BENFRA project core leads
Dr. Amala Soumyanath is an associate 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 will direct 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 will oversee the coordination of chemical and biological evaluation of botanical extracts.
Botanical Research Core Co-Investigator: Dr. Soumyanath will assist 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. 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 will oversee the mass spectrometry analysis of botanical materials and provide mass spectral support for the molecular characterization of plant fractions. Dr. Maier will also guide the “omics” studies to reveal the biological effect of intake of botanicals.
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 will direct the project, providing leadership and coordination for the timely accomplishment of the project goals. She will contribute her personal expertise in cognitive behavioral assessments as well as the biochemical measurements of circulating hormone levels.
Project 2 Co-Investigator: Dr. Gray will be responsible for the in vitro experiments testing Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera derivatives on primary neurons.
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 will oversee and coordinate all of the major tasks involving sleep phenotyping in this project.
Dr. Doris Kretzschmar is an associate 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 will oversee the histological and behavioral experiments related to the use of Drosophila, including experimental design, data collection, analysis, and interpretation.
Alex Speers N.D., M.S.
Dr. Alex Speers is a naturopathic doctor practicing in Portland, Oregon, with an interest in botanicals research.
BENFRA Center Administrator: Dr. Speers will serve as the administrator of the BENFRA Center, working closely with Dr. Soumyanath to serve as an interface to all collaborating institutions and external enquiries, assist in the coordination of Center research activities and finances, and assist 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 will conduct 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 will be 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 will coordinate supply and quality control of Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera.
Dr. Anusha Mishra is an assistant 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 will supervise the ex vivo brain slice experiments to test the effect of Centella extracts on vascular tone. She will be 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 will provide guidance to the data manager and bioinformatician regarding analytic work. She will also work 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 will supervise and assist 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 will assist 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 will act 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 will assist 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 will design MRI and MRS data acquisition protocols and assist 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 will provide his expertise in pharmacognosy for fractionation of botanical extracts and identification of natural products.
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 will perform DNA fingerprinting and barcoding studies of Centella asiatica and Withania somnifera.
Other significant contributors
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 will act 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 will directly supervise 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 will provide 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 will provide 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 will serve on the Internal Steering Committee.
Botanical Research Core Advisor: Dr. Khan will be 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 will provide 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 will provide guidance on product development for future clinical trials.
Other research personnel
Ariel Balter, Ph.D.
Dr. Balter is a biophysicist/bioinformatician with experience in ChIP-Seq, RNA-Seq analysis, and 16s Mi-Seq analysis, as well as analysis of microbial community data.
Bioinformatics analyst, Admin Core: Dr. Balter will assist with the analysis of gene expression and metabolomics data.
Alicia Johnson, M.P.H.
Ms. Johnson has several years of health sciences research experience as a study coordinator and biostatistician. She is adept at multiple programming languages for database creation and statistical analysis, and has experience implementing data quality procedures for clinical studies.
Data Manager, Admin Core: Ms. Johnson will set up databases for deposition of study results from the Botanical Core and two Research Projects. She will act as a primary interface for requests for data from collaborators as well as external inquiries and will work with Dr. Nguyen to create descriptive analyses and reports.
Jon Zweig, B.S.
Mr. Zweig has collaborated with Dr. Gray and Dr. Quinn for several years. He is an expert in the behavioral assessment techniques that will be used in Project 1.
Research Assistant, Project 1: Mr. Zweig with work with Dr. Gray to conduct the in vivo behavioral testing of cognitive function and mood in Aims 1 and 3.
Research Assistant, Project 2: Mr. Zweig will work with Dr. Gray to conduct the in vitro assays using primary neurons.
Brett Davis, M.S.
Mr. Davis is a bioinformatics analyst at the Knight Cardiovascular Institute Epigenetics Consortium.
Bioinformatics Analyst, Project 1: Mr. Davis will be responsible for the analysis of RRBS data generated for Project 1.
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 will perform all the experiments related to the quantification of neuronal degeneration.
Armando Alcázar, Ph.D.
Dr. Armando Alcázar is 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.
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Botanical Research Core: Dr. Alcázar will focus on the development and application of analytical methods for in-depth chemical characterization of plant extracts and botanicals using mass spectrometry in conjunction with separation and enrichment techniques.
Christine McClure, N.D., M.S.
Dr. Christine McClure is a 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 is supported by an NIH/NCCIH T32 training grant (AT002688-16).
Postdoctoral Scholar, Project 2: Dr. McClure will perform experiments evaluating the effect of Withania somnifera on age-related decline in locomotion and reactivity in Drosophila melanogaster. She will also perform experiments evaluating the effect of Withania somnifera on sleep patterns in Drosophila melanogaster.
Postdoctoral Scholar, Botanical Research Core: Dr. McClure will assist with determining product integrity by performing chromatographic analysis of botanicals. She will also assist with the production of botanical extracts.
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 will perform chemical profiling of natural products extracts and fractions using mass spectrometry via targeted/untargeted metabolomics.