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OHSU Receives $2.5 Million Grant to Launch Next Generation of Women's Health Researchers

   Portland, Ore.

One scholar studies a new treatment for ovarian cancer, another fights to end violence against women.

Rising stars in women's health at Oregon Health & Science University have earned an opportunity to protect research time, enjoy mentorship from established researchers, and launch promising investigative careers while advancing women's health care. Through a $2.47 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's BIRCWH program (Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health), promising junior faculty develop research careers while improving women's health.

"We are thrilled to have this national recognition of OHSU's leadership in women's health research. Only a handful of academic medical universities are able to mount this kind of development role -- and OHSU, with it's collaborative spirit and its Center for Women's Health, is one of these few," said Vice Provost Lesley Hallick, Ph.D.

The five BIRCWH scholars, each is an assistant professor, are devoted to a specific research topic, with expertise in multiple fields. Nancy Glass, Ph.D., M.S.N., M.P.H., in the School of Nursing is one of these scholars. With a background in both nursing and public health, Glass focuses on combating violence against women. She was drawn to the School of Nursing because of its noted expert in this field, Mary Ann Curry, R.N., D.N.Sc., F.A.A.N., professor of nursing.

Glass is creating an unusual workplace program intended to end domestic violence directed at Latina women.

"This group of women doesn't access traditional helping services such as police or health care, but they do speak to co-workers and supervisors about their problems. Employers recognize how domestic violence impacts a worker's ability to get to work and be productive. They know it's a serious issue and they want to be supportive," she said. Glass intends to put workplace resources, education and policies in place to support victims of domestic violence.

Another BIRCWH scholar, Tanja Pejovic, M.D., Ph.D., in the School of Medicine, has already been recognized for her achievements investigating genetic causes of ovarian cancer. She studies genes that cause cells to either over- or under-express themselves, leading to malignant mutations. Pejovic endeavors to invent a gene therapy that turns these ovarian cancer genes off.

"This is a great opportunity to dedicate myself to research. The BIRCWH program provides unique research support for five years," she said. Pejovic hopes to produce a successful gene therapy within that time.

Like all BIRCWH scholars, Pejovic is being mentored by Grover Bagby, M.D., director of the OHSU Cancer Institute and professor of medicine, (hematology/medical oncology) in the School of Medicine.

Other BIRCWH scholars include Erin LeBlanc, M.D., M.P.H., in the School of Medicine, who studies the effects of hormone replacement on memory; Karen Eden, Ph.D., in the Division of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology, School of Medicine, who comes from an engineering background to study complex patient decision making; and Paco Herson, Ph.D., in the OHSU Vollum Institute, who researches gender-related differences in neurologic disorders.

"All of us feel a responsibility to be productive and successful in our fields," Glass said. "We each want to see BIRCWH scholarship succeed as a lasting legacy for other junior faculty. This program is extraordinarily important; it's a real opportunity to move research forward."

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