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Mentors & Research Areas

Cardiovascular Health and Disease

Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD

Eileen M. Foell Professor and Chair, Department of Preventive Medicine, Senior Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Research, and Director, Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (NUCATS)

The research program focuses on long-term risks for cardiovascular disease (CVD), refining risk assessment for CVD, and translating epidemiologic and clinical trial observations into improved clinical and public health prevention of CVD. Current research includes 1) investigating lifetime risks for CVD and factors modifying those risks in men and women from diverse race/ethnic groups; 2) improving methods for estimating short-term and lifetime risks for CVD using novel biostatistical/epidemiologic approaches; 3) use of biomarker, functional genomic, and imaging techniques to understand the mechanisms underlying long-term protection against CVD; and 4) simulation and modeling of effectiveness of policies and healthcare interventions designed to promote healthy longevity and improve prevention of CVD and other chronic diseases of aging in diverse populations. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Lifespan, Sex/Gender Determinants and Health Disparities/Differences and Diversity in CVD. 

Kiang Liu, PhD

Professor, Preventive Medicine

Dr. Liu studies cardiovascular health and disease, using epidemiology and statistics. He leads the CARDIA Chicago Field Center, an NHLBI longitudinal study on lifestyle and evolution of cardiovascular risk factors in young men and women. He is also PI of the MESA Chicago Field Center, an NHLBI-funded longitudinal study about subclinical cardiovascular disease. Liu is also PI of MESA Family Study, and the Co-PI of the Chicago Healthy Aging Study, the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos and the Healthy aging longitudinal study in Taiwan. All these studies have accurate, sex-specific data that can be extracted to strengthen, enhance or inspire research on sex/gender differences in cardiovascular diseases and disorders. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Lifespan, Sex/Gender Determinants and Health Disparities/Differences and Diversity in CVD.

Mary McGrae McDermott, MD

Professor, General Internal Medicine

Dr. McDermott’s research focuses on lower extremity peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and its consequences in men and women. She is the NU Field Center PI for the NIA-funded LIFE study, a RCT to determine whether exercise prevents mobility loss in older frail adults. The McDermott group is also collaborating to investigate aspects of PAD via imaging studies that scrutinize characteristics of atherosclerotic plaque in the superficial femoral artery. Finally, McDermott is evaluating specific biomarkers - C-reactive protein, serum amyloid A, D-dimer, and vitamin D – for their potential to inform about functional and cardiovascular outcomes in participants with lower extremity PAD. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in CVD.

Douglas Vaughan, MD

Irving S. Cutter Professor of Medicine and Chair, Department of Medicine

Dr. Vaughan’s research efforts focus on the problems of blood coagulation and tissue repair associated with CVD. His multidisciplinary team studies the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to the expression of proteolytic enzymes and enzyme inhibitors involved in processes including tissue remodeling and blood clot dissolution .The team uses genetically altered mice to investigate components of this clot-disrupting system in vascular disease. Finally, the group participates in studies using animal models of vascular disease to test small molecule drugs. These studies will guide the efforts test new agents for treating imbalances of tissue remodeling and blood clotting. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in CVD.


Epidemiology and Behavioral Science

David Baker, MD

Michael A. Gertz Professor of Medicine and Chief, Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics

Dr. Baker's research focuses on health care delivery for underserved populations, with the goal of improving quality of care for chronic medical conditions. He was a PI for the Literacy in Health Care Study, and a developer of the Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults. His prior work has, for example, looked at the impact of hospital report cards on improving outcomes and also assessed the effect of disease management programs for patients with heart failure. He is currently developing multimedia interventions to improve health communication and to improve patient self-management skills and health behaviors. Other current efforts involve examining quality measurement and quality improvement using electronic health record systems. This has included diabetes and several other chronic diseases. Baker is PI of an AHRQ-funded Center of Excellence. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Lifespan, Sex/Gender Determinants and Health Disparities/Differences and Diversity in chronic diseases.

Kenzie Cameron, PhD, MPH

Research Associate Professor, General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics

The group studies healthcare encounters between/among patients, providers, family members and caregivers. To assess these interactions, the team uses communication theories and models of social influence and interpersonal communication. Cameron’s research areas include: 1) Using “facts & myths” influenza-related messages to identify variables affecting recall of message content, attitudes and knowledge; 2) studies of women’s knowledge and perceptions about calcium/vitamin D intake; and 3) research about perceptions of financial barriers to prescription drug adherence, along with interventions to increase physician-patient discussions about medication costs and alternatives. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Lifespan, Sex/Gender Determinants and Health Disparities/Differences and Diversity in chronic diseases


Immune Function, Autoimmunity and Infectious Diseases

Richard M. Pope, MD

Mabel Greene Myers Professor of Medicine and Chief, Division of Rheumatology

Dr. Pope has developed a broad-based, rheumatology-centered program incorporating strengths of both the biomedical and clinical sciences. A major focus of the program includes research training in epidemiology and health services, focusing on diseases that uniquely affect the health of women, including system lupus, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. In the area of laboratory science, Pope’s group investigates the regulation of cytokine genes and mechanisms of cell death, studies that are relevant to autoimmune disorders such as lupus and RA, which preferentially effect women’s health and quality of life. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in autoimmune diseases.

Robert Schleimer, PhD

Dr. Roy Patterson Professor of Medicine and Chief, Division of Allergy-Immunology

The Schleimer laboratory studies chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS), a condition affecting ~10% of the US population annually. In CRS, viral infection perturbs the normal interactions between the epithelial cells lining the airways and cells of the immune system. Schleimer’s group is characterizing intercellular signaling systems that go awry in CRS. The group has found that respiratory viruses stimulate production of epithelial cell factors that regulate immune dendritic cells. Their studies suggest that induction of one such epithelial cell factor may be responsible for asthma attacks. In addition, the group has found that viral infection leads to loss of airway proteins that have microbicidal functions. The researches now have evidence for autoimmune responses in CRS. Given that autoimmunity occurs more often in women than men, Schleimer will pursue studies on sex differences in the etiology of CRS. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in autoimmune diseases. 

John Varga, MD

John and Nancy Hughes Distinguished Professor of Rheumatology

Dr. Varga’s program studies the fibrosis (scarring) due to scleroderma-related injury of internal organs. Scleroderma predominates in women, for unknown reasons. The Varga group is now determining the role of the core TGFβ pathway and co-regulatory pathways in fibrosis development. The group developed and characterized a mouse scleroderma model, which permits more physiological dissection of signaling and epigenetic changes in vivo in the context of fibrosis. The mouse model shows marked sex differences, with females being more susceptible to develop sclerodma like changes in the skin and the lungs. Finally, Varga and colleagues aim to uncover the roles of epigenetic changes occurring in fibrosis that may explain the striking gender differences seen in scleroderma. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in autoimmune diseases. 

Steven M. Wolinsky, MD

Samuel Jefferson Sackett Professor of Infectious Diseases and Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases

Not everyone exposed to HIV gets infected, and those who do progress to AIDS at different rates. Dr. Wolinsky’s group is identifying host factors that affect host immunity and the viral life cycle. Using a systems biology strategy, they are identifying rare genetic variants that confer functional consequences. The approach involves genotyping selected variants across individuals from the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study and the Women's Interagency HIV Study who develop AIDS rapidly after HIV infection verses those who never develop AIDS despite being infected with the virus, and assessing the functional consequences of the implicated variant. A key aspect of the work involves assessing differences by gender, racial or ethnic groups. The work asks how viral genetic variation, driven by host genetics and immunity, affects HIV infection dynamics and epidemic behavior. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in autoimmune diseases.

 

Metabolic Function

Joseph T. Bass, MD, PhD

Charles F. Kettering Professor of Medicine and Chief, Division of Endocrinology

The Bass group studies molecular links between neural circuits coordinating sleep, wakefulness and feeding behavior with key systems in peripheral fuel use, such as the insulin-signaling pathway. The research describes transcriptional and post-translational interactions between circadian and metabolic gene networks involved in diabetes and obesity. These studies emerge from Bass’ discovery that mutation of the gene for the transcription factor CLOCK, present both in brain and in peripheral metabolic tissues, leads to altered sleep, feeding activity, obesity and diabetes, conditions with important sex differences. Bass aims to pinpoint the cell and molecular basis for co-regulation of circadian, sleep and metabolic pathways within specific hypothalamic and peripheral cells. The group recently found a function for the clock gene network peripherally in glucose-stimulated insulin production and centrally in control of feeding. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in metabolism. 

Andrea Dunaif, MD

Charles F. Kettering Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism and Vice Chair for Research, Department of Medicine

The Dunaif group studies the mechanisms linking metabolism and reproduction. The approaches range from large-scale genetic analyses to patient-oriented research to animal models and basic cellular and molecular biology. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common endocrine disorder of premenopausal women, is the human disease model. Current research includes 1) studies of defects in insulin action and secretion associated with various PCOS genotypes and assessment of whether these findings are sex-specific; 2) a focus on potential genetic and biochemical predictors of PCOS in high risk girls (i.e. first-degree relatives); 3) interdisciplinary studies of the allostatic role of androgens, acting directly or as estrogen antagonists, in the pathogenesis of metabolic abnormalities in humans; 4) developmental origins of PCOS and 5) interdisciplinary genome-wide association studies to identify PCOS susceptibility genes. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Lifespan, Sex/Gender Determinants and Interdisciplinary Research in metabolism and reproduction.

M. Geoffrey Hayes, PhD

Assistant Professor, Endocrinology

The Hayes group investigates the genetic architecture of common, complex human diseases and traits including those predominantly affecting women such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and glucose metabolism during pregnancy and those affecting both men and women, including type 2 diabetes. The approaches range from candidate gene studies to genome-wide association studies (GWAS), as well as population genetic efforts to model the evolutionary histories of populations and the disease-associated genes commonly found among them. Current research includes 1) interdisciplinary GWAS to identify PCOS susceptibility genes, 2) interdisciplinary GWAS to find susceptibility genes for common complex diseases (e.g. type 2 diabetes) and quantitative traits (e.g. QRS duration) using electronic medical record-derived phenotypes and associated biobank samples; 3) interdisciplinary candidate gene studies and GWAS of the complex interaction between a mother’s blood glucose levels during pregnancy and the genes of both the mother and offspring, and how these shape the offspring’s birth weight. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Lifespan, Sex/Gender Determinants and Interdisciplinary Research in metabolism.

William L. Lowe, Jr., MD

Professor, Endocrinology and Vice Dean of Academic Affairs, Feinberg School of Medicine

The Lowe group, as part of a multi-departmental team, is developing scaffolding to enhance pancreatic islet engraftment after transplantation. Specifically, the scaffolds are being designed to release DNA or peptides. This should enhance the microenvironment of the transplanted islets, thus improving survival and
revascularization of transplanted islets. Lowe’s group also works on ways to differentiate embryonic stem cells into insulin-secreting cells. The group also studies how the intrauterine environment and genetics interact in determining size at birth as well as genetic determinants of maternal metabolism. One idea being examined is that genetic variants that effect insulin sensitivity or secretion in mother and/or fetus result in variation in fetal growth. The group will follow a subset of mothers and babies to test the notion that maternal glucose levels during pregnancy correlate positively with measures of adiposity, lipidemia, glycemia, and BP during childhood. The latter research program involves a large interdisciplinary, international research program. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Lifespan, Sex/Gender Determinants and Interdisciplinary Research in metabolism.

 

Neuroscience

John Csernansky, MD

Lizzie Gilman Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Women more than men suffer from depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Such differences may stem from underlying sexual dimorphisms of brain development. Csernansky’s research studies such neuropsychiatric disorders using behavioral and cognitive assessment along with in vivo neuroimaging. His group is developing better animal models for neuropsychiatric disorders. They typically investigate sex-related factors as covariates in studies of neuropsychiatric pathogenesis. Finding from their schizophrenia research suggest that the structural integrity of neural networks degenerates in schizophrenia, but that adaptive functional changes can occur to preserve behavior. In Alzheimer’s, their work suggests that measures of cortical gray matter loss may biomark early disease. This research aims to improve the validity of psychiatric diagnoses using measures of brain structure and function. Such measures also may be markers of the impact of new treatments on underlying disease processes. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in neuropsychiatric disorders.

Katherine L. Wisner, MD

Norman and Helen Asher Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Wisner has expertise in research in psychiatric illness across the life span in women, particularly during reproductive transitions.  She contributed to the NAS/IOM Forum on Neuroscience: Sex Differences and Implications for Translational Neuroscience Research in Studies of Major Depression.  Her R01s have included the epidemiology and phenomenology of mood disorders; screening for postpartum depression; RCTs including placebo-controlled depression prevention trials; separation of the impact of drugs from the sequelae of antenatal depression or mania; RCTs with novel agents (transdermal estradiol, morning light therapy); pharmacokinetic changes during pregnancy and post-bariatric surgery.

Catherine Woolley, PhD

Professor, Neurobiology

Dr. Woolley’s group investigates sex differences and hormone action in neural circuits related to learning and memory, affective disorders, and epilepsy. Current work covers hormone-driven plasticity in the structure and functional of hippocampal neural circuitry, which is critical for learning and new memory formation, regulating anxiety and depression, and a site of seizure activity in epilepsy. They use several approaches to assemble the cellular/molecular chain of events by which changing levels of hormones drive plasticity of neural circuits and to understand how this plasticity alters the function of neural circuits. This research aims to identify molecular targets for development of novel therapies to combat cognitive, affective, or seizure disorders, particularly those that differ in men and women. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Phillyis C. Zee, MD, PhD

Benjamin and Virginia T. Boshes Professor of Neurology

Dr. Zee’s program looks at sleep and circadian biology. The group uses circadian-based approaches such as light, melatonin and physical activity to improve circadian rhythm and sleep disorders in young and older adults. The group’s findings showed that a plan of timed aerobic exercise improves sleep quality and neurocognitive performance in older adults with insomnia. This has important implications for the nearly 50% of older adults who suffer from chronic insomnia. Zee’s group also studies the relationship between sleep/sleep disorders and metabolic/cardiovascular disease in populations at risk for sleep disorders. These studies look at gender differences in sleep and its role in cardiometabolic function. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Lifespan and Sex/Gender Determinants in sleep disorders.

 

Reproductive Biology

Serdar E. Bulun, MD

John J. Sciarra Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Chair, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Chief, Division of Reproductive Biology Research

Endometriosis is a major health concern and source of pain for many women. The condition seems to result from a defect in apoptosis. Bulun’s group studies the molecular mechanisms in the endometriosis tissue that confer resistance to apoptosis. In particular, the group is studying specific deficiencies in retinoic acid production and action on endometriosis. Uncovering molecular mechanisms underlying endometriosis may lead to development of new therapeutic compounds that interact with novel targets. Uterine fibroid tumors are another major source of discomfort in women, often leading to hysterectomy. Satisfactory nonsurgical treatment is therefore sought. The Bulun group studies progesterone’s role in the development of uterine fibroids and their potential treatment by antiprogestins. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in reproductive disorders.

Kelly E. Mayo, PhD

Professor, Molecular Biosciences and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Mayo’s group studies cell signaling in the female reproductive axis, aiming to learn how hormones cyclically regulate cell proliferation and differentiation including gene expression leading to ovulation and then ovarian follicular luteinization. Their efforts cover: 1) dynamic regulation of inhibin subunit gene expression during the reproductive cycle, including roles of cAMP-responsive transcription factors as well as orphan nuclear receptors in this process; and 2) developmental pathways governing ovarian follicle formation and growth. The group studies mechanisms regulating normal reproduction, but the work is informed by, and relevant to, reproductive disorders that impact fertility/infertility. The studies involve collaborators from structural biology, physiology and clinical reproduction. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants in reproductive disorders.

Margret Urbanek, PhD

Associate Professor, Endocrinology

Dr. Urbanek’s group identifies susceptibility loci for complex genetic traits including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), fetal growth, pregnancy complications, and obesity. The research includes: 1) assessing the TGFβ-signal pathway and inflammatory genes in the etiology of PCOS; 2) studying genetic variation in diabetes and obesity-susceptibility genes in PCOS onset; 3) comparing gene expression in obese women with/without PCOS, and obese men; 4) finding PCOS-susceptibility genes and genes regulating maternal glycemia during pregnancy and delivery. The research involves interdisciplinary genetic/epigenetic studies to find sex differences in gene expression, and also aims to identify/validate sex-specific markers for PCOS and obesity. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Lifespan, Sex/Gender Determinants and Interdisciplinary Research in reproductive and metabolic disorders.

Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD

Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Chief, Division of Fertility Preservation, and Director, Women's Health Research Institute

Dr. Woodruff’s group studies the mechanisms regulating the reproductive axis. Their work investigates: 1) hormonal/neuronal effectors of follicle selection and maturation; 2) factors governing oocyte maturation; 3) events surrounding follicle wall rupture; and 6) interplay between oocyte and somatic cells. These efforts led to questions about ovarian follicle formation and persistence; these were addressed by developing a 3-D support system for follicle growth ex vivo, in collaboration with faculty in Chemical & Biological Engineering. The team produced a culture system that supports live births of mice. Collaborating with primate researchers, they are translating these efforts into monkeys. Woodruff aims to move this work to women who will lose fertility during cancer treatment. This research is relevant to the overarching NU BIRCWH CDWH themes of Sex/Gender Determinants and Interdisciplinary Research in reproductive disorders.
 

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