Basic Science Faculty

Selva Baltan, M.D., Ph.D.

Selva Baltan

Dr. Baltan is Professor and Vice Chair for Research of Anesthesiology and PeriOperative Medicine (APOM) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). Dr. Baltan grew up in Ankara, Turkey and earned her medical degree from Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey and a PhD in Neurophysiology from McGill University, Montreal, Canada. After completing an American Heart and Stroke fellowship at Neurology Department at Washington University, St. Louis, MO she joined Neurology Department at University of Washington, Seattle, WA and continued to her academic career as Assistant Professor and Associate Professor. In 2011 Dr. Baltan joined Neurosciences and Neurological Institute at the Cleveland Clinic until she joined OHSU in 2019 as Professor and Vice Chair of Basic Research. Dr. Baltan serves on the editorial boards of several journals including Conditional Medicine and Translational Stroke Research. She is a member of the American Heart Association Brain and Stroke Study Section and the National Institutes of Health Brain Injury and Neurovascular Pathologies (BINP) Study Section. Her research focuses on mechanisms of white matter injury to develop ideal stroke therapeutics that are directed towards neuronal and axonal protection across age, to restore function when applied after injury. Experimental approaches in her lab include optic nerve and corpus callosum slice models, employing electrophysiological recordings, and advanced microscopy techniques such as confocal, two-photon microscopy and 3D electron microscopy. The current focus of her lab is on elucidating the mechanisms of preconditioning conferred by Class I HDAC inhibition in young and aging white matter and the gene regulatory mechanisms underlying this protective phenomenon. Studying on the role of protein acetylation and mitochondrial dynamics in white matter stroke expands her findings to neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer ’s disease that involve white matter. Her research is funded by multiple NIH grants.

Eric Schnell, M.D., Ph.D.

Eric Schnell

I am a clinician-scientist with an active basic and translational neuroscience research program. My research goal is to understand how synapses are formed by neurons and how these neurons contribute to information processing in both healthy and diseased brains. My lab uses electrophysiology, molecular biology, immunohistochemistry and translational models of neurological disease to study neuronal circuit structure and function. I also maintain a clinical practice in anesthesiology in the VA Portland Health Care System, caring for veterans with a wide array of neurosurgical, cardiovascular, and oncologic conditions.  

Our current research focuses on how synapses are formed in the brain by adult born neurons, how these neurons contribute to neuronal circuit function, and how they contribute to recovery from neurologic injury. Newly generated neurons must be integrated into existing neuronal circuits to contribute to information processing, and alterations in this process could have profound clinical implications. Our current focus is on understanding how adult-born neurons might contribute to the pathogenesis of post-traumatic epilepsy, and we have developed techniques to analyze synaptic transmission at synapses formed by these adult-born cells and to evaluate the behavioral consequences of activity in these adult-born neurons. Our scientific expertise lies in the study of neuronal structure and synaptic function, using electrophysiology, molecular biology, translational models and immunohistochemical/anatomical imaging techniques.

Laura Villasana, Ph.D.

Laura Villasana

I am a basic neuroscience researcher with a background in behavioral neuroscience. My research uses a mouse model of traumatic brain injury (TBI) to study post-traumatic hippocampal neurogenesis, which is the generation and integration of adult-born neurons into the hippocampal circuitry. Specifically, I am interested in determining whether new neurons generated in response to TBI help or hinder cognitive recovery. I am also interested in determining whether the long-term effects of TBI on hippocampal neurogenesis are influenced by sex. My lab uses molecular and behavioral approaches to better understand the functional significance of post-traumatic neurogenesis. 

My current projects in the lab involve determining how diazepam, a benzodiazepine that is commonly used in the clinical setting, alters post-traumatic neurogenesis. Results from this project will help shed light on the functional significance of post-traumatic neurogenesis and have important implications for the use of benzodiazepines during hospital care of TBI patients. A second project in my lab aims to determine whether female mice have a greater neurogenic response to TBI and if such differences are associated with sex differences in cognitive outcome long after brain injury. A third project involves examining the mechanisms underlying acute and long-term changes in hippocampal neurogenesis after TBI.   

Michael Hutchens, M.D., M.A.

Michael Hutchens

Dr. Hutchens grew up in Maryland and attended Oberlin College. He trained for two years in Internal Medicine and then completed Anesthesiology training at OHSU, followed by Critical Care Medicine fellowship at Brigham &Women's Hospital. He was then recruited back to OHSU as a full-time clinician. While performing full-time clinical duty, Dr. Hutchens initiated research training, focusing on acute kidney injury in a mouse model of cardiac arrest and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This work lead to NIH-funded research training, which Dr. Hutchens completed in 2016, transitioning from full-time clinician to clinician-scientist in the process. He currently serves as a surgical intensivist in the Portland VA Medical Center Surgical Intensive Care Unit. 

Dr. Hutchens completed K08-funded research training in the APOM and Division of Nephrology and Hypertension laboratories under the mentorship of Nabil Alkayed MD, PhD and Sharon Anderson, MD in 2016. Studying acute kidney injury in mice, Dr. Hutchens characterized new translational model of acute cardiorenal syndrome, cardiac arrest and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and found a profound estrogen-mediated protective effect of female sex. Current projects in his lab include determining long-term outcomes of acute cardiorenal syndrome and determining cardiovascular signaling mechanisms which influence renal function during critical cardiovascular illness.  

Julie Saugstad, Ph.D.

Julie Saugstad

Dr. Saugstad's research is funded by NIH grants from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Her NCATS-funded research has identified microRNA biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease(AD) in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from living donors, that are being further developed for potential use in the clinical setting. Her studies are part of a newly established Extracellular RNA Communication (ExRNA) Program funded by the NIH Common Fund. She is particularly interested in the role of extracellular vesicles (EVs) and their RNA cargo, such as microRNAs, as novel mediators of intercellular communication and underlying effectors of pathophysiology of neurodegeneration. 

Dr. Saugstad also collaborates on studies funded by the US Army to examine microRNAs in CSF as biomarkers of AD risk in persons with traumatic brain injury (TBI), an established risk factor for the development of AD. For military veterans, the odds ratio for developing AD is 4 –6X for those with a prior TBI, as compared to 2 –2.5X in the civilian population. Despite the correlation between TBI and AD, the precise mechanisms triggered by TBI that lead to AD and AD-related symptoms are not clear. These studies will determine if microRNAs dysregulated by or following TBI parallel those, at least in part, that contribute to mechanisms of AD. 
Dr. Saugstad also works on NINDS-funded studies to identify mechanisms of sexually dimorphic responses to stroke in males and females. The studies include identifying the immune cells that are important for brain-spleen-brain injury and inflammation following stroke, whether these cells contribute to differential responses in males vs. females, and whether targeting specific immune responses can mitigate injury in both sexes. Her studies have also identified sex differences in microRNA responses to stroke between males and females, suggesting that there are differential responses to the insult at the molecular level. These studies are significant for their potential to develop into new, targeted therapeutic approaches that can treat stroke effectively in both males and females.  

Andrei Sdrulla, M.D., Ph.D.

Andrei Sdrulla, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Sdrulla specializes in the treatment of patients with complex, persistent pain in the spine, cancer pain, neuropathic pain (e.g. complex regional pain syndrome), shingles pain (post herpetic neuralgia) and post-surgical pain. He has advanced training in performing implantations of spinal cord stimulators for the treatment of unrelenting pain. Dr. Sdrulla strongly believes in the multidisciplinary, comprehensive approach to chronic pain championed here at Oregon Health &Science University. 

Dr. Sdrulla's laboratory is focused on elucidating the mechanisms of spinal cord stimulation (SCS). SCS is a minimally invasive therapy used for the treatment of refractory neuropathic pain. It is believed that SCS mediates pain relief by electrical stimulation of Aβ fibers (Aβ-ES), however a detailed understanding of its biological basis is lacking, particularly concerning how it engages spinal cord nociceptive pathways. The long-term goals of Dr. Sdrulla's laboratory are to delineate the spinal mechanisms of SCS-induced analgesia in an effort to optimize its clinical implementation for the treatment of chronic pain. Current research is focused on dissecting the influence of Aβ-ES on defined neuronal microcircuits, and testing the role of a critical candidate subpopulation for the analgesic effects of Aβ-ES. The central hypothesis is that Aβ-ES achieves analgesia by inducing dynamic changes in specific populations of spinal cord neurons residing in the superficial dorsal horn (SDH). A combination of electrophysiological and imaging tools (two photon microscopy, optogenetics) are used to determine the extent to which a conditioning train of Aβ-ES modulates high-threshold (C-fiber) evoked activity of excitatory and inhibitory neurons and subpopulations in the SDH in vitro and in vivo. The proposed research is significant because a detailed understanding of how Aβ-ES engages the dorsal horn will provide a direct biological target for enhancements to SCS therapies with a sound mechanistic basis. This work will thus have direct translational relevance, as it may help optimize spinal cord stimulation programs and improve patient outcomes.  

Austin Peters, M.D.

Austin Peters

I am an anesthesiologist clinician-scientist focusing on translational neuroscience. My research explores the brain's cellular response to injury and how anesthetic drugs affect recovery. I have previously collaborated with fellow APOM researcher Dr. Laura Villasana and work closely with my mentor, Dr. Eric Schnell. In addition to research, I serve as an anesthesiologist at APOM, with a clinical focus on neuroanesthesia as well as liver transplantation.

In my current research, I am evaluating ketamine's potential role in traumatic brain injury (TBI) treatment and recovery. Using a mouse model, I have identified unique and potentially beneficial effects of ketamine treatment in this setting, and am developing a translational project to explore and apply these findings to human TBI patients

Ines Koerner, M.D., Ph.D.

Ines Koerner

Dr. Koerner is an anesthesiologists and neurointensivist whose research focuses on ways to employ the inflammatory response after brain injury to simultaneously limit injury and enhance recovery. Dr. Koerner completed her anesthesiology residency in Germany and obtained a doctorate degree from Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz. After completing post-doctoral and clinical fellowships at OHSU, she joined OHSU faculty as a clinician-scientist. She currently is an Associate Professor and serves as Medical Director of the Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit at OHSU. Her research on the role of microglia after stroke and cardiac arrest has received funding from the NIH and AHA. 

The Koerner lab studies the role of microglia, the brain resident innate immune cells, in brain injury and regeneration. Brain injury after cardiac arrest and the resulting cognitive dysfunction is a main focus. Current projects aim to identify the molecular signals by which microglia worsen injury after cardiac arrest and investigate whether microglial priming by ischemia/reperfusion contributes makes the brain more susceptible to dementia. We also explore whether microglia support restorative neurogenesis after cardiac arrest.   

Catherine Davis, Ph.D.

Dr. Davis' interest is in cerebrovascular biology, particularly in the endothelial cells lining the intimal surface of blood vessels and their contribution to sex differences, stroke and vascular dementia. Her research follows two main paths. Her work aims to define how the transcription factor STAT3 contributes to microvascular endothelial function in both health and disease, and how its role changes in aging. Her second focus is investigating how ultrasound may be utilized therapeutically in cerebrovascular diseases, including stroke and dementia, and the cellular mechanisms involved. 

Dr. Davis gained her BSc in Pharmacology with Management from King's College London in 2004, following which she completed her doctoral studies in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at University College London (UCL) in the lab of Professors Kristjan R Jessen and Rhona Mirsky. Her doctoral thesis explored the role of the transcription factor STAT3 on Schwann cell development and function following nerve injury. In 2009 Dr. Davis relocated to Portland for her postdoctoral training with Dr Nabil Alkayed in APOM. Here she gained experience and knowledge in the field cerebrovascular biology and stroke. Supported by an American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship, Dr. Davis' focus continued to be on STAT3, this time studying its role in cerebrovascular endothelial cells following cerebral ischemia. Following completion of her fellowship, Dr. Davis joined the faculty at OHSU in 2012 as an Instructor with a dual appointment in APOM and KCVI, and has been an Assistant Professor since November 2013. Dr. Davis is also Director of the Cell Culture Core in APOM.