BIRCWH K12 Program

In 2010, the CCTST was awarded $2.48 million over 5 years from the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) to continue the Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) program at the UC Academic Health Center.

The BIRCWH K12 program provides a mentored research and career development experience in interdisciplinary basic, translational, behavioral, clinical, and/or health services research for junior faculty, leading toward an independent interdisciplinary scientific career that will benefit the health of women.  Overarching research themes may include (but are not limited to) lifespan, sex/gender determinants, health disparities/differences and diversity.  BIRCWH scholars are listed below. Also shown are scholars of the WH2 program, which has the same goals and requirements as the BIRCWH but is funded by the CCTST and the scholars' home departments. 

Eligible faculty trainees may be based at UC, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center or the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The program provides each trainee up to $100,000 in total costs per year in salary and research/career development support for up to a 2 year period. Applicants must be US citizens or permanent residents, have 75% protected time (at least 50% for surgical specialties), and identify at least 2 mentors from different disciplines and training background for interdisciplinary research and career development.

Faculty who have been PIs on an R01 or another K award, a project leader on a P01 or P50, or who have another K award application pending review are not eligible to apply. CCHMC Procter Scholars and Trustee Grant awardees are not eligible. BIRCWH applicants may not apply concurrently for the KL2 Research Scholars award. Additional restrictions apply.

Recent BIRCWH Trainees

Shelley Ehrlich, MD, ScD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center


Research Focus: the association between Bisphenol A (BPA) and gestational diabetes (GDM) in women recruited from 2 birth cohorts (Cincinnati, USA and Tel Aviv, Israel) during their first trimester of pregnancy, and followed throughout pregnancy to birth. 

My hypothesis is that BPA exposure induces specific changes in microRNA that mediate GDM development.  Prevalence of GDM has increased up to 2.5 times in the past 20 years and is now diagnosed in 18% of all pregnancies. This trend is expected to continue. GDM is associated with dramatic adverse consequences, including but not limited to long term risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease for both the mother and child; preeclampsia and cesarean delivery in the mother; macrosomia, dystocia, birth injury, and respiratory distress syndrome for the fetus and the child. In spite of increasing efforts for primary and secondary prevention, there is still limited evidence on the accuracy of screening strategies and insufficient evidence on the benefits of treating GDM in improving health outcomes.  We propose an interdisciplinary approach to explore novel biomarkers of GDM earlier on in pregnancy and thus target early interventions for GDM management to minimize adverse health outcomes.

Rina Mina, MD, MS
Assistant Professor
Division of Immunology, Allergy and Rheumatology
Department of Internal Medicine
University of Cincinnati

Research Focus: Cutaneous lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus, epigenetics, hormonal differences, microRNAs

This award enables me to continue my work investigating the interaction between hormonal effects and microRNAs, and their effects on disease severity of discoid lupus, which is a very disfiguring form of cutaneous lupus. The award allows me to continue having protected time to collect preliminary data, identify collaborators, and develop the infrastructure for my NIH K23 application.

I am fortunate to have a panel of talented mentors who have extensive experience on biomarker development, dermatology, dermatopathology and microRNAs. My research bridges these diverse areas, and my mentors provide me with significant guidance for my project and career development in general. Our BIRCWH program leaders do a great job in providing us opportunities for feedback on our grants and protocols, and workshops for other various important aspects of our career development.

Laurie Nommsen-Rivers, PhD, MS
Assistant Professor
Division of Neonatology
Department of Pediatrics
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Research Focus:  The causes and consequences of early breastfeeding difficulties, with particular emphasis on delayed onset of lactogenesis.

My progression of research implicates pre-diabetes as a hidden cause of low milk supply in breastfeeding mothers. Metformin is an anti-diabetic drug that is safely used during lactation in Type II diabetics but has never been examined for efficacy in treating low milk supply.  

Most new mothers in the United States will start off breastfeeding, but many fail to meet their breastfeeding goals due to unexplained low milk supply. At the same time, nearly 1 in 4 new mothers are pre-diabetic (elevated blood sugar, but not yet diabetic). My progression of research suggests that the same metabolic factors causing pre-diabetes may also be causing low milk supply. Metformin is a widely prescribed drug to treat high blood sugar. The purpose of this study is to examine if metformin shows promise as a drug for treating low milk supply in pre-diabetic mothers.


A November 13, 2014 WCPO-TV (Channel 9) news story on Dr. Nommsen-Rivers' research on low milk supply can be viewed here.

A follow-up story was broadcast by WCPO on December 8, 2015. 

Matia B. Solomon, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology, McMicken College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience, College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati


Research Focus: Depression; anxiety; stress; sex differences; neuroscience; brain; adolescent health; antidepressant efficacy; estrogen; progesterone

My research program is geared towards understanding the neurobiology of depression in females. The BIRCWH award has allowed me to have protected time so that I can establish myself as a leader in women’s mental health. This award has afforded me the opportunity to interact with researchers from different backgrounds. As a result of these diverse interactions, my research portfolio has been greatly enhanced. The skills that I will gain under this funding mechanism will allow me to take a multidisciplinary approach towards understanding the pathophysiology of depression in women.  I have learned a tremendous amount from my mentors. They have been especially beneficial in giving me sound advice about how to build a successful research career while balancing teaching.


Read the abstract of Dr. Solomon's presentation Sex Differences in the Impact of Adolescent Psychosocial Stress on Behavior and Body Weight Regulation at the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health Interdisciplinary Women’s Health Research Symposium November 6, 2014 in Bethesda, MD.

Neera Goyal, MD, MSHP
Assistant Professor
Division of Neonatology
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center 

Research Focus: Preterm birth; home visiting; socially disadvantaged populations

The BIRCWH program has provided an invaluable opportunity for me as a young investigator in terms of career and research mentorship, protected time, and research support. Because of the BIRCWH program, I will be able to successfully complete the preliminary studies necessary to compete for a K23 Career Development Award. It is therefore a critical step in my path to becoming an independent investigator. Specifically, I am using the award period to build a large, regional maternal-child health dataset using home visiting data, statewide vital records, and hospital discharge records in Ohio. This will enable me to test detailed hypotheses about health services and maternal-child outcomes, allowing me to become established in this important field of research.
Under the BIRCWH program, I have assembled a truly multidisciplinary team of mentors, including senior faculty from the Divisions of Neonatology, General Pediatrics, and Clinical Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. I have been fortunate to benefit from this diverse range of skills and expertise, which lends depth and perspective to my methodological approaches and analyses. I have learned the valuable skill of running large team meetings. Equally beneficial has been the peer mentoring available through the BIRCWH program, through which I meet monthly with other K12 and KL2 recipients to provide and receive feedback on my research.

Lisa M. Privette Vinnedge
Research Instructor, Department of Oncology
Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Research Focus: Breast cancer; chemotherapeutic drug resistance; cancer stem cells; Wnt signaling

The BIRCWH program has been instrumental in facilitating my transition to an independent investigator in the field of breast cancer development and treatment. I have been able to conduct research that will be the foundation for future NIH grant submissions while receiving invaluable mentoring for advancing my career.
The many sources of mentoring have been the most important aspect of the BIRCWH program for me. In particular, I have benefitted greatly from the many grant-writing courses and career-development meetings with senior faculty members. Finally, with the help of my mentors and other participants in the program, I have been able to network and meet other scientists and clinicians that have contributed to advancing my career in clinically relevant basic breast cancer research.

Beena Kamath-Rayne, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Division of Neonatology and Pulmonary Biology
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center


Research Focus: Neonatal outcomes; late preterm infants; fetal lung maturity; biomarker discovery

The BIRCWH program has further demonstrated to my division that I am committed to an academic career, and allowed me protected time to obtain preliminary data and publications that will serve as the background for further grant funding in the future. It has helped me with initial resources for research nurses for study recruitment, and establishment of an amniotic fluid biorepository for biomarker discovery.

My BIRCWH mentor and I have had weekly meetings to discuss career development and research progress. Her help and support have enabled me to ask for the research assistance that I need to be successful. I also have a scholarship oversight committee of various experts at my institution who help in my career development, and sounding out research ideas. The BIRCWH director at our institution has also helped garner positive relationships between the scholars here, and is a great sounding board to voice concerns and questions regarding career development.

Recent WH2 Trainee

Christine Wilder, MD, MHES
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience
Addiction Sciences Division
University of Cincinnati

Research Focus:  Treatment outcomes for postpartum women with substance abuse disorders.

This award will provide support to develop Dr. Wilder's research skills and complete a pilot randomized trial of a computer-based intervention to improve postpartum treatment retention in medication assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder. Her mentors include Dr. Theresa Winhusen, Professor of Psychiatry (University of Cincinnati), and Dr. Steven Ondersma, Associate Professor of Psychiatry (Wayne State University).

Many postpartum women discontinue MAT. Dr. Wilder will work with Dr. Ondersma to modify a pre-existing computer-based intervention shown to decrease substance use in postpartum women. The modified intervention will target improving motivation to remain in MAT for 3 months following delivery. Dr. Wilder will test the new intervention on a pilot sample of 50 postpartum women to determine if those randomized to the intervention engage in MAT a greater number of days in the 90 days following delivery compared to those receiving a time-matched control condition. She will evaluate potential mechanisms of action for the intervention effect by testing whether individuals receiving the intervention have higher scores on measures of autonomous motivation and perceived competence.

Program Details

For more information, call (513) 803-1044 or email Sarah Elam.

Additional career development resources