Ellen Tilden, PhD, CNM

Headshot for Ellen Tilden
Appointed 10/2015-9/2018
Assistant Professor
School of Nursing, Nurse-Midwifery, Oregon Health & Science University

Primary mentor: Christopher Lee, PhD, RN, FAHA, FAAN

Mentors: Aaron Caughey, MD, PhD; Jonathan Snowden, PhD; Nancy Lowe, PhD, CNM, FAAN, FACNM; David Yanez, PhD

Dr. Ellen Tilden is a practicing Nurse-Midwife studying the effect of prenatal care modality on labor and perinatal outcomes. The core research aims of Dr. Tilden's BIRCWH project were to improve understanding of the optimal prenatal care approach for healthy women, provide insight to how women's perceptions and feelings may change during pregnancy, and show how these changes may importantly relate to perinatal and early postpartum outcomes of interest.

Project title: Impact of prenatal care modality on women's preparation for labor and perinatal outcomes

Lisa Karstens, PhD

Headshot for Lisa Karstens
Appointed 1/2016-5/2018
Assistant Professor
Departments of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology and Obstetrics & Gynecology

Primary mentor: Shannon McWeeney, PhD

Mentors: Thomas Gregory, MD; Damien Fair, PhD; Jim Rosenbaum, MD; Jonathan Braun, MD; Alan Wolfe, PhD

Dr. Lisa Karstens has a unique background in bioinformatics, chemistry, and computational biology and is dually appointed in the departments of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology and Obstetrics & Gynecology. Dr. Karstens' project involves investigating gender differences in the role of the urinary microbiome and disease, with specific regards to Overactive Bladder Syndrome (OAB) and its underlying pathophysiology. Dr. Karstens' long-term goals focus on understanding the heterogeneity of OAB and how bacteria and the brain may contribute to OAB. In June 2018, Dr. Karstens received her 4-year K01 award, titled "Functional Considerations of the Urinary Microbiome in Overactive Bladder", based on her BIRCWH work.

Project title: The urinary microbiome in health and disease

Learn more about Lisa

Laura Villasana, PhD

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Appointed 10/2015-9/2017
Assistant Professor
Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine (APOM)

Primary mentor: Nabil Alkayed, MD, PhD

Mentors: Eric Schnell, MD, PhD; Julie Saugstad, PhD, Holly Hinson, MD

Dr. Laura Villasana is a neuroscientist investigating gender differences in neural recovery following Traumatic Brain Injury. Dr. Villasana's BIRCWH project investigated whether an accelerated loss of stem cells in females and subsequent reductions in neurogenesis contributes to the development of cognitive impairments long after brain injury and whether these impairments can be prevented or mitigated.

Project title: The role of sex on long-term changes in hippocampal neurogenesis after traumatic brain injury

Learn more about Laura

Katie Schenning, MD, MPH

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Appointed 1/2015-7/2017
Assistant Professor
Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine (APOM), Oregon Health & Science University

Primary mentor: Joseph Quinn, MD

Mentors: Nabil Alkayed, MD, PhD; Ansgar Brambrink, MD, PhD; Jacob Raber, PhD; Miriam Treggiari, MD, PhD

Dr. Katie Schenning is an anesthesiologist investigating the interaction between general anesthesia and surgery, sex, genetic variables, and dementia in the aged. Dr. Schenning's goal is to develop a translational research program by using her clinical knowledge to optimize preclinical models to best address sex differences in postoperative outcomes, and to use these laboratory studies to inform clinical investigations.

Project title: Influence of sex and genetics on postoperative cognitive and functional decline

Laura Newell, MD

Newell OHSU photo 092711

Appointed 1/2014-12/2015
Assistant Professor, Knight Cancer Institute
Division of Hematology/Medical Oncology, Oregon Health & Science University

Primary Mentor: Grover Bagby, M.D.

Mentors: Leonardo Pereira, M.D., M.C.R.; Jeffrey Tyner, Ph.D.; Irina Burd, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Newell is a hematologist and hematopoietic stem cell transplant physician interested in responses of the innate immune system and inflammatory cytokine signaling pathways. She is currently investigating the role of the innate immune system in driving pathologic inflammatory responses to viral infections during pregnancy that may contribute to excessive fetal and maternal morbidity and mortality. Her goal is to pursue clinical investigation of novel, targeted therapies specifically for women with viral infections and post-viral inflammatory complications during pregnancy. Dr. Newell's BIRCWH research supported her successful K23 application, titled "Infectious Events in Pregnancy: PlGF Contributes to Maternal Morbidity", which was awarded in September 2017.

Project title: PIGF enhances viral-induced innate immune inflammatory responses in human mononuclear phagocytes; a potential mechanism for virus related morbidity and mortality in pregnancy.

Learn more about Laura

Janne Boone-Heinonen, PhD, MPH

Dr. Boone-Heinonen

Appointed 10/2012-9/2015
Assistant Professor of Epidemiology
Department of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University

Primary Mentor: Stephen Fortmann, M.D.

Mentors: Kent Thornburg, Ph.D.; Jackilen Shannon, Ph.D.; Dawn Peters, Ph.D.

Dr. Boone-Heinonen is an epidemiologist with an overarching interest in social, environmental, and biological factors drivers of obesity in diverse populations. In ongoing research, she investigates modifiable environmental and behavioral determinants of diet, physical activity, and obesity using complex analytic methods. She is currently developing expertise in biological drivers of obesity that arise in early life, with the goal of developing future research on the extent to which maternal effects on offspring health can be mitigated by healthy diet and physical activity. This research supported her successful K01 application in September 2015, which focuses on understanding processes that can ameliorate the impacts of perinatal exposures on health later in the offspring's life.

Project title: Life course impacts on obesity: mitigating maternal effects on offspring health 

Learn more about Janne

Jing Xu, PhD

Headshot of Dr. Xu
Appointed 10/2012-7/2015
Assistant Professor
Oregon National Primate Research Center
Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Oregon Health & Science University

Primary Mentor: Richard Stouffer, Ph.D.

Mentors: Mary Zelinski, Ph.D.; Betsy Ferguson, Ph.D.; Tanja Pejovic, M.D.

Dr. Xu is interested in studying the mechanisms and regulation of ovarian folliculogenesis, as well as endocrine/paracrine pathways that influence follicular development and oocyte maturation in primates. While performing basic research, translational efforts will be made on human in vitro follicle maturation that may offer a means to enhance fertility options for women, including female cancer patients. Dr. Xu's long-term goal is to build an independent program in biomedical research which can be translated to clinical use to improve or control fertility, and hence women's health. In July 2015, Dr. Xu was awarded an R01 grant titled “AMH Actions to Control Primate Folliculogenesis” based on her BIRCWH research.

Project Title: Anti-Müllerian and fertility preservation

Learn more about folliculogenesis

Ganesh Cherala, PhD


Appointed 1/2013-1/2015
Assistant Professor
OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy 

Primary Mentor: Kent Thornburg, PhD
Mentors: Mitchell Turker, PhD; Alison Edelman, MD, MPH; George Firaud, MD, PhD


One of the keys to develop successful personalized medicine lies with better understanding of various sources of inter-individual variability in pharmacokinetics. Dr. Cherala has been undertaking multidisciplinary research to understand the contribution of intrauterine growth restriction twoards inter-individual variability of drug response. The current grant application is a continuation of those efforts, which integrates intrauterine growth restriction and adulthood obesity, and their combined effect on failure of oral contraception.

Project Title: Prenatal growth programs oral contraceptive metabolism and effectiveness

Learn more about Ganesh

Shernan Holtan, MD


Appointed 1/2013-12/2013
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation
University of Minnesota

Primary Mentor: Grover Bagby, MD
Mentors:  Richard Maziarz, MD; Leonardo Pereira, MD, MCR; Svetomir Markovic, MD, PhD

Research Interests: Identifying key factors in the longitudinal maternal immune response to pregnancy and applying the effects of angiogenic hormones to be involved maternal immune responses to the hematopoietic cell transplant (HCT) setting. Dr. Holtan completed longitudinal analyses of the maternal immune response to pregnancy in two Mayo Clinic cohorts - the second cohort she enrolled herself as a fellow prior to her time as a BIRCWH scholar. Through these analyses, she identified the maternal immune response to pregnancy as at least a biphasic phenomenon, with the onset of pregnancy associated with tolerance induction, and later pregnancy associated with immune reconstitution/inflammation. In studying direct effects of angiogenic hormones on immune cells, she co-discovered a synergistic inflammatory relationship of placental growth factor with certain pathogen-associated molecular patterns, during her time as a BIRCWH scholar. 

Project Title: Regulation of tolerance in pregnancy and graft-versus-host disease

Christine Lee, MD, MS


Appointed 4/2011-3/2013
Assistant Professor Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical Nutrition,
Oregon Health & Science University

Primary Mentor:  Eric Orwoll, MD
Mentors:  Marcia Stefanick, PhD

Research Interests:  Causes and consequences of body composition changes with aging and her current focus is the role of insulin resistance in the development of sarcopenia. Dr. Lee is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical Nutrition and a Co-Investigator with the Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study (MrOS). Her work with the MrOS Study has focused on investigating the relationships between insulin resistance and changes in lean mass and physical performance in older men. Currently, she is extending her studies to cohorts that include older women. Dr. Lee was awarded an over $1 million Veterans Administration career development award in March 2013.

Project Title:  Metabolism and Muscle in Older Men and Women This project determined if the association between insulin resistance and muscle loss differs between older men and olden women and whether insulin-sensitizer use may prevent sarcopenia.

Christopher Lee, PhD, RN

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Project Title: Gender differences in Multi-Dimensional Symptoms Experienced by Adults with Heart Failure

Carrie Nielson, PhD, MPH

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Appointed 7/2010-4/2012            
Assistant Professor of Epidemiology
Department of Public Health & Preventive Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University

Primary Mentor:  Eric Orwoll, MD
Mentors:  Robert Klein, MD; William Lambert, PhD; Bruce Weir, PhD; Joseph Zmuda, PhD

Research Interest: Dr. Nielson's main interests are in the patterns of change in musculoskeletal phenotypes over the course of normal aging and the genetic determinants of these changes. Dr. Nielson is an epidemiologist with a strong background in quantitative methods and experience with osteoporosis epidemiology and genetic association studies. Since arriving at OHSU, she has become an investigator in Osteoporotic Fractures in Men (MrOS), a longitudinal cohort study of men ages 65 and older in the U.S. Her recent work with Drs. Eric Orwoll and Robert Klein has focused on understanding how discoveries of genetic associations with BMD in mouse models can be translated to fill gaps in knowledge of the genetic regulation of bone phenotypes in human populations. In April 2012, Dr. Nielson was awarded a 5-year K01 award from the National Institute of Athritis and Muskuloskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

Project Title: Rare Genetic Variants in the Alkaline Phosphatase Gene and Osteoporosis

Learn more about Carrie

Rebecca Block, PhD, MSW

Image of Dr. Rebecca Block
Appointed 1/2010-7/2012
Assistant Professor
Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Oregon Health & Science University

Primary Mentor:  Lillian Nail, RN, PhD
Mentors:  Patty Carney, PhD; Brandon Hayes-Latin, MD; Karen Eden, PhD; David Lee, MD

Research Interest: Social and mental health and development in adolescents and young adults with cancer. Dr. Block is a psychosocial researcher working in adolescent and young adult oncology. She is one of a few clinical social workers in oncology with a traditional research doctorate and one of the only oncology social work researchers addressing the needs of adolescents and young adults (AYA) women with cancer.  Dr. Block is the co-chair of the Standards of Care Task Force of the LiveStrong Young Adult Alliance, co-chair and mental health director for the Camp Starlight Planning Commission, and a member of the Board of Directors for Oncology Youth Connection.

Project Title: Fertility Decisional among Adolescent and Young Adult Women with Cancer

Terry Morgan, MD, PhD

Appointed 07/2009-06/2011
Professor and Director, Cytopathology Fellowship
Department of Pathology, Oregon Health & Science University
During his BIRCWH appointment, Dr. Morgan received a joint appointment in the Department of OB/GYN. Dr. Morgan's long term goal is to be a leader determining the significance of placental pathology and the role of relative uteroplacental insufficiency in pregnancy complications affecting the mother and baby. Despite not having had protected time for research when he came to OHSU, Dr. Morgan found several small projects and industry funding to keep his lab going. The BIRCWH Advisory Committee saw his promise and became highly invested in helping him to devote significant time towards his true scientific passion. Believing that the most effective way of preventing many significant adult onset diseases (e.g., obesity, hypertension, diabetes, prostate cancer) may be a healthy pregnancy, Dr. Morgan focused his BIRCWH research on studying 1) Elevated Angiotensinogen Expression and Fetal Programming in Mice, 2) applying new microbubble imaging to a fetal growth restriction mouse model with exciting results that suggest blood flow to the placenta is faster than controls, and 3) maternal blood pressure studies that showed that transgenic mothers do in fact develop mild pregnancy-induced hypertension; however, placental imaging studies and histologic examination of the uteroplacental interface suggest the reason for faster placental blood flow in this model is more likely due to differences in uterine spiral artery remodeling than affects of maternal blood pressure. Dr. Morgan was awarded an R21 from the NICHD to study placental insufficiency of a transgenic mouse model in preeclampsi and IUGR.

Learn more about Terry

Sonnet Jonker, PhD

Image of Dr. Sonnet Jonker

Appointed 1/2009-4/2012
Research Assistant Professor
School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University

Primary Mentor:  George Giraud, MD, PhD
Mentors:  Kent Thornburg, PhD; Lowell Davis, MD; Jeffrey Segar, MD

Research Interest: Cardiovascular adaptations in health and disease in the fetus and mother, and long-term outcomes. Dr. Jonker is developing a productive independent research career focusing on maternal-fetal physiology. Dr. Jonker is going about this by pursuing interdisciplinary collaborations, allowing her to focus on exciting and relevant scientific hypotheses rather than on methodology-driven research. Dr. Jonker was awarded an approximately $1.5 million, 5-year R01 from the NICHD to study mechanisms of myocardial and coronary growth sychrony.

Project Title: Transfusion During Pregnancy: Fetal Cardiovascular Recovery Following Chronic Anemia

Beth Darnall, PhD

Image of Dr. Beth Darnall
As a BIRCWH scholar, Dr. Darnall studied pain catastrophizing as a cause for systemic inflammation in women with chronic pain. She seeks to clarify a physiological, mechanistic link between catastrophizing and immunity that may explain a portion of gender dimorphism for pain. During her tenure with the BIRCWH, she received a $78,000 private grant from ZRT industry. Her work with mirror therapy, which she also conducted as a BIRCWH scholar, has received significant media attention and is the subject of two additional private grants, one entitled "Home- based self-delivered mirror therapy for phantom pain" and the other, "Mirror therapy outreach workshops for medical providers in Vietnam." This work has resulted in several innovative personalized therapies for women and men suffering from phantom pain. She received a humanitarian award from OHSU for her work entitled "Behavioral pain management for underinsured family medicine patients." Since graduating from the BIRCWH, she has been appointed to several national leadership positions such as Chair of the Pain Society of Oregon, is a member of the Ethics Committee and Scientific Planning Committees for the American Pain Society and is on the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Ethics in Pain Care.

Learn more about Beth

Wendy Wu, PhD

Appointed 01/2008-06/2010
Assistant Professor
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oregon Health & Science University

Primary Mentor:  James Maylie, PhD
Mentors:  John Adelman, PhD

Dr. Wu has a PhD in Neuroscience from Northwestern University Institute for Neuroscience and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at OHSU prior to joining the Oregon BIRCWH program. As a BIRCWH scholar, Dr. Wu studied how sex hormones affect cellular processes in the brain and behavior. Her specific focus during the BIRCWH was investigating how premature and uncompensated loss of ovarian hormones following surgical menopause compromises cognitive function and increases a woman's risk of developing cognitive impairment and dementia. With oophorectomy being performed on more than 400,000 women in the United States annually, her research is timely and important. She received a private grant during her tenure as a BIRCWH scholar to focus on the surgical menopausal model. She credits the BIRCWH program for stimulating her interest in women's health research and she continues to use interdisciplinary techniques since graduating from the BIRCWH, including electrophysiology, molecular biology, and animal behavior to define the pathophysiology at the cellular level underlying surgical menopause-associated neurological disorders. 

Learn more about Wendy

Howard Song, MD, PhD


Appointed 7/2005-7/2008
Associate Professor in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery
Oregon Health & Science University Department of Surgery 

Primary Mentor:  Patricia Hurn, PhD
Mentors:  Steven Hanson, PhD; Kent Thornburg, PhD 

As a BIRCWH scholar, Dr. Song studied the effects of hormones and gender upon arterial stent restenosis. His current research interests include outcomes of patients undergoing adult cardiac surgery, genetically triggered thoracic aortic aneurysms, recombiant factor replacement following cardiopulmonary bypass to decrease postoperative bleeding, and bioengineering or prosthetic materials and blood pumps to improve biocompatibility. Since his appointment with the BIRCWH, Dr. Song has authored 22 articles in diverse journals including Annals of Thoracic Surgery, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Heart Surgery Forum, Circulation, and JAMA. He has also authored 2 book chapters, presented 29 abstracts, and made 13 oral presentations at national meetings all since being appointed a BIRCWH scholar. He has served as Co-I and PI for 5 grants (3 through the NHLBI entitled "Genetically triggered thoracic aneurysms and cardiovascular conditions - Data Coordinating Center", "Interagency registry of mechanically assisted circulatory support", and "Vascular tissue engineering: Rational design using modeling").

Learn more about Howard

Damani Bryant, PhD, MA

Appointed 04/2005-07/2008
Research Assistant Professor
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Oregon Health & Science University

Primary Mentor: 
Dan Dorsa, PhD
Mentors:  Oline Ronnekleiv, PhD; Martin Kelly, PhD

As a BIRCWH scholar, Dr. Bryant studied the role of estrogen receptor splice variants ERa 36 and ERa 46 in neuroprotection following cardiac arrest and resuscitation in a murine model. He remains interested in understanding the impact of sexual differentiation on estrogen neuroprotection. He is currently collaborating with fellow BIRCWH graduate Dr. Wendy Wu and several physician scientists to investigate whether estrogen receptor ligands may be protective against the development of Alzheimer's disease. He is PI of National Science Foundation Grant entitled "Effect of sexual differentiation on cortical signaling response to estradiol" and he recently submitted a proposal to a local foundation (Collins Medical Trust) to conduct a pilot study regarding estrogen and Alzheimer's disease. Since his appointment with the BIRCWH, Dr. Bryant has authored 6 articles in diverse journals including Neuroscience, Endocrinology, and Minerva Endocrinologica. Dr. Bryant credits the BIRCWH for shaping his research interest in the impact of sexual differentiation on the brain and signaling responses to estrogen.

Paco Herson, PhD

Appointed 7/2004-7/2006
Associate Chair for Neuroscience in the Department of Anesthesiology
Director of the Neuronal Injury Program
University of Colorado, Denver

Primary Mentor:  James Maylie, PhD

Mentors:  John Adelman, PhD; Patricia Hurn, PhD

As a BIRCWH scholar, Dr. Herson developed a novel in vitro model to investigate sex differences in sensitivity to ischemia-reperfusion of cerebellar Purkinje cells. He hypothesized that one important mechanism of neuroprotection is via progesterone's enhancement of inhibitory GABAA receptor activity, counteracting the high levels of excitatory input to neurons during and immediately following ischemia.

Dr. Herson's laboratory currently uses a variety of techniques, including electrophysiology, molecular biology, virus mediated gene knockdown and whole animal focal (middle cerebral artery occlusion; MCAO) and global (Cardiac arrest and CPR; CA/CPR) cerebral ischemia models. He has established himself as one of the few investigators who routinely performs patch-clamp electrophysiology on neurons after exposure to ischemia, both in vitro and in vivo.

Learn more about Paco

Philippe Thuillier, PhD

Appointed 7/2004-7/2006
Assistant Professor in Public Health & Preventive Medicine and Scientist in the Center for Research in Occupational and Environmental Health Toxicology (CROET)
Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute

Primary Mentor: 
Grover Bagby, MD
Mentors:  Thomas Becker, MD, PhD

Dr. Thuillier was recruited as an external candidate to OHSU. As a BIRCWH scholar, Dr. Thuillier began studying dietary conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a dietary fatty acid and its preventive effects on breast and ovarian cancer cell lines by influencing the expression of BRCA 1, thereby reducing cross-link and oxidative stress-induced DNA damage.

He has successfully received funding on 10 grants including as PI or co-PI on two R01s entitled "Skin cancer prevention by dietary fatty acids" and "Inhibition of prostate cancer by sulforophane" and two R21s entitled "A mouse model for dietary effects on epigenetic silencing" and "EGCG and w-3 fatty acids impact on fatty acid synthase activity in the prostate" as well as several private and biotech grants including "Effect of fish oil supplementation on women recently diagnosed with DCIS." He also contributes as study section reviewer for the NIH Chemoprevention study section and for the Congressional Directed Medical Research Programs. Since his appointment with the BIRCWH, Dr. Thuillier has authored 7 articles in journals including PLOS ONE, Journal of Nutrition, Cancer Research, Journal of Investigative Dermatology, and Molecular Carcinogenesis. Deeply committed to the BIRCWH, Dr. Thuillier has been a member of the BIRCWH Internal Advisory Committee since graduating from the program and largely helped to organize the BIRCWH program Grant Workshop Schedule.

Learn more about Philippe

Tanja Pejovic, MD, PhD


Appointed 8/2003-7/2007
Associate Professor, Division Director of Gynecological Oncology
Director of the Ovarian Cancer Translational Program
Knight Cancer Institute  

Primary Mentor:  Grover Bagby, MD 

Dr. Pejovic was recruited as an external candidate to the BIRCWH program and appointed as a BIRCWH scholar. Dr. Pejovic studied the role of DNA repair proteins in ovarian cancer and ovarian cancer predisposition. Her research suggests that low expression of FANCD2 protein and mRNA is associated with a risk of ovarian cancer, independent of BRCA mutation status. She holds a patent related to her work entitled "Test for ovarian cancer by detecting abnormality in FANCD2 pathway." She has also created a tissue bank of ovarian cancer samples from patients who underwent oophorectomy for benign, high-risk, or malignant ovarian diseases.  

Karen Eden, PhD

Appointed 07/2003-07/2006
Professor and Director of Pre- and Post-doctoral training programs
Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University

Primary Mentor:  Jeanne-Marie Guise, MD, MPH
  Mark Helfand, MD, MPH, MS; Dundar Kocaoglu, PhD

Nancy Glass, PhD, MPH, RN


Appointed 7/2003-11/2005
Associate Professor and Associate Director
Global Health at Johns Hopkins University

Primary Mentor: 
Lowell Davis, MD
  Linda McCauley, PhD, RN; Mary Ann Curry, DNSc, RN

Erin LeBlanc, MD, MPH


Appointed 7/2003-7/2004
Kaiser Center for Health Research

Primary Mentor:  Jeri Janowsky, PhD
  Eric Orwoll, MD; Lowell Davis, MD; Jacob Raber, PhD; Lynn Loriaux, MD, PhD