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NHLBI Celebrates Women Scientists

In honor of Women’s History Month, the NHLBI will celebrate the accomplishments of women biomedical scientists who have played and are playing key roles in fighting heart, lung, blood, and sleep-related disorders. Check back throughout the month for additions to this impressive list: 

Denisa Wagner, Ph.D.

Headshot of Dr. Denisa Wagner
Dr. Wagner is currently the Edwin Cohn Professor of Pediatrics in the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine and the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Boston Children’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School. Her experience is in the fields of vascular biology, inflammation, and thrombosis (blood clotting). For many years, her laboratory’s research has focused on adhesion molecules, proteins on the cell surface that allow cells to stick to each other and their surroundings. These molecules play key roles in both normal processes and disease. Dr. Wagner's research provides new insight into the role of these molecules in thrombosis, inflammation, cancer, and other conditions. Her lab currently explores the interplay of inflammation and thrombosis and her work has provided new understanding of these processes in heart and lung diseases. Dr. Wagner's lab has received funding and support from NHLBI.

Read Dr. Wagner’s profile.

Clare M. Waterman, Ph.D.

Portrait of Dr. Clare Waterman
Dr. Waterman is an NIH Distinguished Investigator and Director of the Cell Biology and Physiology Center in the Division of Intramural Research at NHLBI. She has made seminal contributions to understanding cell migration in development and disease. She pioneered the direct determination of protein organization and motion in living cells, which she utilized to define the nanometer-scale architecture and dynamics of the molecular assemblies that generate, organize, and transmit forces that drive cell movement. Cell migration is critical to development, immune response, and tissue maintenance, and is compromised in disease and metastatic cancer. Dr. Waterman has received numerous awards and honors, including the Sackler International Prize in Biophysics.

Read Dr. Waterman’s profile.

Serpil Erzurum, M.D.

Portrait of Dr. Serpil Erzurum
Dr. Erzurum is Chair of the Lerner Research Institute at Cleveland Clinic. A physician-scientist, her groundbreaking translational research has uncovered mechanisms of pulmonary hypertension and asthma, and led to diagnostic and therapeutic advances in lung diseases. She has published more than 200 articles and is an elected member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and Association of American Physicians. Dr. Erzurum’s background includes postdoctoral training at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Read Dr. Erzurum’s profile.

Katherine High, M.D.

Headshot of Dr. Katherine High
Katherine A. High is Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. A renowned hematologist, her research group pioneered safe and effective clinical translation of genetic therapies for inherited disorders. Her studies have led to long-term correction of disease in men with hemophilia B, and long-term improvements in vision in children and adults with a rare form of hereditary blindness. She is currently co-founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Spark Therapeutics, Inc., a company focused on the development of gene therapy. Dr. High served on the NHLBI Hematology I study section (1994-98), the NHLBI Program Project Parent Review Committee (2001-2004), and the NHLBI Advisory Council (2005-2008), as well as the NHLBI Gene Therapy Resource Program Steering Committee (2008-2014). Currently she serves on the NHLBI Sickle Cell Disease Advisory Committee.

Read Dr. High’s profile.

Courtney Fitzhugh, M.D. 

Headshot of Dr. Courtney Fitzhugh
Dr. Fitzhugh is a Lasker Clinical Research Scholar in the Laboratory of Early Sickle Mortality Prevention at NHLBI.  Her research explores new avenues of hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation for sickle cell disease (SCD), while also studying the currently underexplored cardiovascular complications arising due to this genetic blood disorder. Through innovative research, her group is finding new avenues to help people with SCD live longer and healthier lives.

View profiles of Dr. Fitzhugh: and

View YouTube interview with Dr. Fitzhugh.

Sigrid Veasey, M.D.

Portrait of Dr. Sigrid Veasey
Dr. Sigrid Veasey is a physician scientist and professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine and the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the Perleman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. As a physician caring for patients with sleep apnea, Dr. Veasey noted that many patients have persistent sleepiness despite effective therapy for sleep apnea. Her research has identified key molecular pathways behind neural injury in sleep apnea, an understanding of which could help prevent or minimize this type of neural injury, which affects alertness. Many patients with various heart, lung, and blood disorders have frequent sleep disruption secondary to their illnesses. Dr. Veasey's work provides strong evidence that sleep disorders necessitate early diagnosis and treatment.

Read Dr. Veasey’s profile.

Martha Vaughan, M.D.

Portrait of Dr. Martha Vaughn
Dr. Martha Vaughan is Scientist Emerita in the Laboratory of Metabolic Regulation at NHLBI and previously served as chief of NHLBI’s Laboratory of Cellular Metabolism. Explaining the rudimentary mechanisms of cell metabolism, regulation, and signaling, and the proteins required, got her elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1985. Her work increases our understanding of how cells undertake the many processes that enable them to adapt to changing physiological conditions. Vaughan joined NHLBI in 1952, where she worked for 60 years. She has authored or co-authored more than 365 papers and book chapters.

Read Dr. Vaughan’s profile.

Phyllis Zee, M.D., Ph.D.

Headshot of Dr. Phyllis Zee
Dr. Phyllis Zee is Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Medicine and Chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. As a leader in the field of sleep and circadian rhythms, her research runs the gamut from basic research into circadian rhythms and sleep to clinical research into the contribution of sleep and circadian disorders to cardiometabolic disease risk. She currently is examining the relationship between sleep and cardiovascular outcomes, including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, in an NHLBI-funded sleep study that is the first time that sleep quality measures and sleep disorders in pregnant women have been examined in a large population. This work could open doors for the development of novel sleep-based interventions to improve the health of mother and child.

Read Dr. Zee’s profile.

Sally Wenzel, M.D.

Headshot of Dr. Sally Wenzel
Dr. Sally Wenzel is director of the University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute and a Professor of Medicine at the university. She is internationally recognized as a leading expert in asthma pathobiology and clinical management, with a special passion for severe asthma. Dr. Wenzel has a strong interest in translational research designed to promote precision medicine efforts in the treatment of asthma. She has been a member of the NHLBI’s Severe Asthma Research Program for over 15 years and is the current Steering Committee Chair, as well as a co-principal investigator for the NHLBI clinical management program, AsthmaNet. Dr. Wenzel has also been the recipient of numerous awards for her work, including special recognition for her role in promoting women in science.

Read Dr. Wenzel's profile.

Sonia Nielles-Vallespin, Ph.D. 

Portrait of Dr. Sonia Nielles-Vallespin
Dr. Nielles-Vallespin is a staff scientist in the Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging Group at NHLBI.  She developed and validated a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that provides unprecedented details of heart muscle structure and function. The development has already lead to new insights into heart diseases such as dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and can fail.  The new MRI method has also allowed new ways to examine heart function in patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition where some parts of the heart grow abnormally thick. She is the recipient of the 2017 Orloff Award from NHLBI, which recognizes outstanding achievements in science and the development of novel research tools by researchers within NHLBI’s Division of Intramural Research.

Nanette Kass Wenger, M.D. 

Portrait of Dr. Nanette Kass Wenger
Dr. Wenger is Professor of Medicine (Emeritus) in the Division of Cardiology at the Emory University School of Medicine and a consultant to the Emory Heart and Vascular Center. An acclaimed cardiologist and researcher, she is one of the first to recognize that heart disease affects women and is not just a ‘man’s disease.’  Her pioneering research has helped reduce women’s disability and death from cardiovascular disease. Dr. Wenger chaired the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Conference on Cardiovascular Health and Disease in Women. She has authored or coauthored over 1,600 scientific and review articles and book chapters. 

Read Dr. Wenger’s profile.

Jerica Berge, Ph.D.

Portrait of Dr. Jerica Berg
In 2010, Dr. Jerica Berge was an NHLBI’s early stage investigator (ESI). Today, she is a tenured associate professor at the University of Minnesota Department of Family Medicine and Community Health with multiple NIH-funded grants (R03, R21, R56, R01). The fast-moving pace of her career tracks the progress of her research contributions in the areas of childhood obesity and community and family health. As a researcher and behavioral medicine clinician, her work aims to leverage family relationships in the prevention and treatment of childhood and adolescent obesity using innovative mixed-methodologies such as ecological momentary assessment (EMA) and video-recorded observations. Dr. Berge codirects the Healthy Eating and Activity across the Lifespan (HEAL) center, which focuses on integration across research, clinical practice, policy, and community resources to inspire a culture of health. Family Fortress is the umbrella name of Dr. Berge’s research. “Family Fortress operates under the premise that the family is the basic unit of society and the leverage point for promoting health,” Dr. Berge said. “By using a strengths-based approach to empower families, in partnership with health care systems, schools, and the community we can work as a team in addressing ‘our collective health’.”

Read Dr. Jerica Berge’s profile

Susan Redline, M.D., M.P.H.

Headshot of Dr. Susan Redline
Dr. Redline is Peter C. Farrell Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Sleep Medicine Epidemiology Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. A prolific investigator, Dr. Redline is a leading authority in describing the medical risks associated with untreated sleep apnea and the contribution of genetic risk factors to this disorder. Dr. Redline leads the study of sleep apnea in several NHLBI funded community studies and multi-site clinical trials. She pioneered the development of web-based resources and tools enabling the exchange and analysis of sleep research data among biomedical researchers worldwide  as well as resources to support patient engagement in research. An important new undertaking is to understand why children in low socioeconomic communities do not appear to benefit from surgical treatment of sleep apnea (adenotonsillectomy).

Read Dr. Redline's profile.

C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D.

Headshot of Dr C Noel Bairey Merz
Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz is director of the Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, where she is a professor of medicine. She is a pioneer in the study of women’s heart health and preventive cardiology.  Dr. Bairey Merz was a principal investigator in the NHLBI-sponsored Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE) initiative, an ongoing study that has provided new insights into understanding heart disease in women. Among its findings to date: the discovery that women with evidence of heart disease often have small artery dysfunction, which can cause their condition to be overlooked and undiagnosed using male-standard testing.   Dr. Bairey Merz is a strong advocate for correcting gender inequality in research and for educating women on how to recognize heart disease symptoms.

Read Dr. Bairey Merz’s profile.

Lisa A. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H.

headshot of Dr. Lisa A. Cooper
Dr. Lisa Cooper is an internationally recognized health services researcher and a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. A 2007 MacArthur Fellow, she is best known for pioneering research to improve doctor-patient communication for socially and culturally diverse groups and for developing innovative interventions to overcome racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare.  Dr. Cooper is the principal investigator of an NHLBI-funded research and training program called The Johns Hopkins Center to Eliminate Cardiovascular Disparities, whose goal is to reduce the impact of heart health disparities among vulnerable populations in Maryland by strengthening ties among researchers, healthcare providers, community members, and policy-makers. The Center also translates research into practice, policy changes, and community health benefits.

Read Dr. Cooper’s profile

Melina R. Kibbe, M.D.

Headshot of Dr. Melina R. Kibbe
Dr. Melina Kibbe is a practicing vascular surgeon and the Zack D. Owens Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research, supported in part by NHLBI, focuses on nitric oxide (NO) vascular biology and developing novel, innovative NO-based therapies for patients with vascular disease. Her research was recognized with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2009. Her bibliography includes over 200 peer-reviewed manuscripts. In addition, Dr. Kibbe is a strong advocate for gender equality in biomedical research. She is currently Editor-in-Chief of JAMA Surgery, and was recently elected into the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the National Academy of Medicine.  

Read Dr. Kibbe’s profile.

Cynthia Dunbar, M.D.

Portrait of Dr. Cynthia Dunbar
Dr. Cynthia Dunbar is a senior investigator in the Molecular Hematopoiesis Section of NHLBI.  Her basic laboratory research on stem cells led to a clinical trial of the drug eltrombopag for the treatment of patients with severe aplastic anemia, a rare and potentially fatal blood disorder in which the body’s bone marrow fails to make enough new blood cells. The trial led to the first FDA-approved drug for treating aplastic anemia in more than 30 years. In addition to her research, she is also NHLBI’s Women Scientists Advisor, where she mentors other scientists at the Institute and works on improving the pipeline of women principal investigators.   

Read Dr. Dunbar's profile.

Hannah Valantine, M.D.

Portrait of Dr. Hannah Valentine
Dr. Hannah Valantine is a senior investigator in the Laboratory of Transplantation Genomics at NHLBI.   She is pioneering the use of non-invasive DNA tests to detect early signs of heart- and lung-transplant rejection. In addition to having the potential to save lives, these genomic tests could help reduce the amount of anti-rejection medicine needed by patients, potentially leading to fewer side effects. In 2014, Valantine was appointed as NIH’s first Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity to promote diversity in the biomedical research workforce.

Read Dr. Valentine's profile.

Nihal Altan-Bonnet, Ph.D.

Portrait of Dr. Nihal Altan-Bonnet
Dr. Nihal Altan-Bonnet is an investigator in the Laboratory of Host-Pathogen Dynamics at NHLBI. She discovered that disease-causing viruses spread between cells as groups within a membrane-enclosed sac and arrive together at the cells they infect. The finding changed a central tenet of virology that viruses behave as independent infectious agents.  The discovery could lead to new ways to treat or prevent viral infections that are behind a number of diseases, including myocarditis (heart inflammation) and the common cold.  

Read Dr. Altan-Bonnet's profile.

Watch a video highlighting her work or read a recent press release about her work.



Last Updated: March 6, 2017