming data and results.
Christine McClure, N.D., M.S.
Dr. Christine McClure was a T32 training grant funded postdoctoral scholar in the Neurology department of OHSU School of Medicine. She is a naturopathic doctor with experience in conducting human clinical trials and in research on botanicals. Dr McClure served as a Postdoctoral Scholar on Project 2 and performed experiments evaluating the effect of Withania somnifera on age-related decline in locomotion and reactivity and sleep patterns in Drosophila melanogaster. Dr McClure also served as a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Botanical Research Core and assisted with determining product integrity by performing chromatographic analysis of botanicals, and preparing varied extracts for use in BENFRA studies.
Cody Neff, B.S.
Cody Neff was a 2022 graduate of Portland State University. Mr. Neff joined BENFRA as a student researcher in. Dr. Soumyanath’s lab in 2021, and assisted with the preparation, curation and distribution of Ashwagandha and Centella asiatica materials for BENFRA’s collaborative research projects. Following his graduation, he worked as an RA full time in Dr. Gray’s lab, assisting with BENFRA projects 1 and 2.
Jon Zweig, B.S.
Mr. Zweig, research assitant, collaborated with Dr. Gray and Dr. Quinn for several years. He is an expert in the behavioral assessment techniques. For Project 1, Mr. Zweig worked with Dr. Gray to conduct the in vivo behavioral testing of cognitive function and mood in Aims 1 and 3. For Project 2, Mr. Zweig worked with Dr. Gray to conduct in vitro assays using primary neurons.