BIRCWH Mentors

Catalin S. Buhimschi, MD, MMS, MBA

Catalin S. Buhimschi, MD, MMS, MBA
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Pediatrics, Director of Obstetrical Services and Patient Safety
College of Medicine

Dr. Catalin S. Buhimschi is a board-certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist with sub-specialty training and certification in Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM). He provides clinical care to patients in inpatient and outpatient settings, consisting of high-risk subspecialty clinics (preterm labor, diabetes, medical complications of pregnancy). He is also actively involved in research and mentorship activities. His current research interests are focused on understanding the pathophysiology of medical complications of pregnancy, specifically preterm labor and preeclampsia, and fetal damage. With a greater understanding comes the ability to develop clinical interventions. Examples of Dr. Buhimschi’s contributions to this area of research include the discovery and clinical testing of specific biomarkers as indicators of intra-amniotic infection, early onset neonatal sepsis, poor neonatal outcomes and understanding the pathophysiology of preeclampsia. During his career Dr. Buhimschi has successfully collaborated with researchers around the world, and finalized peer-reviewed publications from each grant and project. During the last decade he has had the privilege of continuing to serve in numerous NIH grant review panels and be part of a team that successfully competed for federal and private foundation funding. Dr. Buhimschi is aware of the importance of building up strong clinical and research teams, as well as his role as a mentor for fellows and junior faculty. With Dr. Buhimschi’s prior experience with building up professional relationships across disciplines including neonatology, pediatrics and anesthesia, NIH funding, mentorship, and business he is prepared to successfully contribute to the Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) Program.

Irina A. Buhimschi, MD, MMS

Irina A. Buhimschi, MD, MMS
Professor, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology
Director, Perinatal Research Laboratory
College of Medicine

Dr. Irina A. Buhimschi is Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Director of the Perinatal Research laboratory in the UIC College of Medicine. Her research is highly translational and is focused on important problems in perinatal medicine such as preterm birth and preeclampsia. Dr. Irina A. Buhimschi has mentored numerous junior faculty, maternal fetal medicine and neonatology fellows, T32-funded medical students, graduate students, college students and high school students. Because of her expertise in clinically applied omics approaches she is frequently solicited to co-mentor K08-awardees who are interested in pursuing translational research. Many students and trainees have published first author papers in high impact journals such as Science Translational MedicineCirculationNature Scientific ReportsHypertension and Lancet EClinical Medicine. At her prior institution, Dr. Buhimschi spearheaded and served as PI on The Futures Matter Program (NICHD-funded), an institute-wide summer research experience program aimed at encouraging talented students from local high schools to pursue STEM-related college majors that would lead to careers that could help advance pregnancy- and child-health research. The goal of the program was to sensitize high school students to the importance of applied bioinformatics as required by the medicine of the future. Although Dr. Buhimschi has moved to UIC only in January 2019, she is already mentoring at UIC one junior faculty, one maternal fetal medicine fellow and two medical students interested in perinatal research and/or global health.

Joanna E. Burdette, PhD

Joanna E. Burdette, PhD
Professor
Associate Dean for Research, Pharmaceutical Sciences
College of Pharmacy

Dr. Joanna E. Burdette is currently a Professor and the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education in the College of Pharmacy at UIC. She serves as the Associate Director of the CCTS KL2 mentoring program for junior faculty at UIC. In this role, Dr. Burdette actively mentors assistant professors across seven health science colleges in translational science and navigating the tenure system. From 2014-2017, she was the co-director of the UIC NIH K12 Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) program, and she is former BIRCWH scholar. In 2013, Dr. Burdette was named the UIC Rising Star and in 2020 Research of the Year in the basic life sciences. Her research focuses on women’s health. Specifically, she investigates the origins of ovarian cancer and work with natural products as a source of chemical probes and new anti-cancer agents. She also integrates microfluidics, drug discovery, and tissue engineering to study aspects of tumorigenesis from the fallopian tube, which is now believed to be the source of high-grade serous ovarian cancer.

Rachel Caskey, MD, MAPP

Rachel Caskey, MD, MAPP
Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics
College of Medicine

Dr. Rachel Caskey is a board-certified internist and pediatrician and has expertise caring for patients of all ages, with a focused clinical interest in women’s health. She is a health services researcher with experience in clinical trial design and implementation, as well as public health program implementation and analysis. She combined her clinical interest in women’s reproductive health with her public health interest in population health to develop a research platform focused on reproductive health care delivery through scalable system-level interventions. Dr. Caskey has successfully conducted multiple clinical trials, and designed clinical programs, targeting postpartum women. She has studied mechanisms to positively impact receipt of care and family planning behaviors among postpartum women through large health system change, including large randomized trials offering women contraception in conjunction with their infant’s pediatric visit. Dr. Caskey has experience overseeing large implementation projects. She was the Director of Data and Outcomes for the UIC Coordination of Healthcare for Complex Kids (CHECK) program. CHECK was an innovative care coordination and health care delivery program for nearly 6000 families of low-income high-risk youth and young adults. CHECK enrolled more than 17,000 children and young adults, more than 90% were racial/ethnic minorities.  Her team built a robust database, which successfully merged large datasets from multiple sources (including IL Medicaid data) for longitudinal data collection and analysis. She serves on multiple committees at the Chicago Department of Public Health focused on citywide women and children’s health initiatives and serves as an advisor at the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics on health promotion efforts.

Martha L. Daviglus, MD, PhD, MPH

Martha L. Daviglus, MD, PhD, MPH
Professor, College of Medicine
Director of the Institute for Minority Health Research
Associate Vice Chancellor for Research

Dr. Martha L. Daviglus is a Professor of Medicine, Director of the Institute for Minority Health Research, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). An alumna of UIC (class of 1995), she moved from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine to her alma mater (UIC) in June 2012. Her research activities have concentrated on the epidemiology and prevention of cardiovascular diseases and minority health disparities, for which she has received numerous grants and awards including the Established Investigator Award from the American Heart Association. Dr. Daviglus has had continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1995 and has been involved in investigating associations of traditional cardiovascular and nutritional risk factors with long-term coronary and cardiovascular morbidity (clinical and subclinical) and mortality in middle-aged and older men and women. Dr. Daviglus’ other research interests focus on the benefits in older age, in terms of health care costs and health-related quality of life, of favorable (low risk) cardiovascular risk profile earlier in life, and on women’s health. Dr. Daviglus is the principal investigator on a number of longitudinal studies including on the Hispanic Community Health Study/ Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) Chicago Field Center, the Chicago Healthy Aging Study, and the UIC Cohort of Patients, Family, and Friends. She also serves as Director of a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Research Training Program on Cardiovascular Epidemiology and Prevention.

Luisa A. DiPietro, PhD, DDS, MS

Luisa A. DiPietro, PhD, DDS, MS
Professor, Periodontics
Director, Center for Wound Healing and Tissue Regeneration

Dr. Luisa A. DiPietro is Professor of Periodontics and the Director of the Center for Wound Healing and Tissue Regeneration at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She also serves as the UIC Scientific Director for the Chicago Biomedical Consortium. Dr. DiPietro received both her DDS and PhD in immunology from the University of Illinois at Chicago and completed a residency in hospital dentistry at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. Research in the DiPietro laboratory focuses on how wounds heal, with the goal of developing therapies that will allow humans to regenerate perfect tissue after an injury. Her research includes basic laboratory research, clinical studies, and computational modeling of the healing process. Dr. DiPietro’s research has been continuously funded by NIH since 1994 and includes serving as the PI for an NIH-funded Innovative Center in Wound Healing Research. Dr. DiPietro has served as the primary mentor for more than 70 research trainees. She directs the KL2 Junior Faculty Career Development Program for the UIC Center for Clinical and Translational Science and is active in both faculty and trainee mentoring programs. Her honors and awards include the Distinguished Service Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wound Healing Society, and the Mentor of the Year Award from the American Association for Dental Research Student Research Group. Dr. DiPietro is a University Scholar and an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Geri R. Donenberg, PhD

Geri R. Donenberg, PhD
Professor of Medicine and Psychology
Co-Vice Chair of Research, Department of Medicine
Director, Healthy Youths Program
Director, Center for Dissemination and Implementation Science

Dr. Geri Donenberg is a professor of Medicine, Psychology, and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She is the Co-Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Medicine, directs the Center for Dissemination and Implementation Science and Healthy Youths Program, and codirects the UIC/Indonesia Fogarty Training Program. Dr. Donenberg has been involved in national and international HIV-related research for 20 years, with continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1999. Dr. Donenberg has expertise in longitudinal research, prevention and intervention development and adaptation, evidence-based program delivery and testing, and the conduct of randomized controlled trials with diverse populations of children, adolescents and adults. With over 110 peer-reviewed publications, her research focuses on family factors, individual attitudes and beliefs, and peer and partner characteristics related to youth sexual behavior and substance use. In 2016, she was recognized as UIC’s Distinguished Clinical Researcher of the Year. Previously, Dr. Donenberg directed the Community Outreach Intervention Projects and served as Associate Dean of Research in the UIC School of Public Health. A former Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Donenberg works internationally throughout Africa and Indonesia, and has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to capacity development and enhancing diversity and inclusion at the local, national, and international levels. She has trained more than 70 Doctorate, Masters and Bachelor-level students throughout the United States, Africa, and Indonesia, and she actively mentors junior faculty through national initiatives for traditionally underrepresented minority scholars. She is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of Illinois.

Carol E. Ferrans, PhD, RN, FAAN

Carol E. Ferrans, PhD, RN, FAAN
Professor and Harriet H. Werley Endowed Chair in Nursing Research
College of Nursing

Dr. Carol Ferrans’ research addresses quality of life outcomes and health disparities, primarily in breast cancer. She is known internationally for the Ferrans and Powers Quality of Life Index (QLI), translated into 21 languages and published in 400 studies. To address the fact that African Americans were dying of breast cancer at twice the rate of Caucasians in Chicago, Dr. Ferrans launched a community-based outreach program funded by NIH. This program reached more than 8,500 African American women, changing beliefs and increasing screening in Southside communities with the highest death rates. As a founder of the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force, Dr. Ferrans led the effort to increase equitable access to mammography, writing a major portion of the Task Force report. This report produced the Illinois Reducing Breast Cancer Disparities Act, to improve access to screening and mammography quality throughout the state. Since the founding of the Task Force, mortality rates for black women have decreased 13.87% in Chicago, more than any other major U.S. city during that period. Dr. Ferrans served as the Director/Co-Director of the UIC Center of Excellence in Eliminating Disparities, Director of the Policy and Dissemination Core for the UIC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities, and the Director of the Community Engagement and Research Core of the UIC Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Currently, Dr. Ferrans serves on the National Cancer Institute Board of Scientific Advisors.

Marian L. Fitzgibbon, PhD

Marian L. Fitzgibbon, PhD
Professor of Pediatrics and Health Policy and Administration
College of Medicine/School of Public Health

Dr. Marian Fitzgibbon is a professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the UIC College of Medicine and the Division of Health Policy and Administration in the UIC School of Public Health. She also serves as an IHRP associate director and, in the University of Illinois Cancer Center, she is the associate director for cancer prevention and control. Dr. Fitzgibbon’s research has focused primarily on health risk reduction interventions in minority and underserved populations. Her work has been supported by the NIH continually for more than a dozen years and she regularly publishes in peer-reviewed journals. She serves as an ad hoc reviewer on a number of journals, including Health Psychology, The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, American Journal of Public Health, The Journal of The American Medical Association, and Ethnicity and Disease. Dr. Fitzgibbon has mentored pre-doctoral, postdoctoral, and junior faculty for more than a decade. She has chaired 12 dissertation committees and is the primary mentor for two recipients of career development K awards through the National Cancer Institute (NCI). She recently received a minority supplement for a grant awarded from the NCI and is a mentor for a Career Development Awardee.

Ben Gerber, MD, MPH

Ben S. Gerber, MD, MPH
Professor of Medicine
Associate Chief for Education and Scholarly Activities
College of Medicine

Dr. Ben Gerber is a professor of medicine in the Division of Academic Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, of the UIC College of Medicine, where he serves as associate chief for education and scholarly activities. He is a Fellow of the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy, and a core research investigator with the VA Center of Innovation for Complex Chronic Healthcare. Dr. Gerber’s research interests include chronic disease self-management and health behavior promotion through technology and health services delivery redesign. His research focuses on low-income minority populations and those with limited access to health services. He is currently the principal investigator of an NIH-funded study to evaluate community health workers and pharmacists in providing diabetes team management. His intervention research includes the use of iPads for multimedia education and mobile phones for text messaging. Dr. Gerber developed mytapp, a simple, 2-way text messaging application designed for chronic disease management support and the promotion of healthy behaviors. He also co-directs (as co-principal investigator) of PREMIER, an NIH-funded postdoctoral training program for precision lifestyle medicine. Learn more.

Arden Handler, DrPH

Arden Handler, DrPH
Professor and Interim Division Director, Community Health Sciences
Director, Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health
School of Public Health

Dr. Arden Handler’s career reflects her long-standing commitment to improving the health of women, children and families. She received a DrPH from the University of Illinois School of Public Health in 1987 and has been on the faculty at UIC-SPH since then. She is currently Interim Division Director of Community Health Sciences, PI of the UIC-SPH Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health, and PI of the UIC-SPH MCH Epidemiology Program and has a long history of participating in MCH workforce development projects. Her research focuses on the exploration of factors that increase the risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes and examination of the ways in which the health care delivery system,  particularly prenatal care, perinatal care, postpartum care, and preconception/interconception/well-woman health care can ameliorate these risks.  She is currently the PI for the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program evaluation, PI of the Family Connects-Chicago evaluation, co-PI on the evaluation of OCEAN Healthy Start, and is Multiple PI on I PROMOTE-IL, a HRSA funded project to improve maternal health throughout IL.

Hyunyoung Jeong, PharmD, PhD

Hyunyoung Jeong, PharmD, PhD
Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences
College of Pharmacy

Dr. Hyunyoung (Young) Jeong is a Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the College of Pharmacy, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Dr. Jeong received her Pharm.D. (2001) and Ph.D. (2004) from UIC, followed by postdoctoral training in molecular pharmacology at UIC. Since joining the faculty at UIC in 2006, she has established a strong research program in drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, funded by multiple grants from NIH and other organizations. Her current research focuses on elucidating mechanisms underlying pharmacokinetic changes of drugs in pregnancy; identifying factors responsible for inter-individual variability in drug metabolism; determining roles of gut microbiota in drug efficacy and toxicity; and using pharmacokinetic knowledge for preclinical drug development. Dr. Jeong is an editorial board member for multiple journals including Drug Metabolism and Disposition and Pharmacological Reviews. She received the Early Career Achievement Award in the Drug Metabolism and Disposition Division of American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

Amy W. Lasek, PhD

Amy W. Lasek, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Anatomy and Cell Biology
Scientific Director, Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics
College of Medicine

Dr. Lasek’s laboratory studies the molecular and cellular neurobiology of drug and alcohol addiction, using mice and rats as model organisms. One of the main research projects in the laboratory is to understand mechanisms by which the hormone estrogen increases the vulnerability of females to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Our research over the past several years has determined that specific estrogen receptors in the brain contribute to the increased sensitivity of females to the rewarding properties of alcohol and cocaine. Dr. Lasek has trained five female Ph.D. students in her laboratory since opening her lab at UIC in 2012.

 

Brian T. Layden, MD, PhD

Brian T. Layden, MD, PhD
Associate Professor
Chief, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
College of Medicine

Dr. Brian Layden is the Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Division Chief for Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The overall theme of his research is understanding metabolic diseases, with a particular focus on gestational diabetes. Currently, he has two main areas of focus. The first is to investigate how novel GPCRs contribute to physiological and pathological states. This project, in particular, focuses on GPCRs that are regulated by nutrients derived from the gut microbiome, in particular, short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), where he and his study team uses multiple approaches, such as metabolomics and genetic mouse models, to understand these relationships, in particular during pregnancy. The other project is on HKDC1, where this gene has been discovered as being linked to gestational diabetes. His study team has described how this gene leads to the development of hyperglycemia in pregnancy and gestational diabetes. Moreover, his study group has been the only group that has published understanding its biological role in pregnancy since its discovery just over five years ago.

Pauline M. Maki, PhD

Pauline M. Maki, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology and OB/GYN
Senior Director of Research, Center for Research on Women & Gender

Throughout her career, Dr. Maki has made mentorship a priority at the assistant professor, graduate students, and undergraduate levels. From 2010-17 she served as Program Director of the BIRCWH and thereafter as Program Director of the Bridge Program. At UIC, she has mentored 17 junior faculty through: K awards (4), the BIRCWH (as Leadership Team Mentor to 5 Scholars), the BIRCWH Associates Program (as Leadership Team Mentor to 3 Scholars) and HIV training grants (2). She currently mentors an Arnold O. Beckman Postdoctoral Scholar and four graduate students in the Behavioral Neuroscience Division of the Department of Psychology. She has also mentored graduate students through the Graduate Program in Neuroscience and the Medical Student Training Program. Her students and trainees have published first-author papers in high impact journals such as Neurology, Biological Psychiatry, and AIDS. Twenty undergraduate research volunteers are active in her lab, including 16 underrepresented minority students, most of whom contribute to work on perinatal depression. In 2015, she was honored with the first Capstone Mentor of the Year award from the Honors College. For five successive years, she was elected to the UIC and Statewide University of Illinois College of Medicine Executive Committees, providing regular communication with the Deans of Medicine in Chicago, Urbana-Champaign, Rockford, and Peoria. She also served on the College of Medicine Mentorship Program Committee, which implemented a college-wide mentoring program for all Assistant Professors. She serves as co-Chair of the FAAC-DI and reports to the Dean of the College of Medicine on the status of women and minority faculty and make recommendations for appropriate training and policy solutions to advance these missions.

Barbara McFarlin, PhD, CNM, RDMS, FACNM, FAAN

Barbara McFarlin, PhD, CNM, RDMS, FACNM, FAAN
Professor, College of Nursing

Dr. Barbara McFarlin’s program of research has been to develop new technologies to non-invasively detect risk of preterm birth using an animal model and humans. First, she started studying pregnant rats, both ex vivo and in vivo to validate my ultrasound idea that quantitative ultrasound could detect cervical collagen changes that lead to birth. Her study team then developed the instrumentation, analysis algorithms, and validated findings with biochemistry, histology, and biomechanical testing. She then translated the method for use in human pregnancy. Now her study team is working on mechanisms of cervical remodeling leading to preterm birth as well as evaluating genomics of cervical remodeling and pharmacogenomics of the only treatment to prevent preterm birth, progesterone.

During her research career, Dr. McFarlin included and mentored electrical and biomechanical engineering students in research and have published together. All of the engineering students have jobs, where their bosses specifically told them that they were chosen because of the work they conducted through McFarlin’s projects. The valuable lessons they learned were how to apply engineering to health problems, how to interact with non-engineers who do not have their skills, and to develop methods (Matlab codes) for non-engineers to understand and use.

Robin J. Mermelstein, PhD

Robin J. Mermelstein, PhD
Distinguished Professor of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Director, Institute for Health Research and Policy
Co-Principal Director, UIC Center for Clinical and Translational Science

Dr. Robin Mermelstein, a Distinguished Professor, College of Liberal Arts and Science, Department of Psychology, directs the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also is a research professor of community health sciences in the UIC School of Public Health, and the co-director of the UIC Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Her research interests fall broadly in the area of tobacco use, with studies ranging from longitudinal examinations of the etiology of youth smoking to cessation interventions for adult smokers.

Since the mid-1990s, Dr. Mermelstein has been the principal investigator of a series of studies, including two consecutive program projects funded by the National Cancer Institute, to investigate trajectories of smoking patterns among adolescents and young adults, with a focus on social and emotional contextual factors. In addition, she has been funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine factors related to youth smoking, and by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Cancer Institute for studies of adult smoking reduction and cessation. Other areas of research focus include health behaviors of young adults and motivational interventions to increase smoking cessation. In 2014, the University of Illinois at Chicago named Dr. Mermelstein Woman of the Year for her contributions to women’s health and professional development. She is a former mentor to several BIRCWH scholars and Women’s Health Associates.

Thasarat S. Vajaranant, MD

Thasarat S. Vajaranant, MD
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology; Vice Chair for Strategic Initiatives
Director, Glaucoma Service
College of Medicine

Dr. Vajaranant is nationally recognized as an expert clinician and clinician-scientist. She is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology Achievement Award and three Clinician-Scientist Awards from the American Glaucoma Society. She has secured research funding from the National Institute of Health since 2009. At present, she is the principal investigator of the National Eye Institute funded project, entitled Optic Nerve Aging and Glaucoma and site principal investigator of multicenter drug trials. In addition, she has been listed as one of Best Doctors in America, America’s Top Doctors, and Super Doctors. She directed the Ophthalmology Residency Program from 2007–2009, and became Director of the Glaucoma Service in 2010.