Who’s New at OHSU? Selva Baltan, M.D., Ph.D.

Selva Baltan, MD, PhD

Selva Baltan, M.D., Ph.D., vice chair of research and professor of anesthesiology, accepted the National Institutes of Health’s invitation to serve as chairperson of the Brain Injury and Neurovascular Pathologies Study Section, Center for Scientific Review. Her two-year term, which begins July 1, is an opportunity to make a sustained contribution to biomedical research at a national level. Members are selected on the basis of their demonstrated competence, achievements and honors.

“We were extremely fortunate to recruit Dr. Baltan last year,” said Stephen Robinson, M.D., professor and interim chair of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine. “She has the exceptional skills and background that will help advance the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine’s national reputation in basic, clinical and translational research,” It is great to see the NIH affirm her level of accomplishment by selecting her to chair this study section.”

“Dr. Baltan’s appointment will allow her to share her leadership abilities and to build on her already impressive network and collaborations,” said School of Medicine Dean Sharon Anderson. “Congratulations, Dr. Baltan, on this honor.”

What is your background and what brought you to OHSU?

I earned my medical degree from Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey, and a Ph.D. in neurophysiology from Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University in Montreal, Canada. After completing an American Heart and Stroke fellowship in neurology at Washington University in Saint Louis, I joined the University of Washington Department of Neurology. I moved to the Cleveland Clinic in 2011 and joined their Neurosciences and Neurological Institute. In 2019, I came to the Department of Anesthesiology at OHSU. 

As vice chair for research in Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, Baltan will play an important role supporting individual investigators. Translation of basic science discoveries to clinic has been the main goal of my research. The infrastructure to support translational research at OHSU offers exceptional opportunities. OHSU harbors a large basic science community together with one of the largest primate centers in the nation and multiple human tissue banks within a hospital environment. APOM is an exemplary department in which to be the leader of translational science because of its special structure of clinicians that have access to a diverse patient population, clinician-scientists and basic science researchers with a wide range of interests. I am very excited and feel very fortunate to be a member of this exceptional group.

What avenues of research are you pursuing?

My main scientific aims have been focused on the study of injury to white matter, which is a portion of the brain that contains no neuronal soma but has myelinated axons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes. The highlights of our work were being the first to establish that Class 1 histone deacetylases provide a universal target to protect white matter against ischemia when applied before or after injury independent of age or brain region and that epigenetics is not only limited to neuronal nuclei but also applies to glial cells to modify the response of white matter to injury.

Our focus on investigating white matter aging and injury mechanisms position us with a unique opportunity to interface between different scientific fields such as glia and stroke; aging and Alzheimer’s disease; demyelination/remyelination and multiple sclerosis; axonal degeneration; traumatic injury (spinal and brain); and periventricular leukomalacia. This position also facilitates collaborations with multiple groups of scientists in each field to incorporate our findings and understanding of white matter function into numerous neuronal injury models where the contribution of white matter dysfunction has been conventionally ignored. Using the optic nerve as a white matter model, we naturally expanded our studies and interest to visual signaling. Using a model of glaucoma, we were the first to show that glaucoma is indeed a disease of the optic nerve and more importantly that drastic changes in optic nerve conduction properties preceded retinal ganglion cell changes.

How has COVID-19 affected your research?

I arrived at OHSU at the end of 2019 and had just established my electrophysiology setups and confocal imaging system to pursue my studies on white matter preconditioning mechanisms. We were literally a week short of completing experiments to submit our first manuscript when COVID-19 interrupted and halted all research activity. Characteristic symptoms of COVID-19 are loss of smell and taste. Encephalitis-like symptoms are also defined in most patients. I am very interested to investigate the changes in brain glial and axonal structure in olfactory bulb and white matter regions in search of underlying cellular targets of these symptoms. Furthermore, the effects of vascular thromboembolic effects of the virus is of great interest to investigate.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I take ballet and yoga classes and hike around Portland to discover this beautiful Northwest region.

As vice chair for research in Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, Baltan will play an important role supporting individual investigators. Toward that end, she will help identify mentors and collaborators for faculty and trainees, as well as review and provide guidance on junior faculty members’ research career plans. Supporting individual investigators is just one of roles, but she sees mentorship and collaboration as a foundation of a strong, innovative research community.

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