Circle of Giving
Established in 2006, the Center for Women's Health Circle of Giving supports research that leads to improvements in women's health. The program is supported philanthropically by a group of women who are passionate about advancing women's health research at OHSU. See our brochure.
For information about becoming a Circle member, contact Julie Mikulic at 503 220-8324.
To see the impact the Circle of Giving has had on women's health since its founding, please see our 2017 Impact Report.
The following projects were funded by the Circle of Giving:
Julie Saugstad, Ph.D., and Ursula Sandau, Ph.D.
New Role for ApoE4 in Female Predisposition to Alzheimer's Disease
Drs. Saugstad and Sandau will investigate test the hypothesis that sex-specific differences in brain-derived micro-RNA play an important role in exacerbating Alzheimer 's disease in women. Their work could provide new insight into the value of the ITSN1 gene as a therapeutic target for Alzheimer's treatment in women. It will also help define how exosome-derived micro-RNA may make women more prone to Alzheimer's disease.
Wei Huang, Ph.D.
Faster, Safer, and Low-Cost MRI for Accurate Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
Dr. Huang will work to develop a safer, faster and lower-cost MRI exam that can detect breast cancer with high accuracy and can be used following positive mammographic findings to improve diagnostic accuracy and reduce unnecessary biopsies. His goal is that the MRI exam will be fast, about ten minutes, and will not require the need for contrast injections, which currently make MRIs more expensive and unsafe for some women.
Jim Korkola, Ph.D. and Kimberly Beatty, Ph.D.
Identifying Molecular Interactions that Confer Drug Resistance in Breast Cancer
Dr. Korkola and Dr. Beatty propose to use new technology to investigate drug resistance mechanisms in HER2+ breast cancers. The technology will allow them to tag and track the locations and interactions of breast cancer receptors in cancer cells. This research could reveal new information about why patient responses to treatment varies and identify new opportunities for treating drug-resistant, HER2+ breast cancers.
Philip Copenhaver, Ph.D.
A novel estrogen receptor modulator for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease
Dr. Copenhaver and his collaborators will investigate the potential of STX, a novel selective estrogen receptor modulator, to have long-term protective effects on neurons in the brain. Ultimately, his research will be used to see whether STX can be used as an alternative to estrogen use in preventing dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Pepper Schedin, Ph.D.
Unprecedented postpartum liver biology in rodents suggests a novel mechanism of breast cancer metastasis – a liver imaging study in pregnant women to establish human relevance
Dr. Schedin and her collaborators will investigate why young women suffering from postpartum breast cancer are at increased risk for developing metastatic cancer, specifically in the liver. She will study whether postpartum liver involution (shrinkage) occurs in women and if cancer cells that escape the breast during the postpartum period are more likely to survive in the changing liver, resulting in an increased risk for developing deadly metastatic cancer. Learn more
2014: Two grants awarded
Stephen Yun-Chi Chui, M.D. and Paul T. Spellman, Ph.D.
Development of a blood-based system to detect residual disease after curative therapy in breast cancer
Dr. Chui and Dr. Spellman seek to develop a blood-based system to detect remaining cancer cells after therapy in triple-negative (and eventually all) breast cancers. In other words, Drs. Chui and Spellman hope to detect any tumor cells that might have escaped surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, only to metastasize later in a woman who was believed to be cancer free. The researchers hope that their new technique will help identify tiny amounts of cancer cells that are currently undetectable, and thus eventually enable treatment much earlier than is currently possible.
Knight Cancer Challenge grant recipient: Summer L. Gibbs, Ph.D.
Predicting breast cancer therapy outcome with 20-color immunofluorescence imaging
Dr. Gibbs will also work on innovative research involving triple-negative breast cancer. Working with Dr. Lisa Coussens, she will use a novel high-resolution 20-color immunofluorescence imaging technology to better understand the complex immunologic makeup of breast cancer and thus help develop targeted treatment. Dr. Gibbs received this grant because the Circle of Giving contributed $125,000 to support the OHSU Knight Cancer Challenge. The Challenge is an unprecedented $1 billion effort to transform early detection and treatment of cancer and save countless lives. To date, more than $305 million has been raised of the $500 million needed to trigger an additional $500 million gift from Nike cofounder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny.
Rena Bahjat, Ph.D
Modeling stroke in female nonhuman primates to evaluate gender differences
The 2013 Circle of Giving grant was awarded to Rena Bahjat, Ph.D. who will evaluate the effect of loss of hormones on stroke outcome in aged female monkeys. The research will compare stroke outcomes on aged female monkeys as a model for post-menopausal women. Data suggests that sex differences in stroke risk and outcome may be due to sex hormones, which is further exacerbated by age. The study will evaluate the monkeys that receive supplemental estrogen compared to those who do not receive estrogen, including measurement of genomic, proteomic and metabolic changes. Dr. Bahjat will present the results of the research at the 2014 Circle of Giving Impact Meeting.
Wendy Wu, Ph.D.
Using Nimodipine (NimotopTM, an FDA-approved vasodilator) to maintain brain cell functions and cognitive performance after menopause
Wendy Wu, Ph.D. received the Circle of Giving grant in 2012 to research and identify biomolecules responsible for cognitive changes induced by estrogen loss. Wu’s aim is to target these biomolecules directly as treatment strategies in order to maintain cognitive performance following menopause. Using an animal model of menopause that exhibits learning and memory impairment, Dr. Wu has identified aberrant activity of a class of Ca2+ channels as the cause for brain cell dysfunction, which results in cognitive impairment. The support from the Circle of Giving has allowed Dr. Wu to initiate a series of behavioral experiments to evaluate the therapeutic potential of using NimotopTM, an FDA-approved drug specific to the affected Ca2+ channels, to restore cognitive functions in animals. Her research is ongoing.
Martha Goetsch, M.D., M.P.H.
Therapy to Prevent Sexual Pain in Menopausal Survivors of Breast Cancer
The 2011 Circle of Giving Grant was awarded to Martha Goetsch, M.D., for research that could lead to better solutions for women who experience sexual pain after surviving breast cancer. Goetsch’s study, which is still enrolling patients, seeks to learn more about where pain occurs, and to understand if a topical lidocaine liquid (numbing medicine) is an effective method of relieving pain.
Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D. and Paula Amato, M.D.
Correcting Mitochondrial Gene Mutations in Human Oocytes
Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D. and Paula Amato, M.D. received the fourth Circle of Giving Grant Award for their research into how mutations in mitochondrial DNA, inherited from a mother’s eggs, can cause serious disease.
Just a few years later, their team has developed a new method for preventing certain inherited diseases, the first to be successfully tested in humans.Their breakthrough research findings were published in the journal Nature. The project could not have moved forward without private philanthropy and support from the Circle of Giving, due to federal funding restrictions on human embryo and stem cell research. This study is currently being continued as a clinical trial with support from the LeDucq Foundation.
Philippe Thuillier, Ph.D., Tanja Pejovic M.D., Ph.D. and Nupur Pande, Ph.D.
Defining Molecular Cell Biology of Ovarian Cancer Stem Cells
In 2009 the Circle of Giving invested in Philippe Thuillier Ph.D., Tanja Pejovic, M.D., Ph.D., and Nupur Pande, Ph.D., a team conducting innovative research to define the molecular cell biology of ovarian cancer stem cells. Ovarian cancer is a deadly disease with limited treatment options. Better understanding of what can trigger ovarian cancer is crucial to developing the right tests for detection and treatment.
As an indirect extension of this research, the team received a two-year Ovarian Cancer Translational Award from the U.S. Department of Defense.
SuEllen Pommier, Ph.D.
Assessing Breast Cancer Stem Cells as Predictors of Treatment Failure in Recurrence in Breast Cancer
This grant helped Dr. Pommier’s team find new clues as to why drugs that target mutations in breast tumors aren’t effective in all patients. Their work is shedding light on mutations found in stem cells that could be causing some breast cancers to develop and may be the reason the disease recurs in some patients but not others. The Circle of Giving grant allowed the team to develop the preliminary data needed to secure additional funding, such as a $275,000 grant from the Avon Foundation.
Richard Stouffer, Ph.D. and Judy Cameron, Ph. D.
Menopause and Metabolic Syndrome: Androgen’s Role in Creating Cardiovascular Harm and Ovarian Cancer
The first grant from the Circle of Giving provided researchers with funding to investigate that the many ways menopause affects women’s bodies, including how it may be connected to threats such as heart disease and ovarian cancer.
OHSU leveraged this award into additional pilot money totaling $250,000 from the NIH Specialized Cooperative Centers Program in Infertility and Reproduction and Research. And, because the original grant allowed researchers to gather strong preliminary data, the NIH provided an additional $453,821 to the project between 2010 – 2012.
Additional grants that have been privately funded by Circle of Giving members:
2015 Tanja Pejovic, M.D., Ph.D.
Targeting FANCD2 as a novel strategy for ovarian cancer treatment
2013 Melissa Wong, Ph.D.
End-stage breast cancer research project
2011 Leo Pereira, M. D.
Identification of cervical-vaginal biomarkers of recurrent preterm birth by proteomic
2008 Tanja Pejovic, M. D.
Pursuit of Novel Strategies to Prevent Ovarian Cancer
Elucidating the Role of Microvascular Dysfunction in Women’s Cardiac Disease