2019 MRF Awards honor Oregon scientists

On December 10, The Medical Research Foundation honored three Oregon scientists at its annual Awards Dinner. These awards of merit are presented by the MRF Committee to exceptional Oregon scientists and mentors. Pictured above: Daniel Dorsa, Ph.D., Chair of the Medical Research Foundation Committee, and Jonathan Lindner, M.D., at the 2019 MRF Awards Dinner

The MRF Committee recognized Jonathan R. Lindner, M.D., with the 2019 Mentor Award. The Mentor Award is presented to an Oregonian who has provided outstanding mentorship and leadership in the support of health research, education or the advancement of health care.

Jonathan Lindner, MD

Jonathan Lindner is a highly productive scholar and exceptional academic physician. He is an expert in the fields of cardiovascular imaging and microvascular physiology. His research laboratory has pioneered the use of contrast ultrasound for imaging of disease and the evaluation of microvascular function. Specific areas of interest include the application of molecular imaging techniques to detect and evaluate new therapies for atherosclerosis; molecular imaging of angiogenesis, stem cell therapy, and early diagnosis of myocardial ischemic injury; developing new methods for detecting and treating peripheral arterial disease; and developing novel approaches for therapeutic ultrasound. His genuine enthusiasm for research and unmatched scientific curiosity have catalyzed important scientific breakthroughs and created one of the top laboratories in the world for contrast-enhanced imaging in cardiovascular disease.

Lindner has been highly influential in the field of cardiovascular medicine — not only because of his own research but also because of his legacy of excellent teaching and mentorship. As a mentor, he is extremely generous with his time and expertise, going so far as, for example, joining his mentees at all hours to guide mechanistic studies of vascular physiology in multi-day circadian and sleep protocols. His guidance and unflinching support have allowed his trainees to succeed as award-winning clinicians and researchers. He has received numerous honors and awards, many of which recognize his excellence as a mentor — for example, the University of Virginia Dean’s Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching; the J. Edwin Wood Jr. Cardiovascular Division Teaching Award; the American Society of Echocardiography Richard J. Popp Excellence in Teaching Award, the OHSU Annual Faculty Teaching Award (several times), and the Distinguished Service Award for Graduate Medical Education at OHSU.

Linder received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas, Austin, and his M.D. from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, where he was also a resident. He had a fellowship in cardiovascular medicine from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He is currently professor of medicine, Cardiovascular Division and Department of Biomedical Engineering, and the M. Lowell Edwards Professor of Cardiology at OHSU. He is also chief of the Division of Cardiometabolic Health at OHSU’s Oregon National Primate Research Center.

The MRF Committee recognized Peter G. Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D., for the 2019 Discovery Award. The Discovery Award honors an Oregon investigator who has made significant, original contributions to health-related research while working in Oregon.

Peter Barr-Gillespie, PhD

Barr-Gillespie’s intellectual passion is the sensory hair cell of the inner ear, which underlies the senses of hearing and balance. These cells transduce sound vibrations in the cochlea into electrical signals that are then sent to the auditory brainstem and cortex. Importantly, hair cells are not regenerated after damage from noise, ototoxic drugs, or aging; thus, understanding their basic biology is essential to developing restorative treatments for auditory and balance disorder

Specifically, Barr-Gillespie and his team study the molecular basis of mechanoelectrical transduction of the hair cell, and they are pioneers in this field. Highlights of their work include defining the molecular underpinnings of hair cell adaptation and bundle structure through characterization of several myosin proteins; deploying novel mass spectrometry techniques to study hair cell components; elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying calcium homeostasis in the hair bundle; and discovery of the proteins required for hair bundle assembly and their sequential expression during bundle morphogenesis.

Barr-Gillespie’s long-term goal is to identify the molecules composing each of these structures, and then determine how the bundle assembles them to create this sensitive transduction apparatus. He is also interested in how the hair cell produces the remarkable cytoskeletal structure of the hair bundle. Notably, Barr-Gillespie has always taken a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses biochemistry, proteomics, molecular biology, electrophysiology, microscopy, and genetics. Among these, his laboratory has focused especially on the use of mass spectrometry to characterize the molecules of the hair bundle.

Barr-Gillespie joined OHSU from Johns Hopkins University in 1999 under a joint appointment to the Oregon Hearing Research Center in the Department of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery and to the Vollum Institute. He is scientific director of the Hearing Health Foundation’s Hearing Restoration Project, a consortium of internationally accomplished scientists seeking to regenerate hair cells in the mammalian inner ear. The project’s goal is to develop a biological therapy for hearing loss arising from destruction of hair cells. He is also the first chief research officer at OHSU. Barr-Gillespie received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Reed College and his Ph.D. In pharmacology from the University of Washington.

The MRF Committee recognized Bo Sun, Ph.D., for the 2019 Richard T. Jones New Investigator Award. This award honors a new investigator who shows exceptional promise early in a career in biomedical research and who is within seven years or less of completing clinical and/or post-doctoral training.

Bo Sun, PhD

Bo Sun is already an associate professor at Oregon State University in the Department of Physics. Though early in his career, he has established a world-class research program in the biophysics of the collective behavior of cells. He has a thriving laboratory that has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Medical Research Foundation.

Sun’s contribution to medical research is unique: He brings together two different perspectives to solve some of the most challenging problems in biomedicine. He uses advanced physical modeling and novel experimental techniques to quantitatively uncover the organizing principles of multicellular systems. He studies the collective dynamics resulting from two types of cell-cell interactions: chemical exchange mediated by gap junctions and cells that interact by way of mediation through the extracellular matrix. Gap junctions are protein channels formed between cells that touch one another. The junctions allow two cells to exchange their signaling molecules without the need for extracellular diffusion. Sun showed for the first time that communication makes groups of cells encode more information and more reliably than individual cells. He also studies interactions of cells that are mechanically mediated by the extracellular matrix, a network making up a large portion of the human body. He found that the extracellular matrix has some peculiar physical properties: it is nonlinear, asymmetric, anisotropic, heterogeneous, and plastic. These findings have major implications for complex diseases such as cancer and brain disease.

Sun’s background is in mathematical theoretical physics, but he has now moved into experimental biological physics: among other important findings, he discovered that invading cancer cells can switch between different modes of migration. This is an important discovery that will have profound implications for the development of therapeutic strategies. Sun has also developed an automated image processing platform that can determine the transition rates between these different migration modes. He is currently in the process of carrying out extensive, high-throughput experiments that will result in invaluable insights into cell migration.

Sun did his undergraduate work in the Department of Physics, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, and his Master’s work at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, Chinese Academy of Science. He then received his Ph.D. From the Department of Physics at New York University and a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton.