MRF will be profiling the recipients of our research grants so you can learn more about the scientists on the front line of migraine research.
Your generous support makes their work possible and will allow us to continue funding promising research.
Please check back often for new researcher profiles.
Nancy Berman, PhD 2008 MRF Research Award winner
Richard Kraig, MD, PhD 2009 MRF Research Award winner
Anna P. Andreou, PhD 2010 Thomas E. Heftler Migraine Research Award winner
Marcela Romero-Reyes, DDS, PhD 2009 Thomas E. Heftler Migraine Research Award winner
F. Michael Cutrer, PhD 2008 MRF Research Award winner
Michael Oshinsky, PhD 2007 MRF Research Award winner
Frank Porreca, PhD 2007 MRF Research Award winner
Ann Scher, PhD 2007 MRF Research Award winner
Nancy Berman, PhD
Nancy Berman, PhD, received a 2008 research grant for her project A Behavioral Model of Menstrual Migraine, which studied how sex differences in rats affected migraine. Much to her surprise, it revealed unexpected results. Dr. Berman hadn’t anticipated finding that male rats produce an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen - an insight which she says could potentially lead to the development of gender-specific drugs for the treatment of migraine. She also found that ion channels involved in excitability are changed more in female rats with migraine.
Dr. Berman says that MRF’s grant allowed her to develop a better behavioral model of migraine in rats. She is grateful to MRF for funding her research because she now has preliminary data to present when applying for additional funding to continue her work studying migraine in women.
While Dr. Berman was always interested in problems involving the brain, it wasn’t until fairly recently in her 40 years of doing research that she became interested in migraine. As a teenager, she remembers seeing her psychiatrist father’s strict work schedule posted on the kitchen bulletin board and thinking that she would hate to have such inflexible working hours. Even though she decided psychiatry was not for her, Dr. Berman knew she wanted to learn more about the brain and help people with brain problems. Her interest in psychiatric illness prompted her to double major at Lawrence University in biology and psychology and to do her PhD work in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. But, her interest in migraine research was actually an accident.
Dr. Michael Welch transferred an NIH grant on cortical spreading depression and migraine to the University of Kansas Medical Center, and she took on the basic science side of that grant as a collaboration with him. From then on, she was “hooked.” She attended a few seminars about headaches, and soon realized there was a gap in knowledge about the topic, which she was eager to fill. Frustrated with the lack of research on migraine and women, she decided to focus her attention on menstrual migraine.
Being a researcher allows Dr. Berman to have the flexible work schedule she hoped for as a teenager, and gives her time to visit her son, two daughters and two grandchildren, travel with her husband, and sharpen her skills as a clog dancer, an Appalachian style tap dance she’s done for fun and exercise over the last 20 years.
Richard Kraig, MD, PhD
Ever since he was an undergraduate at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, Richard Kraig, MD, Ph.D, has had a profound interest in studying medicine. His professors encouraged the pursuit of new knowledge as a means to make a difference in the world. The education style at Cornell provided a progressive path to academic independence that included providing Dr. Kraig with his own laboratory where he was able to focus on an independent study project for more than two years. The freedom to pursue experiments led to his interest in neurology and the many mysteries of migraine. Dr. Kraig currently oversees the Cerebrovascular Disease and Aging Laboratories at The University of Chicago Medical Center, which focus on migraine, stroke, epilepsy and cognitive decline from aging. He also teaches undergraduate students, graduate students, medical students, and residents.
In 2009, the Migraine Research Foundation provided funding for Dr. Kraig’s ground- breaking study Microglia and Cytokines Modulate Chronic Migraine. This important project is the first to show the linkage between cytokine changes in microglia and neurons as ideal targets for the development of novel therapeutics to prevent migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine. Dr. Kraig has studied the phenomena of cortical spreading depression for over thirty-five years, and hopes that his research will reveal that it may be the underlying cause of migraine pain and aura.
In the next five years, Dr. Kraig and his team of researchers anticipate that their study will lead to clinical alternatives for migraine sufferers. His hope is that in the future, scientists will define the basic means by which physical, mental and social activities can lessen the impact of neurological disease and how understanding the mechanisms for this protection can lead to novel therapeutics for migraine.
In his spare time, Dr. Kraig enjoys working on his house, playing with his energetic dog and extending his G-gauge model railway. He also likes to dance the swing with his wife of forty years.
Anna P. Andreou, PhD
The Migraine Research Foundation is pleased to announce Anna P. Andreou, PhD as the winner of the Thomas E. Heftler Migraine Research Award. The award recognizes an outstanding young migraine researcher and will support Dr. Andreou’s project “Corticothalamic feedback and trigeminothalamic sensory processing during cortical spreading depression - relevance to migraine with aura.”
Dr. Andreou’s research takes a novel look at how migraine with aura develops in the brain. She is investigating potential activation of the thalamus gland during cortical spreading depression (CSD), a neurological phenomenon thought to be associated with migraine aura. She hopes to expand earlier research showing that the thalamus could become activated during CSD and pinpointing the exact pain pathways the thalamus affects. This could open up a new avenue for the development of better-targeted migraine medications.
Dr. Andreou is excited about her research because she thinks it will “open a whole new window” in the field. Scientists have only recently started to consider the thalamus as an important factor in pain pathways, beyond being a relay nucleus, and there is much more to be done to fully understand its role. Dr. Andreou hopes she and other migraine researchers will be busy for a long time exploring these new ideas and finding answers to migraine’s most difficult questions.
Dr. Andreou’s career has taken her around the world. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a scientist, and decided on migraine research because of her interest in neurology and her own struggles with chronic migraine. Originally from Cyprus, she studied biology and neurophysiology as an undergraduate in Greece. She continued her studies at the Institute of Neurology at University College in London, where she earned her PhD. Dr. Andreou now works as a post-doctoral fellow in the headache center at the University of California, San Francisco.
Dr. Andreou enjoys being a scientist because her work gives her the opportunity to explore her own ideas and collaborate with others on their theories. She is very thankful to the Migraine Research Foundation for both supporting emerging researchers such as herself and raising money and awaress for migraine research. She notes that although migraine is the most common neurological disease and is very disabling, it is severely underfunded compared to other less-common conditions.
Marcela Romero-Reyes, DDS, PhD
MRF has named Dr. Marcela Romero-Reyes as the first recipient of the Thomas E. Heftler Migraine Research Award. The award was established to recognize and encourage emerging talent in the field. Dr. Romero-Reyes has turned a lifelong interest in science into a promising career researching and treating orofacial pain, the emerging dental specialty concerned with the diagnosis and management of pain in the trigeminal nerve system, which is also thought to play a vital role in migraines.
Dr. Romero-Reyes entered medical school in her native Mexico, but later transferred to dental school. While still a student, she developed an interest in orofacial pain after treating patients suffering from trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain condition that causes extreme facial pain. She found this specialty appealing because it allowed her to focus on the medical and diagnostic aspects of dentistry. After finishing dental school, Dr. Romero-Reyes moved to Los Angeles to complete a PhD and post-doctoral fellowship at UCLA.
Dr. Romero-Reyes recently accepted a tenure-track faculty position in NYU’s orofacial pain program, where she will conduct research in her own lab. Supported in part by the Heftler Award, she will use a new model to study how CGRP receptor antagonists modulate pain in mice. The goal of this research is to expand the understanding of CGRP’s role, and hopefully lead to the development of new preventive migraine treatments. In addition to her research, Dr. Romero-Reyes will teach neurophysiology to medical and dental students and treat patients. She is thrilled that her new position will allow her to do all of these things, as she believes working with patients informs and motivates her research.
Dr. Romero-Reyes considers it a “privilege” to receive the Heftler Award from MRF and is thrilled that the scientific community sees value in her research. She is passionate about research and truly hopes that she will make a contribution to the treatment of migraine and other orofacial pain disorders. One of her favorite things about being a scientist is traveling to conferences to present her findings. Dr. Romero-Reyes encourages young scientists in all fields to remain positive and to “never lose their drive to do good things.”
Dr. Romero Reyes thinks it is important for scientists to maintain balance in their lives. Her own passion for science extends beyond her laboratory. She is interested in physics, anthropology and astronomy, and is planning to purchase a new telescope so that she can continue her stargazing hobby. She is also a talented fencer and was very competitive while in dental school.
F. Michael Cutrer, PhD
F. Michael Cutrer, MD, is conducting ground-breaking research in migraine genetics by building a unique DNA library of migraine sufferers at the Mayo Clinic that he hopes will change the way doctors diagnose and treat migraine. The Migraine Research Foundation helped Dr. Cutrer get his work off the ground with a grant for his project “Investigation of the Genetic Basis of Migraine: Building a DNA Library in Migraine Sufferers.”
Dr. Cutrer’s current research involves compiling an extensive library of DNA from migraine sufferers, which includes a detailed patient history and information about each sufferer’s condition. He explains that migraine is thought to be influenced by a number of genes, making it difficult to determine its genetic basis. By identifying which genes are associated with different types of migraine, doctors will be able to better diagnose migraine patients and prescribe treatments that are more likely to work for each patient. With support from MRF, Dr. Cutrer was able to move his work forward and greatly increase the number of DNA samples in the library. In the future, he hopes to collaborate with research centers across the country to gather data from more diverse patient groups, providing an even better picture of the genetic basis for migraine.
Dr. Cutrer has been able to combine an interest in research with a personal desire for a cure, as he has suffered from migraine since he was a teenager. But he did not always plan to focus on migraine research. He is a talented musician and earned degrees in music while also studying his other passion, science. Though he did consider pursuing a career in music, Dr. Cutrer ultimately opted for a more stable life in medicine. As a medical student, Dr. Cutrer was fascinated by the complexity of the nervous system and was drawn to neurology because it is a field where “not all the answers are known.” Although he planned to specialize in epilepsy, he decided instead to focus on migraine during his residency. He realized that the migraine sufferers who made up a large number of his clinic patients were not improving. Drawn to the challenge of the migraine puzzle and motivated by his own suffering, Dr. Cutrer decided to devote his career to migraine research.
Dr. Cutrer thinks this is an exciting time for migraine research because advances in medical technology have begun to allow researchers to find answers to their questions. He remains driven both by his passion for science and his personal connection to migraine, as now two of his children also suffer. He advises young researchers in all fields to pick an area of focus in which they have a personal connection or an intellectual curiosity.
Michael Oshinsky, PhD
Michael Oshinsky, PhD, combines a passion for science with a desire to help migraine sufferers. In 2007, the Migraine Research Foundation recognized his groundbreaking work in understanding chronic headache by funding his project, Glial Activation and the Chronification of Headache.
Dr. Oshinsky always knew he wanted to be a scientist. Though his earliest interest was in entomology, the study of insects, in college and graduate school he studied computational neural circuits – how local changes globally affect neurological systems. Although his early research focused on invertebrates, such as crabs, Dr. Oshinsky knew he wanted to concentrate on research that would benefit people. Once the science and techniques had advanced to the point that his work could be applied to more complex systems, Dr. Oshinsky began studying the human nervous system.
Dr. Oshinsky is currently an assistant professor in the Deparment of Neurology at the Thomas Jefferson University, where he works closely with doctors at the Jefferson Headache Center to study the most complicated areas of headache medicine. While observing in the headache clinic, he found that managing chronic headache was the most common complaint. Chronic headache, which affects 4% of the general population, is a headache condition that evolves from episodic to occurring more than 15 days per month. Dr. Oshinsky’s research now focuses on understanding chronic headache. He is investigating how episodic headaches activate brain cells called glia and whether repeated inflammation can cause permanent glial changes, which he thinks may be responsible for chronic headaches.
Dr. Oshinsky believes that interacting with headache patients is an important part of his work. Many of the patients he meets are frustrated because their treatments have not worked. He hopes that one day research will advance so that sufferers will be confident that they can be treated effectively. In his spare time, Dr. Oshinsky enjoys spending time with his children, whom he tries to “inspire to make a difference.”
Frank Porreca, PhD
A few chance encounters led Frank Porreca, PhD into headache research, where he has joined a dedicated group of scientists who are making unprecedented advances in understanding headache pain. Dr. Porreca studies the mechanisms of headache and other types of pain with the goal of developing new and improved medications. MRF recognized Dr. Porreca’s work by awarding him a grant for his project Behavioral Model of Medication Overuse Headache.
Dr. Porreca began his career as a biomedical engineer and developed an interest in pharmacology, the study of the effects of medications on the body, after assisting a colleague with a study of the cardiovascular system. His new interest eventually motivated Dr. Porreca to complete a PhD in pharmacology and begin a new career in pain research, studying neuropathic and cancer pain. An opportunity to present a paper at an American Headache Society conference, where he met prominent headache researchers, showed Dr. Porreca that his research could apply to headache medicine.
Dr. Porreca’s study Behavioral Model of Medication Overuse Headache examines how certain drugs affect the nervous system and change the body’s pain thresholds. The goal of this research is to provide a better overall understanding of how these changes trigger episodes of headache pain in migraine sufferers. He also hopes this research will provide greater insight into Medication Overuse Headache, a chronic headache which can occur when a migraine sufferer uses acute medications on a near daily basis for a prolonged period of time.
In addition to running an active pain-research laboratory at the University of Arizona Medical School, Dr. Porreca also teaches neuroscience and pharmacology to medical and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. He finds migraine an interesting topic for research because headache pain, unlike most other pain, is not caused by an injury to the body. In his spare time, Dr. Porreca enjoys playing golf and spending time with his family.
Dr. Porreca says that enormous progress is being made in pain research and that the “science has never been better.” He hopes that the advances in understanding the mechanisms of pain will soon be used to develop improved treatments for migraine and other pain disorders. Dr. Porreca personally finds it “extraordinarily rewarding” to make a new discovery, no matter how small, and is thrilled to be part of the committed group of scientists making a difference for pain sufferers. Though much progress is being made in the field, Dr. Porreca thinks migraine research remains severely underfunded. He encourages suffers to let their lawmakers know how widespread migraine is and how more funding can make a difference in the lives of millions of people.
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Ann Scher, PhD
Though a latecomer to the field, Ann Scher, PhD has had a significant impact on migraine research. Dr. Scher has devoted her second career to studying the prevalence and risk factors for migraine and other headache disorders with the goal of improving the quality of life of headache sufferers. MRF recognized her important work by awarding one of its first research grants to her study Migraine in Middle Age and Late Life: A Longitudinal Analysis of Factors Related to Migraine Prognosis in a Large Population-Based Cohort. The results of this study were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The JAMA paper examined the relationship between migraine in middle age and late-life stroke-like lesions. This study is important because it expands on earlier research showing links between the two and may provide a better understanding of how migraines and aura affect the brain.
As Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Uniformed Services University, a medical and graduate school for active-duty military personnel, Dr. Scher teaches epidemiology methods to the University’s public health students.
Dr. Scher also studies post-traumatic headache in military service members. She hopes to better characterize post-traumatic headache and determine the factors that affect the likelihood of developing chronic headaches following an injury.
Dr. Scher worked for many years as a computer scientist before deciding it was time for a change. Interested in medical research, she considered becoming a physician, but opted instead to get a PhD in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. For her thesis, she examined Chronic Daily Headache and investigated risk factors associated with it. Her research continues to focus on the prevalence of headache disorders in certain populations and their co-morbidities, the other conditions which may accompany them. Dr. Scher chose to focus her research on headache because she knows many people who are debilitated by headache disorders and finds the topic in dire need of research.
Dr. Scher thinks she has “a great career” as a researcher and believes she and other scientists are “privileged” to be able to spend their working days the way they do. She finds her past experience in computer science and mathematics to be quite useful, as epidemiology requires considerable data analysis, which she admits is her favorite part of her job. In her spare time, Dr. Scher works on another kind of research – genealogy and constructing her family tree.
Dr. Scher says that MRF is doing “incredible” work to address the severe under-funding of migraine and headache research. She hopes the research she is doing will help provide answers to how headache disorders can be better treated and will encourage further research by demonstrating how common and debilitating they can be.
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