MRF Awards

The Medical Research Foundation grants these annual awards of merit to exceptional Oregon scientists and mentors. Three awards are offered: The Discovery Award, the Mentor Award and the Richard T. Jones New Investigator Awards.

The 2022 MRF Award nomination portal is open; nominations due May 16, 2022.

The Discovery Award recognizes an Oregon investigator who has made significant, original contributions to health-related research while working in Oregon. This research can be in the basic, clinical or behavioral sciences, or it can be research in health care delivery, health informatics or health outcomes. Past recipients represent a broad spectrum of disciplines from many Oregon research institutions. (See the bottom of this page for information on how to nominate individuals for all MRF awards, including the Discovery Awards.)

The Discovery Award is given to an Oregon scientist who has made significant, original discoveries to health-related research while working in Oregon.

  • Nominations are sought from Oregon research, educational and health care institutions, individual researchers, educators and practitioners.
  • Nominations must include a summary of original achievements of the nominee and a current curriculum vitae. The significance of original contributions to new knowledge and professional excellence will be primary considerations.
  • The MRF Committee will review, evaluate and select the winner of the Discovery Award.
  • Current members of the MRF Committee are not eligible to be nominated for the Discovery Award.

The Mentor Award is presented to an Oregonian who has provided outstanding mentorship and leadership in the support of health research, education or the advancement of health care. (See the bottom of this page for information on how to nominate individuals for all MRF awards, including the Mentor Award.)

The Mentor Award is given to an Oregonian who has provided outstanding mentorship and leadership in the support or development of health research, education or the advancement of health care.

  • Nominations are sought from Oregon research, educational and health care institutions, individual researchers, educators and practitioners.
  • Nominations must include a summary of the leadership and support accomplishments of the nominee and a current curriculum vitae.
  • The MRF Committee will review, evaluate and select the winners of the Mentor Award.
  • Current members of the MRF Committee are not eligible to be nominated for the Mentor Award.

The Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award recognizes a new investigator who shows exceptional promise early in a career in biomedical research. This individual must be within seven years or fewer of completing clinical and/or post-doctoral training and will be judged on the basis of independence, quality of science, national funding and first or senior authored publications in peer-reviewed biomedical research journals. The culmination of the research must have been performed in Oregon. (See the bottom of this page for information on how to nominate individuals for all MRF awards, including the Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award.)

Follow these guidelines when submitting a nomination for the Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award:

  • Nominations are sought from Oregon research, educational and health care institutions, individual researchers, educators and practitioners.
  • Nominations must include a summary of original achievements of the nominee and a current curriculum vitae.
  • The MRF Committee will review, evaluate and select the winner of the Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award.
  • Current members of the MRF Committee are not eligible to be nominated for the Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award.

How do I nominate?

Nominations are submitted through the competitive application portal. Submit your nomination for the 2022 MRF Awards by May 16, 2022.
All nominations should 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.
  • All documents should be submitted at one time, as one pdf by the nominator.
  • Competitive nominations will include letters from outside your institution.

Award winners will be selected by the members of the MRF Committee.

The Medical Research Foundation of Oregon celebrates six outstanding scientists

The Medical Research Foundation of Oregon has distinguished six Oregon scientists as recipients of its 2020 and 2021 Mentor, Discovery, and New Investigator awards.

Aaron Caughey headshotv2

Aaron Caughey, M.D., M.P.P., M.P.H., Ph.D.
Mentor Award
OHSU

The Medical Research Foundation honored Aaron Caughey, M.D., M.P.P., M.P.H., Ph.D., with the 2020 Mentor Award. The Mentor Award is presented to an Oregonian who has provided outstanding mentorship and leadership in the support of health research, education or the advancement of health care. Dr. Caughey was nominated by Ellen Tilden, Ph.D., RN, CNM, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing and School of Medicine, OHSU.

Dr. Caughey’s research focuses on applying a broad array of methodologies, from standard biostatistical techniques to decision and cost-effectiveness analysis, to address questions in obstetrics and maternal-fetal medicine regarding post-term pregnancy, preeclampsia, and diabetes in pregnancy, obesity and weight gain, as well as prenatal diagnosis. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Caughey has mentored 84 predoctoral students, 54 postdoctoral students and fellows, and 18 faculty, and has received 22 teaching awards. Dr. Caughey’s trainees are now in positions across the U.S., including Harvard, UCSF, and Johns Hopkins. A close examination of his prolific publication record reveals that a majority of his papers include mentees; of his 23 publications in 2019, 21 included at least one mentee, with many as first authors.

Dr.  Caughey models and cultivates an attitude that all are welcome and all can achieve. This attitude infuses his interactions with upcoming clinicians and scientists. It is clearly on display, for example, with his annual training in cost modeling in obstetrics and maternal-fetal medicine. Every spring he welcomes a diverse group of students to learn cost effectiveness and cost utility analysis with him. He guides each student in generating at least one, but often several, abstract submissions for presentation at fall and winter OBGYN conferences.

Dr. Caughey has a particular focus on mentoring individuals from underrepresented ethnic groups and genders.  Under his leadership, the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at OHSU had its first female associate professor ever promoted to full professor, and today there are three. Additionally, the department has had three Hispanic faculty. His commitment to advancing the academic careers of individuals from groups who are underrepresented nationally in healthcare has made the Department one of the most inclusive and diverse in the country.

Dr. Caughey is a fierce mentee advocate. He encourages students to be leaders, while always being available for teaching, problem-solving and encouragement. Dr. Caughey cultivates a community feeling with his students, creating a space for first-year through fourth-year medical students to work together and learn from one another. An important aspect of Dr. Caughey’s mentorship is that he understands students as individuals, in terms of strengths, background, and personal goals.

Dr. Caughey received M.P.P. from Harvard Kennedy School of Government, M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and M.P.H. and Ph.D. from University of California, Berkley. He completed his Residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital. He joined OHSU in 2010 and is chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and associate dean for Women’s Health Research and Policy, OHSU School of Medicine.

Cary Harding headshot

Cary Harding, M.D.
Discovery Award
OHSU

The Medical Research Foundation honored Cary Harding, M.D. with the 2020 Discovery Award. The Discovery Award recognizes an Oregon investigator who has made significant, original contributions to health-related research while working in Oregon. Dr. Harding was nominated by Melanie Gillingham, Ph.D., R.D., Associate Professor, Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics, OHSU.

Dr. Harding embodies the spirit of the Discovery Award because of his substantial contributions to new knowledge and advancement of novel therapeutics for patients suffering from rare inborn errors of metabolism. Early in his career he recognized that treatment options for people with these genetic issues, especially people with phenylketonuria—or PKU—are not optimal. This was a radical idea at that time because dogma stated that the success of dietary therapy negated the need for novel therapeutics. 

As a result, Dr. Harding has been critically involved in improving clinical care, designing novel and original therapeutics, and participating in clinical trials for the betterment of patients with PKU. He and his team have designed various therapeutics for PKU, including co-factor supplementation, enzyme substitution, and gene and cell therapies. 

More than a thousand pathogenic mutations in the gene responsible for PKU, the PAH gene, have been described, making the design of gene therapy for PKU problematic. The Harding lab recently published a study using in vivo hepatocyte gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9 to correct a point mutation in a mouse model of PKU with a defective PAH gene. This led to the first-ever neonatal correction of PKU that persisted over the lifespan of the mouse. This work is a stepping-stone in the development of a gene therapy approach using gene-editing CRISPR/Cas9 technology that could be applied more broadly, regardless of PAH genotype, and is an active area of further research. This project illustrates his forward-thinking approach using the latest science tools in his research towards the development of a cure for this neurologically devastating disease.  

In partnership with pharmaceutical companies, to date, Dr. Harding has facilitated the movement of two breakthrough drugs into the clinic for the treatment of PKU, KuvanTM7-9 and PalynziqTM10-14, that are now FDA-approved for the treatment of PKU. The impact that these two drugs have made on the PKU community are remarkable. 

While his impacts on human health in the clinical realm are remarkable, his achievements in academia are matching. Since he has been in Oregon, he has been a prominent leader in education, basic science, and translational research. He has been committed to discovering the molecular underpinnings of PKU and dedicated to advancing our understanding of human biology and treatments for in-born errors of metabolism. Some of the key discoveries in his basic science work include the showing that, in PKU, serotonin in the brain is deficient compared with dopamine and the essential role of lowering blood phenylalanine levels to improve brain serotonin concentrations. He is well-established among patient-based foundations, advocacy efforts, and public policy reform, worldwide. He has demonstrated an astonishing and admirable commitment to the discovery and implementation of novel therapeutics and continues to expand his efforts with new, cutting-edge tools. He is an academic physician-scientist that has changed this clinical landscape for patients with PKU for the better.

Dr. Harding received his M.D. from University of Washington, and completed his residency at University of Wisconsin Hospital. He completed a fellowship in medical genetics from University of Wisconsin Medical School. He is currently professor, Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics, OHSU.

Luiz Bertassoni headshot

Luiz Bertassoni, D.D.S., Ph.D.
Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award
OHSU

The Medical Research Foundation honored Luiz Bertassoni, D.D.S., Ph.D., with the 2020 Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award. This award recognizes a new investigator who shows exceptional promise early in a career in biomedical research. Dr. Bertassoni was nominated by Jack Ferracane, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Restorative Dentistry, School of Dentistry, OHSU.

Dr. Bertassoni joined OHSU in 2015, and in this short period not only has he been able to turn the area of regenerative medicine into one of the strengths of the School of Dentistry’s research portfolio, but he has also developed strong collaborations and ties with schools and departments that go far beyond his original field of craniofacial and dental research – indeed, he has accumulated four appointments in three distinct schools and institutes at OHSU within five years, all of this while being the sole PI pursuing his field of research in the School of Dentistry, and one of the very few in the whole state.

Dr. Bertassoni has collaborated, published or submitted grants with OHSU investigators as scientifically distant as the School of Medicine’s Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology and the Department of Biomedical Engineering, the Knight Cardiovascular Institute’s Vascular Biology Research laboratories, the Oregon National Primate Research Center, the School of Pharmacy, the Shriner’s Hospital, and many researchers at the Knight Cancer Institute and CEDAR.

Dr. Bertassoni’s lab has built a reputation for its multidisciplinary and innovative research, emphasizing multiple areas of biomaterials, regenerative medicine and engineered models of disease. His research program is built on four identifiable strengths: nano and microscale tissue engineering; biomaterials development, with a special emphasis on biomanufacturing and 3D bioprinting; nanoscale structure and function of calcified tissues; and organs-on-a-chip. 

Dr. Bertassoni’s early work in developing methods of 3D bioprinting resolved one of the most critical biomedical challenges in regenerative medicine in the past 20 years: the regeneration of fully vascularized tissues. Dr. Bertassoni developed a new 3D printing method that enabled for the first time the fabrication of branching and perfusable microvascular (endothelialized) capillary networks in cell laden bone scaffolds. This work was reported in Lab on a Chip, the leading journal in the field of organs on-a-chip, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

More recently, Dr. Bertassoni was selected for the Faculty Excellence and Innovation award at OHSU, which is a three-year, $750K research award for innovative work and potential for impact in a high-risk/high-reward project. Dr. Bertassoni proposes to develop innovative methods of bioprinting functional organ-mimics with single cell resolution, which is poised to be a transformative step in the fields of biofabrication and regenerative medicine, as well as on the development of complex disease models.

Dr. Bertassoni has demonstrated success in high-risk research by questioning established concepts, which has resulted in paradigm-shifting outcomes. He has proven his ability to cross multiple boundaries of science and transition between fields seamlessly.

Dr. Bertassoni received his Ph.D. from the University of Sydney, Australia, and his D.D.S. from Pontifical Catholic University, Brazil. He completed postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School and University of California, San Francisco. He joined OHSU in 2015, and is now an Associate Professor in the Division of Biomaterials and Biomechanics, Department of Restorative Dentistry, School of Dentistry, OHSU.

Steven Shea headshot

Steven Shea, Ph.D.
Mentor Award
OHSU

The Medical Research Foundation Committee has awarded its 2021 Mentor Award to Steven A. Shea, Ph.D. Dr. Shea was nominated by Saurabh S. Thosar, Ph.D., M.S., OTR/L, Assistant Professor, Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences.

Dr. Shea is the Director of the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences and drives a federally funded research program in sleep and circadian sciences, studying cardiovascular biology in people with chronic disease— and he is a dedicated and highly accomplished mentor.

In the last two decades, he has successfully mentored more than 30 trainees. Nearly all remain in clinical research or clinical training, many have remained in sleep or circadian research, and a number have moved on to academic positions and have their own independent research funding, including two whom Dr. Shea helped to recruit as pre-doctoral fellows and who are now full professors of sleep medicine. Indeed, Dr. Shea currently serves as mentor for seven federally funded junior M.D. and Ph.D. faculty trainees across OHSU, all of whom are funded by career development awards.

Dr. Shea was recruited to OHSU from Harvard in 2012. Notably, in 2010, he was selected from among hundreds of nominees based on recommendations from former mentees to receive the A. Clifford Barger Excellence in Mentoring Award from Harvard Medical School. Dr. Shea was Associate Director of the NIH-funded Harvard Medical School Training Program in Sleep, Circadian and Respiratory Neurobiology for over 10 years. He was the original chair of the curriculum development committee and played a key role in all aspects of the development, monitoring, and management of this nationally well-regarded training program. He implemented an “individualized development plan” for postdoctoral trainees, designed to set and track realistic goals tailored to the desired career trajectory of each trainee—a program he then replicated at OHSU. Dr. Shea also leads a Research Learning Community for the BUILD EXITO program, a collaborative diversity program between OHSU and Portland State University.

Nationally, as Chair of the Research Committee of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Dr. Shea helped initiate, with Sairam Parthasarathy, M.D., a “Young Investigator Forum” held annually at NIH in Bethesda, to provide promising sleep researchers with mentoring advice to best prepare themselves for a successful academic career. The forum has approximately 20 trainees per year and has been running for over ten years.

Dr. Shea also recently served as Chair of the Oregon OSHA Rule-making Committee on Infectious Diseases, an important position considering the ongoing pandemic.

Dr. Shea also provides exceptional leadership to the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences faculty and staff. Because of his leadership, he received the OHSU Faculty Senate Leadership award in 2018. During this pandemic, his empathy, accommodating nature, psychological support, and astute decision-making have been at the forefront. He has furthered OHSU’s antiracist agenda in the Institute by providing steadfast support and encouragement to the Institute’s committee of inclusion, diversity, and equity, including creating and providing part-time FTE support for two new positions to run this program.

Dr. Shea has over 30 years’ experience in performing sleep and circadian research with more than two decades as a federally funded principal investigator. Dr. Shea is one of the first investigators to use accepted circadian techniques in humans to study the role of the circadian system on disease processes. Such studies have relevance to the day/night pattern in the severity of a number of episodic disorders, such as nocturnal asthma and cardiovascular disease, as well as the adverse health effects of shift work, including obesity and hypertension. These pioneering investigations in humans have been widely accepted as seminal and have spurred on ‘reverse translational’ studies by other investigators to establish basic underlying mechanisms, often in collaboration with Dr. Shea.

In summary, Dr. Shea is not only an extraordinary mentor and a superb scientist but a genuinely genial person who makes working with him a delight. He is a generous collaborator, a respected senior researcher, and someone his colleagues love to work with, to seek advice from, and to share their thoughts with.

Dr. Shea received his B.Sc. in Human Biology at Loughborough University and his Ph.D. Physiology from the University of London, London, UK.

Marit Traber headshotv2

Maret Traber, Ph.D.
Discovery Award
OSU

Dr. Maret Traber, Ph.D., Professor of Nutrition at the Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, is the recipient of the Medical Research Foundation’s 2021 Discovery Award. Dr. Traber was nominated by Adrian F. Gombart, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University.

Dr. Traber is a pioneer in vitamin E research and arguably the world’s leading expert on vitamin E and its importance in human health. In the words of one nominator, “Dr. Maret Traber's work makes a difference: her research is highly significant for health-related issues; her mechanistic studies have translated to a clinical setting and have a high potential of clinical translatability.”

The antioxidant vitamin E was discovered in 1922 as a substance required for preventing fetal reabsorption during pregnancy—how this process works, however, is not known, even decades after its discovery. Dr. Traber was recruited for her accomplishments in nutrition and vitamin E, but her research performed in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University firmly established her as a world-leading expert in vitamin E and human health. Her landmark work continues to change paradigms in the field of vitamin E as she strives to clarify how it is metabolized, its role as an antioxidant in the developing brain, the impact of deficiency, and adverse effects of excess vitamin E.

In addition to developing unique animal models to address questions not possible in mammalian or human systems, Dr. Traber has developed novel ways to measure absorption, pharmacokinetics and bioavailability of vitamin E in humans using mass spectrometry. Her seminal work in the field with studies primarily in humans was recognized by the National Academy of Sciences, and she served on the Institute of Medicine’s most recent Panel on Dietary Antioxidants and Related Compounds, which established the current U.S. dietary requirements for vitamin E.

Dr. Traber’s colleagues describe her work as “seminal”, “landmark” and transformational; at the forefront of vitamin E research. They describe her as a “pioneer” and one of the most prominent experts in the field. Indeed Dr. Traber has published nearly 220 peer-reviewed papers and over 100 book chapters and invited reviews in prestigious scientific journals. The importance of her work is reflected by an h-index of 88, over 30,000 citations, over 170 invited talks at professional meetings, symposia and conferences, and 24 awards and honors.

She has held two endowed positions at the Linus Pauling Institute— first the Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Micronutrient Research (2012-2017) and then the Ava Helen Pauling Chair (2017- present). In 2019, she received the OSU Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award.

Dr. Traber’s commitment to the profession, scientific leadership and global health is also demonstrated by her service on editorial boards, NIH study sections, professional societies, and advisory boards. These boards include the Institute of Medicine, Committee on Military Nutrition Research, NASA and the World Health Organization. Dr. Traber’s contributions have significantly benefited human health and disease prevention globally. She is also a generous collaborator and mentor.

Dr. Traber earned a B.S. and Ph.D. in Nutrition from the University of California-Berkeley. Following her doctoral training focused on cholesterol metabolism, she launched her distinguished career at Rutgers University and then joined the Department of Medicine at New York University and returned to UC-Berkeley before being recruited to the newly established Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in 1998, where she remains today.

Steve Reichow headshot

Steve Reichow, Ph.D.
Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award
PSU

Steve L. Reichow, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry at Portland State University, is the recipient of the 2021 MRF Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award. Dr. Reichow was nominated by Dean B. Atkinson, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair of Chemistry, Portland State University.

Dr. Reichow is a biophysical chemist, studying the structure and dynamics of biomedically important protein complexes, with a particular emphasis on membrane and vision biology. His experimental approach capitalizes on his expertise in CryoEM, a state-of-the art technique in macromolecular structure elucidation and visualization. He also uses computational biology in his research and is highly regarded by his colleagues and collaborators as someone who soaks up, questions, and masters every aspect of the data. In the words of one collaborator, Dr. Reichow is “a total scientist who dives into every technique and idea to understand them deeply, and who checks every piece of data against his by-now extensive knowledge of the biochemical and methodological literature.”

The quality of research in Dr. Reichow’s lab is demonstrated by the high-impact papers emerging from his work at PSU as well as his successful track record of external funding. His inaugural manuscript appeared in Nature Communications, a truly impressive achievement for a junior faculty member. This work was recognized shortly after publication as a Faculty of 1000 Recommended Article. Remarkably, Dr. Reichow followed up this accomplishment with a publication in the flagship journal Nature, which also received recognition as a Faculty of 1000 Recommended Article. The latter was also the subject of an editorial in Microscopy and Microanalysis, and received coverage from a variety of news organizations.

Recently, Dr. Reichow’s team conducted a follow-up investigation to the work published in Nature, developing experimental conditions to reconstitute cell-to-cell communication channels isolated from the eye lens in a lipid bilayer environment (to closely mimic the native state). This strategy allowed the refinement of the atomic models to a level of resolution (1.9 Å) never previously attained for any membrane channel using this imaging technology. Beyond this technological breakthrough, they were able to identify previously unrecognized roles for lipids and water molecules that contribute to the structure and function of these channels. This work was recently published in Nature Communications—and in addition to news coverage, was selected as one of the most notable publications in 2020 by the journal’s editors.

Dr. Reichow’s excellence in research is further exhibited by his success in garnering external funding. Reichow’s first external grant was awarded by the Medical Research Foundation and provided seed-funding that was successfully leveraged into the award of his lab’s first major grant from the NIH—a prestigious $1.8M Maximizing Investigator’s Research Award (MIRA) for Early Stage Investigators—to study gap junction inter-cellular communication channels by CryoEM. In 2020, Reichow received another major grant from the NIH, awarded by the National Eye Institute to study the molecular mechanisms of cataract formation in collaboration with Dr. Kirsten Lampi at OHSU. Indeed, Dr. Reichow’s collaborative success was also a major driver of this award. Dr. Reichow has clearly taken full advantage of the opportunities offered by his laboratory space in the Robertson Life Sciences Building, having formed research collaborations with four independent faculty researchers at OHSU.

Along with these accomplishments in research, it is also noteworthy that Dr. Reichow has been highly effective and engaged in teaching and mentorship during his time at PSU. Dr. Reichow’s excellence in teaching has been recognized by the student body through the John Eliot Allen Outstanding Teaching Award in 2019. Dr. Reichow has established himself as an outstanding graduate student mentor, and his students have been recognized with numerous awards and fellowships, including two students recently awarded with Ruth L. Kirschtein NRSA fellowships from the NIH. Dr. Reichow’s students are the first to ever be awarded with this prestigious fellowship at PSU. In addition to graduate student training, his lab is actively involved with several undergraduate programs at PSU that provide mentored research experiences to under-represented students in STEM, such as the NIH BUILD EXITO, LSAMP, McNair Fellowship and NSF REU programs.

Dr. Reichow received his B.Sc. from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington.

Jonathan Lindner head shot

Jonathan R. Lindner, M.D.
Mentor Award
OHSU

Peter Barr-Gillespie

Peter G. Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D.
Discovery Award
OHSU

Bo Sun, PhD

Bo Sun, Ph.D.
Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award
Oregon State University