Magee Magazine Winter 2024

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FALL 2023/ WINTER 2024

VOL. 24

Coming Together to Face Endometriosis Two women’s stories inspire a one-of-a-kind research hub SPLATTER ME CRAZY An Artistic Event Series Benefiting MWRI

FROM CRISIS TO RECOVERY UPMC Magee Program Expands to Reach More Women in Western PA


Opening the Door to STEM Careers MAGEE :: PAGE 7

FALL 2023/WINTER 2024

VOL. 24 MAGEE Magazine is published two times a year for supporters of Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation and UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.


EDITORS Gina Edwards Manager of Communications Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation Faith Jeffcoat Communications Specialist Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation


Joan McSorley Director of Marketing Communications Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation

UPMC Magee Program Expands to Reach More Women in Western Pennsylvania

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Michael J. Annichine CEO & President Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation



Yoel Sadovsky, MD Executive Director Magee-Womens Research Institute CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Gina Edwards Faith Jeffcoat Alexandra Papernick

DONATE If you would like to make a donation in support of MAGEE Magazine or our work, visit Thank you for your continued support of Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation.

Opening the Door to STEM Careers


Two Women’s Stories Inspire a New One-of-a-Kind Research Hub

DESIGN & PRODUCTION Jill Trimble CONTACT US If you would like to give us feedback, share your Magee story, sign up for email updates, request additional copies of MAGEE Magazine, or update your contact information, please visit



Instagram and X: @MageeWomens


SPLATTER ME CRAZY An Artistic Event Series Benefiting MWRI




Join us in person or virtually for a premier international summit dedicated exclusively to women’s health. The Magee-Womens Summit combines scientific thinking and life-changing clinical implications to drive change and improve health outcomes for women around the world. The Magee-Womens Summit culminates in the awarding of the $1 million Magee Prize for collaborative and transformative research within women’s health and reproductive sciences.


For sponsorship or event inquiries, contact Gina Litterini at 412-641-8950 or
















S, W U D



Registration to open in early 2024

Letter from the CEO TO OUR MAGEE FAMILY, As we near the end of 2023, we at Magee are reflecting on this year’s successes and planning for what’s next. The past year has reaffirmed the power of partnership in driving our mission forward; the future of women’s health and reproductive biology depends on all of us. This issue of MAGEE Magazine features illustrations of the collaborations fueling our cutting-edge research and premier patient care that supports women here in Pittsburgh and around the world. Reimagining the diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis, a painful condition affecting millions in the U.S. and around the world, the Hub for Endometriosis Research (p. 24) unites investigators from Magee-Womens Research Institute, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, and the University of Pittsburgh to create the first-of-its-kind collaboration dedicated to finding answers for patients. Interdisciplinary efforts are also directly enhancing clinical care here in Pittsburgh and throughout Western Pennsylvania. At UPMC Magee, the UPMC Postpartum Hypertension Program led by Dr. Katie Berlacher and Dr. Malamo Countouris has partnered with maternal fetal medicine to help patients stay heart-healthy by managing hypertension throughout pregnancy, during delivery, and after giving birth (p.8). Through the efforts of Magee physician-scientists Dr. Elizabeth Krans and Dr. Halina Zyczynski, the Pregnancy and Women’s Recovery Center at UPMC Magee is expanding to support new parents on the road of recovery in UPMC Hamot and beyond (p. 8).

Thanks to the generosity of our community, Magee is also fostering the next generation of women’s health scientists and leaders. Our educational programs support students and educators at all levels of academic development, including a bioengineering summer camp for those K-12 (p. 20), and internships for high school and college students (p. 17). We invite you to join us as we continue our journey to change the way the world treats women. Explore the latest news and updates from around Magee in our new MAGEE Chatter section (p. 4). Check out the Happenings section (p. 7) to learn about our upcoming events. In our Event Highlights section, you can read more about our annual events, like the NICU Reunion (p. 19) and Women’s Cancer Survivorship Workshop (p. 18). You can also explore ways to get involved with and support Magee, such as hosting a community fundraiser, with our Generosity in Action section (p. 30). Thank you for being part of this transformative community. Together, we make a difference in the lives of women and shape a healthier future for all.

Michael J. Annichine

CEO & President, Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation MAGEE :: PAGE 3


The latest in news and updates from Magee-Womens Research Institute and UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. Explore hot topics from around Magee, where cutting-edge research, premier patient care, and collaborative partnerships are shaping a healthier world for all.

By Alexandra Papernick

Safe & Secure Spaces to Breastfeed

Breastfeeding parents deserve a place that is safe and secure to express outside their home. Together, Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, and the Pittsburgh Penguins installed a safe and comfortable space to breastfeed at PPG Paints Arena called a Mamava pod. The pod is located outside Section 117 near the GetGo Café.

What Makes Naked Mole-Rats Special?

Featured in National Geographic, a 2023 study led by MWRI Primary Investigator Dr. Miguel BrieñoEnríquez highlights processes that allow naked mole-rats to be fertile through old age. Researchers found evidence that could explain their long-lasting fertility: unlike most other mammals, female naked mole-rats are born with a high number of egg cells, fewer of these egg cells die, and they can produce egg cells after birth. Advances in naked mole-rat research could lead to developments in human health, including protecting ovary functioning and prolonging fertility. To view the National Geographic article, scan the QR code below.

Scan to see how MWRIF is changing the status quo.

Celebrating the NIH Revitalization Act Anniversary Magee-Womens Research Institute began with four scientists, and now we have more than 300 researchers working to shape the future of women’s health. We’ve come a long way since the 90s — but we’re just getting started. As we commemorate 30 years since the NIH Revitalization Act, which directed clinical research to include women and minorities as subjects, we are reminded that there is still much work to be done. We are changing the status quo here at Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation.

Women are changing the world, starting right here in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Business Times selected 26 outstanding female leaders as the 2023 Women of Influence award winners. On March 22, Magee-Womens Research Institute investigator Dr. Sharon Hillier spoke to the honorees at the 2023 Women of Influence Breakfast.

To download the Mamava app and find your nearest pod, scan the QR code. Annmarie Lyons, Vice President, UPMC Women’s Health Services, poses with Iceburgh, the official mascot of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Girl Advocates Rally Behind MWRIF

Girl Advocates at Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville, Texas, is a club dedicated to uplifting girls, trans, and non-binary students through mentorship, volunteering, and philanthropy. With a focus on promoting healthy relationships, the club conducts campaigns during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in February to raise awareness. Each year, Girl Advocates fundraises for womencentric organizations, and after research and a club-wide vote, the group selected MWRIF to be awarded $300 as the 2023 club charity.


Behind the Helmet, Ahead of the Curve

Of the 5.5 million football players in the U.S., only 10.9% are women, according to The New York Times. As the Official Women’s Health Partner of the Pittsburgh Passion, Pittsburgh’s only professional women’s football team, MWRIF is working to empower women on and off the field. The “Women Behind the Helmet” and Women’s Health Tip series, presented in collaboration by MWRIF and Pittsburgh Passion, aim to promote women in sports and women’s health. Pittsburgh Passion opened their 2023 season with a 41-15 victory.

Scan to stay in the loop with Passion updates.



Research Day Shapes the Future On May 5, Magee-Womens Research Institute celebrated advances in women’s health and reproductive sciences during Research Day 2023. The day-long event included a lineup of keynote talks and presentations from esteemed faculty and visiting professors on advances in family planning. This annual tradition embraces MWRI’s core values: mentoring and growing the next generation of tenacious, creative, and passionate scientists.

Local Family Fundraiser Fuels Change

Our events are designed for you to celebrate, enjoy, learn, and grow with us as we work to improve the health of women worldwide. We hope to see you at a future function where funds raised go directly to research and patient care.

On May 18, Jan Rea and her family hosted a luncheon at Allegheny Country Club to share information about the life changing research conducted at MageeWomens Research Institute. Janice Devine, Vice President of Development, welcomed guests and Michael Annichine, MWRI CEO, provided an overview of the history and impact of MWRI. Attendees were excited to learn more about the research being conducted through personal presentations by Dr. Ronald Buckanovich on ovarian cancer research as well as Dr. Jocelyn Fitzgerald’s research on chronic pelvic/bladder issues and outcomes in pelvic reconstructive surgery.

feb. 29 march 16

BEHIND THE SCIENCE QUARTERLY TOURS MAGEE-WOMENS RESEARCH INSITITUTE Attend an educational discussion and tour of Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI). Hear from the researchers behind the science to learn about how MWRI is helping solve real-world problems and impacting the future of women’s health.

 RSVP to

feb. 16


The Women’s Health Symposium celebrates advances in women’s health research and clinical care. Interact with world-class scientists as they discuss the latest medical breakthroughs in women’s health research.

 For more details, visit

nov. 13–14


Ready, Set, Go!

The Pittsburgh Marathon weekend on May 5–7 convened more than 20,000 attendees who ran, walked, relayed, and trotted their way across the finish line, including Run for a Reason Magee athletes, whose efforts raised funds for women’s health research at MWRI. Scan for a full recap of marathon weekend.

Save the date! A premier international summit on women’s health will convene scientific and clinical innovators to discuss transformative women’s health and reproductive sciences in the 21st century.

 For more information, visit MAGEE :: PAGE 6



Goes On Cardio-Obstetric Program at UPMC Magee Is Helping New Moms Stay Heart-Healthy for Life Shermeise Caldwell works out regularly, drinks plenty of water, and takes care of herself. So, how did she end up in the ICU after giving birth? Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects one in 12 new mothers. Yet, it can go unrecognized during pregnancy and even months postpartum. High blood pressure that exceeds 140 mmHg over 90 mmHg may not have symptoms but leads to cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in women. The UPMC Postpartum Hypertension Program at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has forged a unique collaboration aimed at helping new and soon-to-be parents like Shermeise stay heart-healthy.

Shermeise’s Birth Story On December 15, 2022, Shermeise came to UPMC Magee for the scheduled inducement of her twin boys. After many hours passed without her water breaking, her doctors recommended expediting the process by performing a cesarean section (C-section). But then Shermeise began to lose blood, and fast. Shermeise was connected to a device called the Jada System to control and treat the bleeding. But a few minutes later, when the clear container next to her filled up rapidly with blood, she knew


that things had turned serious. She soon found herself rushed to an emergency hysterectomy. Shermeise panicked, but the voices of her children on the phone, as she was wheeled to surgery, helped her gather the strength to confront what lay ahead. “I just thought, ‘I have to push through this,’” she says. Though the surgery controlled the bleeding, Shermeise’s high blood pressure kept her in the ICU for four days. She then stayed an additional five days because of a blood clot found in her lung. Even when she finally was discharged, Shermeise faced blinding headaches so severe that she could not breastfeed ... and ended up back at the hospital again.

Postpartum Hypertension Program at UPMC Magee Following the birth of her twins, Shermeise joined the UPMC Postpartum Hypertension Program, part of the larger Magee-Womens Heart Program under the direction of Katie Berlacher, MD. The Magee-Womens Heart Program helps women manage hypertension throughout pregnancy and during delivery, while the Postpartum Hypertension Program focuses on managing hypertension after women give birth.

MAGEE :: PAGE 9 Pictured: Shermeise Caldwell

Their unique model, which combines specialties in cardiology and maternal fetal medicine to support patients in cardiovascular health, is creating a new standard of care for the cardio-obstetric population. The Postpartum Hypertension Program is aimed at helping patients recognize the possible warning signs of peripartum and postpartum hypertension, reduce the risk of chronic hypertension in the future, and discuss lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of heart disease. Patients can also use the space to discuss other topics like breastfeeding or C-section-related issues, placental pathology reports, and additional testing, if needed, for things like high cholesterol and diabetes. The Postpartum Hypertension Program’s co-founders and co-directors are Alisse Hauspurg, MD, and Malamo Countouris, MD. Dr. Countouris is a general cardiologist and clinical researcher mentored by Magee-Womens Research Institute’s Janet Catov, PhD. She says that the Postpartum Hypertension Program’s care model is based on the understanding that there is a great deal of trauma related to hypertensive pregnancies and deliveries. Meeting with multiple providers gives patients the opportunity to have follow-up questions answered and receive support as they continue to monitor their blood pressure post-delivery.

“It’s a very busy time for new moms, but also a time when people are motivated to be healthier for their kids,” Dr. Countouris explains. “It’s a sweet spot for seeing people.” Virtual visits and remote monitoring have also opened new avenues to see and counsel patients. In collaboration with physician-scientist Hyagriv Simhan, MD, patients can opt to participate in remote monitoring for up to a year postpartum. Participants record and report their blood pressure twice a week, which is automatically shared with the care team at UPMC Magee. The reports generated in a patient’s electronic medical record allow for better care coordination with other providers. “We have a beautiful clinical collaboration with maternal fetal medicine, where we meet once a month and we talk about our highest-risk pregnant patients,” Dr. Countouris says. “We see the highest-risk patients from across the tri-state area, and we manage them


very successfully throughout pregnancy. That’s a tribute to our very strong, multidisciplinary clinical collaboration.”

Closing Gaps in Cardio-Obstetric Care While there is a general understanding that high blood pressure in pregnancy can lead to hypertension long term, the connection between high blood pressure in pregnancy and cardiovascular disease is less understood — in part, due to the recency of research. “It wasn’t until 15 or 20 years ago that we started even recognizing pregnancy conditions as a risk factor for heart disease,” Dr. Countouris explains. “So, a lot of providers don’t know and aren’t talking about it.” The Postpartum Hypertension Program focuses on a critical time in a new mother’s life: the fourth trimester — an opportunity to bridge care from the typical obstetric to longitudinal care providers, be it in cardiology or primary care. It is one of a handful of programs in the country aimed at supporting patients during this time. “We often talk with our patients about prevention of cardiovascular disease and ways to reduce cardiovascular risk. I think one of the things that has been understudied is how adverse pregnancy outcomes, like preeclampsia and gestational hypertension, impact future cardiovascular health and how we should best manage patients after delivery and down the line when they might be at risk to develop clinical cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Countouris. Thanks to a grant from the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Countouris and her team are working on a toolkit for implementing a postpartum hypertension clinic and remote monitoring program so that others can scale the model in their care systems. The Postpartum Hypertension Program is also expanding its work by adding more clinic days each month. There are about 1,000 pre-eclamptic deliveries at UPMC Magee each year, with the Postpartum Hypertension Program currently seeing a percentage of higher-risk patients. The team aims to do more preconception planning with patients who have risk factors but would like to get pregnant in the future.

Pictured: Dr. Malamo Countouris (left) and Dr. Alisse Hauspurg (right) on the first clinic day of the Postpartum Hypertension Program.

“It’s really during that preconception visit that we try and tell patients what their risk is of going into pregnancy, which has been increasingly informed by data,” explains Agnes Koczo, MD, cardiologist at the UPMC Magee-Womens Heart Program. “We can really help optimize patients, whether it’s blood pressure control or whether it’s optimizing their BMI to get them through their pregnancy.” For patients like Shermeise, the Postpartum Hypertension Program has served as a support system and motivating force during a particularly stressful time. Driven by her desire to stay present for her children, including her twin boys who are healthy and thriving, Shermeise is continuing to do everything she can to manage her blood pressure — even through life’s challenges.

Patients who are now experiencing or had high blood pressure in pregnancy, were diagnosed with gestational hypertension or preeclampsia, recently delivered a baby, or have chronic high blood pressure and want to become pregnant are eligible for the program. For more information, visit the UPMC Postpartum Hypertension Program’s website.

“The world can make you distracted from the things that really matter, like your health,” Shermeise says. “But in hindsight, money will be there, your home will be there, your car will be there... but you won’t be there if you don’t take care of yourself.”



NOT OVARY-ACTING International MWRI Collaboration Highlights Underrepresentation of Female Anatomy in Medical Illustrations


Magee-Womens Center for Endometriosis and Chronic Pelvic Pain, gynecologic surgeon at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, and researcher at MageeWomens Research Institute.

Holding a model of the pelvis in one hand and her sketching pencil in the other, seated at a drafting table surrounded by skeletons in Maastricht, Netherlands, is Roberta Müller. Now a master-level graduate of scientific illustration, Roberta directed her thesis project toward a topic that motivated her due to its unequal representation in the medical field: women’s health.

Dr. Donnellan served as the medical consultant on the project and offered her input while Roberta developed and defended her thesis. As Roberta developed illustrations for a range of target audiences, Dr. Donnellan also connected Roberta with fellow experts in physical therapy or urogynecology for support.

“Women’s rights and gender equality is a subject that has fascinated me throughout the years, and I decided that women’s health would be a good subject to start orienting myself in,” Roberta says.

“It was very interesting to work with somebody so passionate about a topic like women’s health and endometriosis from an artistic standpoint,” Dr. Donnellan says. “I think it just shows that advocacy has to be in many different places for things to change.”

After taking dissection classes to observe the shape of the uterus and in talking with medical students about their learnings, Roberta noticed some concerning gaps when it came to female anatomy in medical illustrations. Especially for complex and difficult-to-diagnose diseases like endometriosis, more comprehensive and accurate depictions of the disease presentation for medical students are critical. To inform her thesis, titled “Not Ovary-Acting: A Visual Exploration Highlighting the Underrepresentation of Female Anatomy in Medical Illustrations, using Endometriosis as a Case Study,” Roberta contacted Nicole Donnellan, MD, founder and director of the UPMC

To Roberta, projects like her thesis, and indeed her career itself, are an opportunity to bring about greater awareness and understanding of the workings of the human body while creating a more equitable landscape for medical illustration in the future. “The task of a scientific illustrator is to communicate the science as clearly as possible,” Roberta says. “I sincerely hope that medical illustrators take on the responsibility of increasing representation and diversity in our work.”

Pictured: Roberta Müller ©Roberta Müller





CRISIS to RECOVERY UPMC Magee Program Expands to Reach More Women in Western Pennsylvania

Erie,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Krans, Director of the PWRC. “The DDAP grant was the first big step to allow us enough funding to support that community site and our expansion efforts in general.”

“People have this idea that they’re untouchable. And then it happens to them. It doesn’t matter what your status or income is — anyone can be affected by a substance use disorder. It can happen to anybody,” says Katie Beehner, a certified recovery specialist at the UPMC Magee-Womens Pregnancy and Women’s Recovery Center (PWRC) at UPMC Hamot. The rise in the prevalence of substance use disorders among pregnant women has touched communities nationwide, including those in Western Pennsylvania. According to recent estimates, the number of women with substance-related diagnoses documented at delivery increased by 131% from 2010 to 2017. “Erie has not been spared. We’ve seen increasing numbers of pregnant women with substance use disorders presenting in labor. Too many have had limited or no prenatal care, and even fewer received care for their addiction. Many hide their opioid use, while others don’t know where to access recovery services while pregnant. There has also been a steady rise in NICU admissions of babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome,” explains Dr. Halina Zyczynski, medical director, Magee-Womens Research Institute, Erie Campus and Chair of OBGYN at UPMC Hamot. “It is impossible to ignore.” In 2022, the PWRC at UPMC Hamot, an expansion site of the PWRC at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, secured funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Drug & Alcohol (DDAP)


The PWRC at UPMC Hamot’s Comprehensive Care Model

to significantly expand the number of personnel associated with the program. The expansion of addiction medicine services to the Erie area is part of a larger effort to scale comprehensive care to women across Western Pennsylvania and beyond. Previously limited to one nurse case manager, DDAP funding has allowed the PWRC at UPMC Hamot to hire a peer navigator, social worker, and advanced practice provider to greatly expand the type of services offered to pregnant and parenting people in the Erie area. “We’re looking at how we translate our model of care at Magee into the community setting, which involves tailoring our model to lower resources settings like

“The care delivery process for this population is team-based: multidisciplinary, multiple care providers... it’s a comprehensive approach to health care,” explains Dr. Krans, who is also a primary investigator at Magee-Womens Research Institute. To ensure standardization and consistency of care delivery in the expanded program, the Oakland, PA-based and Erie-based teams travel quarterly to shadow, learn, and model certain practices. The Erie team’s nurse navigator, Lauren Kullen, started in March of 2022 and has since observed the number of referrals to the PWRC increase, both from self-referral and via community events where she’s presented. For each patient, Lauren works with her teammates, Isela Smith, a social worker, and Katie Beehner, a peer recovery specialist, to assist patients



with various aspects of support, from housing, transportation, and care coordination to providing support for their actual delivery. “We can give that full circle of care to make sure that they feel protected, feel safe, and provide education to hospital staff while they’re going through these experiences,” Lauren says. The nature of the multidisciplinary care team also ensures a close-knit experience for patients. “It’s an honor that they actually feel that they can trust me, and it’s great that I can use those traumatic experiences that I went through to help somebody else,” Katie says. “It’s more intimate with the three of us. There’s just something about having the option to have a nurse to help you with all your medical needs, a social worker for all those resources in the community, and I share my lived experience with recovery.” Isela Smith, senior social worker at the PWRC at UPMC Hamot, adds that the centralized setup of the program is also more conducive to supporting patients, who might have difficulties related to transportation and childcare.

If you or a loved one or anyone you know needs help or consultation regarding a substance userelated issue, please visit the PWRC website by scanning the QR code below.

“They can come here, and they can trust to talk to us,” Isela says. “We’re very supportive of them. They know that they can count on us to help them navigate what they need to do to stay on the right path.” Dr. Zyczynski says that the wraparound services provide much-needed practical assistance for patients on their recovery journey: “A healthy pregnancy should not be a luxury, but it can feel unaffordable when you don’t have a working car, or you can’t afford gas at $5 a gallon. The DDAP grant has helped us meet some very basic needs of our patients, from hunger and food insecurity to neglected dental care and transportation barriers, which were leading to missed prenatal care appointments.” The UPMC Hamot program has also partnered with organizations such as Safe Harbor for behavioral health support, and the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative (LETI) that helps law enforcement connect individuals with substance use disorders identified in the field to treatment. “It’s important that our clinical programs are invested in community partnerships,” explains Dr. Krans. “These community partners, such as LETI, have a direct line of communication to a lot of individuals who have substance use-related issues. It’s just another way that patients can access our services.” Isela hopes that as more people learn about the program, they will seek support at the PWRC: “Come as you are. We’re here to help you.”


Learn more on the LETI program here:

UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital 300 Halket St. Pittsburgh, PA 15228 412-641-1211 UPMC Hamot 118 East 2nd St. Erie, PA 16507 814-877-8222


of Women’s Health Leaders For students early in their education and careers, internships play a crucial role in providing exposure, Pictured: Kayla Komondor knowledge, and an opportunity to explore their interests and identify their passions. For Kayla Komondor, the a-ha moment happened quickly.

gastrointestinal-related research at Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI). She interned there in the fall of 2017 through the summer of 2018. Kayla had the opportunity to work on different projects in the lab, including working on a novel spermicide under the HIV prevention medicine umbrella of the lab. Because Kayla’s mentors knew she was interested in reproduction research, they introduced her to this fertility-related project.

“It took just one day in the lab “My time at MWRI provided a for me to know that women’s great opportunity for hands-on learning outside the classroom and health and reproductive seeing what happens day-to-day research is what I wanted to inside a lab. It was truly an eyedo. It completely changed the opening experience,” Kayla says. of the lab work, I wasn’t trajectory of my life,” says Kayla “Outside limited to learning from just one Komondor, a current doctorate person. I got to meet weekly with different professors and principal student in the Department investigators working on different of Biological Sciences at the research, some working in areas related to the research I plan to University of Pittsburgh. While studying biology and chemistry at Robert Morris University, Kayla became connected with the McGowan Lab, now the Gastrointestinal Mucosal Lab, a research group focused on novel HIV prevention agents and

pursue following the completion of my PhD. I even got to work on a couple of clinical trials, which was an entirely unique experience.”

Under the guidance of her mentors, Dr. Ian McGowan, Aaron Siegel, Dr. Rhonda Brand, and Ashley Zyhowski,

Kayla began to define her path in reproductive research, which led her to pursue her PhD. “I am now in the Carlson Lab at the University of Pittsburgh that focuses on studying polyspermy blocks,” Komondor says. “I’m hoping in my postdoc I will be able to do research in reproduction and fertilization with more of a focus on research using mammals rather than using external fertilizers.”

“Women’s health research has huge gaps in it that really need to be filled. MWRI is taking the lead in closing those gaps,” Kayla says. “Absolutely jump on the opportunity to intern at MWRI and take advantage of the opportunity to be a part of life changing research. Learn as much as you can while you’re there because you truly can find an expert in just about anything. It’s incomparable.”

Interested in interning at MWRI? Scan the QR code to explore the educational programs offered at MWRI.



The 34th Annual Women’s Cancer Survivorship Workshop

20th Annual NICU Reunion

Amidst the darkness, a warm glow emerges. One by one, as women celebrating their survivorship milestones light their candles, a flickering of hope illuminates the room, casting a light on the close-knit community of cancer survivors, their families, and friends. Each year, the 34th Annual Women’s Cancer Survivorship Workshop and Celebration brings together more than 300 individuals impacted by various types of cancers — including breast and gynecologic — to share their stories, provide support, and celebrate survivorship. The workshop is both an educational session where experts help survivors of women’s cancers explore the next steps after treatment with positive approaches to healthy living, as well as a celebration of life. “You get a pin every year you come, so some ladies show up with a hat full of pins, and that is really hopeful to see,” Denise Wickline, Events Manager at MageeWomens Research Institute & Foundation and breast cancer survivor says. “And at the end of the event, you get to light a candle, and it is really emotional. It is a symbol of another year of survival.” From sharing their experiences, knowledge, and wisdom to supporting one another, the survivors form strong bonds of mutual support during the event. As the workshop grows, so will its impact on the lives of cancer survivors and their communities. With each year that passes, the candles will continue to glow, offering a hopeful light for the future.


The 2023 event featured a keynote address by The Breasties, which discussed living with cancer, and a talk on post-treatment exercise and well-being. The breakout sessions covered breast cancer topics, including tumor-immune crosstalk and personalized therapies, metastatic growth regulation, and the Breast Cancer Research Advocacy Network. The gynecologic oncology sessions addressed ovarian clear cell cancer, and DNA damage and repair machinery in leiomyosarcomas.

It’s a sun-soaked summer day at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium. Children arrive holding their parents’ hands, their eyes dancing with excitement as they catch glimpses of the zoo critters they are anxious to meet. Dozens of attendees are donning vibrant tie-dyed color T-shirts that symbolize the story of their special journeys as a community.

Throughout the day, children enjoyed face painting, performances by the Pittsburgh Puppet Works, shaved ice treats from Mr. Wu, and a dance party with a DJ. Attendees also used paint to stamp their tiny handprints on Christmas ornaments, which are gifted to NICU families during the holiday season. Another signature part of the reunion is the T-shirts.

The NICU Reunion has become an eagerly anticipated annual event that brings together NICU families and their care teams from UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital and UPMC Children’s Hospital. With more than 10,000 babies born at UPMC Magee annually, its NICU is one of the largest in Pennsylvania and provides care to more than 1,500 severely or critically ill babies each year. UPMC Children’s Hospital is also routinely recognized as one of the top pediatric hospitals in the country.

“For the 20th Reunion T-shirts, we wanted to do something special. We did a tie-dye design to symbolize all the different colors of the shirts worn throughout the years,” says Denise Wickline, Events Manager at Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation. In fact, many NICU staff members and graduates return with their families annually to reconnect.

This year marked the 20th Annual NICU Reunion — the largest to date. The NICU Reunion started out as a birthday party, where a few dozen NICU graduates and their families gathered at Kennywood amusement park. From there, the event steadily grew, changing locations, and eventually finding its home at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium in 2009. It has continued to expand, and now welcomes more than 100 families each year — with the 2023 event setting a record number of 470 attendees.

“After 20 years, I have gotten to watch the NICU graduates come back year after year and grow into these amazing kids,” Denise says. “One of my favorite parts is watching the kids reconnect with their nurses who get so excited to see them grow from the NICU.” The NICU Reunion is a heartwarming celebration, demonstrating that the journey through the NICU is not a solitary one, but a shared experience that forms lasting connections between families, caregivers, and the community. 

In addition to uniting the NICU community every year, the event also raises funds for the Parent Advisory Council, a support group for parents with babies in the NICU.

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If you pose the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ to a young person, ‘bioengineer’ is unlikely to be their first response. If you’ve never seen or experienced something, how can you even imagine being it? STEM programming remains unevenly distributed across the country, with underrepresented groups having more limited opportunities compared to their White counterparts. In the United States, only 57% of Black students have access to the full range of math and science gateway classes for STEM success in higher education, compared to 71% of White students, according to the Department of Education. CampBioE, a bioengineering summer camp hosted by the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, is helping change that landscape. CampBioE is now under the direction of Dr. Katrina Knight, a primary investigator at Magee-Womens Research Institute focused on developing new products for use in pelvic organ prolapse repair, and assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Through her leadership, CampBioE is continuing to expand by broadening the age range of camp participants, adding additional weeklong cohorts, and growing the underrepresented demographic of the camp. “My goal is to expose students to STEM, especially those who look like me. It is hard to see yourself in a field where no one looks like you,” says Dr. Knight. “I really, truly believe that if you can see it, you can be it. It becomes a possibility for you, which is what I am trying to show these kids.”

to the field of bioengineering. Through a combination of lectures, laboratory sessions, and group projects, students explore the principles of biology and engineering integration, where they learn to design and create innovative solutions for real-world challenges. Since its inception in 2007, it has grown into a community of more than 100 campers. The camp’s commitment to inclusivity has been central to its growth — beginning with only 5% of participants being from underrepresented demographics to now, more than 50%. The camp now runs for five weeks, which includes five different cohorts by age. Dr. Knight is currently working on expanding the camp participants to include elementary students. “It is vital to expose students to STEM earlier,” says Dr. Knight. “I am working on launching a new CampBioE (CampBioE 2.0) where it’s going to span the entire K–12 grades.”

CampBioE leaders have seen their impact in action, with some attendees moving on to pursue bioengineering in their studies, and even return to the camp again as a participant or counselor. “Witnessing middle school attendees return year after year, embracing engineering as their calling, advancing to the University of Pittsburgh, and evolving into companies that support the camp is the most rewarding part,” says Dr. Abramowitch. One CampBioE participant, Sofia Bear, who first attended the camp in seventh grade, returned as a counselor in 2022.

Pictured: Dr. Katrina Knight

Opening the Door to STEM Careers


What began with a grant, a small group of students, and a van ride to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has grown into CampBioE. “The program started with a collaboration with the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative. When that dissolved, we had a choice: to do it ourselves or let it end. We made the commitment to keep the camp alive. I became director and started running and rebranding the camp,” says Dr. Steven Abramowitch, CampBioE’s first director. During the summer camp, middle and high schoolers experience an immersive educational experience where they engage in hands-on activities and workshops related


“I loved how engaged the counselors were in my camp experience and I wanted to provide a similar experience for the campers this year,” says Sofia. “CampBioE is an interactive program that allows students to experience all kinds of engineering. When I came to camp, we were exposed to structural engineering, computer engineering, coding, and 3D modeling. CampBioE is a great way for students to gain exposure to both bioengineering and related STEM fields.” As CampBioE paves a path toward a more equitable and diverse STEM community by fostering inclusivity, representation, and hands-on exploration, it nurtures young minds, propelling them toward a future brimming with possibilities.


STORIES OF HOPE By Faith Jeffcoat

Every birth story is unique. But some are filled with extraordinary challenges and moments that leave a lasting impact on the parents’ lives. Michele Wagner’s experience of becoming a mother shaped her in ways she never anticipated.

From the NICU to Graduating with Honors Seeing Babies, and Mom, Through the Pregnancy Journey Michele’s journey started with the joyous news of pregnancy. But from the first appointment with her ob-gyns, Dr. Pierce Soffronoff and Dr. Carol Krupski, Michele was classified as a high-risk patient due to being over the age of 35 with her first pregnancy.

“I remember the day I went in for what I thought was a routine ultrasound. When I left, I was shell- shocked,” says Michele. Little did she know that she was in for another surprise during one of her early visits. At around 10 weeks, an ultrasound revealed the unexpected news: she was pregnant with twins. “I was so surprised. Now I was double high-risk. Then some complications arose,” Michele says. “I developed gestational diabetes. I was at risk of preeclampsia, which required weekly visits to Magee for checkups. And then at 34 weeks, I got told my blood pressure was too high. My doctor told me, ‘You’re done working’ and I got put on bed rest.” As Michele headed to the lobby to get her parking validated, her water broke.


“I turned around and headed back up, and they admitted me,” Michele says. On June 30, after 18 hours of labor, Michele delivered her identical twins via C-section. Michael James Wagner was born at 3:20 a.m. weighing 4 pounds 9 ounces, and Mathew William Wagner was born at 3:21 a.m. weighing 4 pounds 6 ounces. Born with underdeveloped lungs and respiratory distress syndrome, the twins needed specialized care. For 10 days, Michael and Matthew resided in the NICU, gaining strength and getting healthy. “It was a rollercoaster of emotions. You don’t expect your infants to require NICU care when you go into labor, or at least I didn’t. My lengthy labor, unplanned C-section delivery, and the twins’ unexpected health issues which necessitated NICU care left me quite disconcerted,” Michele says. As a first-time mother to premature twins, Michele felt caught off guard and overwhelmed. Yet, the open NICU room provided a glimpse into the struggles of other parents facing difficult situations. “Seeing I wasn’t there alone, and getting to connect with other mothers in similar situations really shaped me during that time,” Michele says. “It was eye-opening and a learning experience for me, and it made me even more grateful for my situation and for the care and support we received.”

Michele also found solace in connecting with the NICU nurses, whom she describes as the “heart and soul” of the unit and “angels on earth” who supported and guided her through every step.

“Not only did they take care of my infants, but they took care of me,” says Michele. “They were so kind, patient, compassionate, and reassuring. They encouraged me to change my babies’ diapers in between all the tubes and wires. No matter what came, they helped me bond with my babies,” Michele says. After 10 days in the NICU and passing their car seat test where their breathing, heart rate, and oxygen levels were monitored, Michele and her twins were cleared to go home. “We left with confidence, feeling prepared, and I am thankful to every person who supported and educated us during my stay,” Michele says. “And the care didn’t stop there. We received in-home follow-up care.” As the twins grew, Michele’s initial concerns about potential cognitive delays were alleviated.

“Other than needing some speech therapy when they were 6 years old, they flourished in school, and graduated with honors. They would not have been able to do so if it weren’t for the NICU at UPMC MageeWomens Hospital,” Michele says. Their 19th birthday marked not only a celebration of life, but also a reminder of the incredible journey they have traversed together. Although they may squabble like typical siblings, their bond as twins remains strong. “It has been so cool to watch them grow. They have each other’s back. They are each other’s champions,” Michele says. As Michele looks back on her NICU experience at UPMC Magee, she is filled with gratitude for the extraordinary care that helped her twins be here today. “To my NICU nurses, Donna, Kelly, Lauren, Linesse, Loretta, and Sheila, if you’re still there, I just appreciate you guys so much. My kids might not even be alive if it wasn’t for you and the NICU unit at Magee,” Michele says. “The doctors and nurses are legends and rock stars in my eyes. I would say to any soon-to-be mother, anyone pregnant with twins, anyone with a high-risk pregnancy, anyone really — go to Magee. There is no other advice I could give you that would be as valuable as that.”



By Gina Edwards

Endometriosis is an often-painful disease where tissue like that which lines the uterus — the endometrium — grows outside the uterus. Endometriosis affects approximately 11% of women in the U.S. aged 15 to 44, or about 6.5 million people. Two stories of women seeking care for their pelvic pain converged to inspire the creation of a first-of-its-kind research collaboration dedicated to finding answers for millions of those suffering from endometriosis. Uniting investigators at Magee-Womens Research Institute, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, and the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, the burgeoning Hub for Endometriosis Research (HER) aims to collaboratively pursue methods to better predict, diagnose, and treat endometriosis.


Coming Together to Face Endometriosis Two women’s stories inspire a one-of-a-kind research hub


By the time she hit high school, Allison was getting used to carrying around Advil. It was a must — ever since she began to menstruate, Allison experienced debilitating pelvic pain. She knew it was severe, but she had no idea that it was unusual. Or why it was happening to her. As she progressed into her late 20s and early 30s, Allison’s periods grew heavier, and the pain worsened. Around this time, Allison and her husband David started trying to conceive. Six months without birth control went by. Nothing. Then, fertility treatments — six cycles. Nothing. One course of In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Then another. And another. After four total rounds of IVF, various testing, ultrasounds, bloodwork, and sample analyses from David, the couple received a devastating result: undiagnosed infertility. “My body couldn’t take it anymore. That’s a lot of hormones and shots and emotions. By that point, I was getting very close to 40. So, we just decided children weren’t meant to be for us,” says Allison Vorp, a Certified Research Administrator for the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. “And we moved on. We started focusing on what life’s going to look like without children.”


Then, in Allison’s early 40s — a new pain on the right side of her pelvis. “I started getting a pinching pain right where my right ovary is. Ovulation was a very painful time of the month for me, so I knew that it felt like ovarian pain,” Allison explains. “But transvaginal ultrasound didn’t show anything, so we just kept exploring what that pain could be.” Allison started experiencing persistent GI issues and anxiety. Her right-side pelvic pain grew more severe, along with the gastrointestinal troubles. After discovering an esophageal ulcer during GI testing — caused by all that Advil — Allison began taking Pantoprazole, which gave her splitting headaches. “Somewhere during that whole process, I started getting debilitating migraines. Migraines to the point that I couldn’t even sit up straight, that I was afraid to bring my head above my heart a couple of times because my head felt like it was going to explode.” Potential diagnoses — and dead-end trips to specialist after specialist — continued. Each clinician proposed a different potential reason for the pain. Was it a body wall hernia? Crohn’s disease? IBS? Even hip arthritis? “The symptoms really kicked up and my flow got horrendous ... my flow got to where I was bleeding through onto my chair at work,” Allison says. To boot, the pain in the right side of her abdomen had started to move toward the center. Allison’s ob-gyn suggested a hysterectomy. “And I was starting to lean towards the hysterectomy. Just take everything out and let’s see if that makes it go away.” Allison says. “But in one of my last appointments with my ob-gyn, I asked, ‘Could it be endometriosis?’ And it was like a light bulb went off.”

“UNFORTUNATE, PAINFUL MENSTRUATION” HOW DO WE FIND (AND MISS) ENDOMETRIOSIS? After talking with her ob-gyn about the possibility of endometriosis, Allison’s next step was visiting the UPMC Magee-Womens Center for Endometriosis and Chronic Pelvic Pain. The day Allison sought treatment at Magee, it just so happened that the doctor staffing the clinic was Ted Lee, MD, a globally renowned surgeon and endometriosis expert.


“My main message to any patient, but to women especially is this: be aggressive. Don’t stop, keep asking questions, and insist you know if something’s wrong with your body. Do not stop. Do not take ‘We don’t know’ for an answer.” — ALLISON VORP It takes 7 to 10 years on average for patients to receive an endometriosis diagnosis; currently, the only definitive way to diagnose it is through surgery, and only about 40% of patients who undergo surgical diagnosis are found to have endometriosis. Dr. Lee says that during his appointments, he pays close attention to details in the patient’s history and symptoms and employs a highly targeted physical exam that offers clues about whether the patient’s condition might be endometriosis. “When you are able to do a very good, compartmentalized exam for pelvic pain, you can get a lot more confidence in terms of the probability of your diagnosis being correct,” Dr. Lee explains. “It also gives you confidence that if you take the patient to the operating room, you’re likely to find something.” The rectal vaginal exam serves as a way to localize the patient’s pain by reproducing it at one of the most common sites. Dr. Lee looks for an instantaneous, visceral reaction. However, for many patients seeking evaluation for pelvic pain, this kind of internal physical exam is not always conducted. The challenge for busy providers, including ob-gyns and PCPs, is how to methodically approach patients with pelvic pain, given the wide array of reasons that it can occur. “The presenting symptoms are so vague and all over the place. You can have normal blood tests, you can have normal ultrasounds, you can have a normal physical exam, and you can still have endometriosis,” explains Nicole Donnellan, MD, founder and director of the UPMC Magee-Womens Center for Endometriosis and Chronic Pelvic Pain. Undergoing the pain consultation with Dr. Lee proved to be a major turning point in Allison’s search. During Allison’s visit with Dr. Lee in November of 2021, she nearly passed out from the pain during her internal exam; her response suggested endometriosis. But they would need to wait six more months to be totally sure — the first day she could schedule surgery was in April 2022.

The pathology report following that surgery confirmed their suspicions — of Allison’s eight specimens sent, six returned positive for endometriosis. During surgery, Dr. Lee removed the areas where the endometriosis was the most severe — Allison’s uterus, fallopian tubes, and her left ovary. As it turned out, her right ovary — the one Allison had suspected the pain was coming from — had been pulled by the endometriosis into the center of her abdomen. After five years of looking for answers, finally, a culprit. Allison’s recovery over time left her feeling better than she had in years. The pain subsided. And her anxiety evaporated. “I was so used to living in that state of sort of high anxiety all the time. I have a lot of peace and well-being now,” she says. For Allison’s husband, David Vorp, Senior Associate Dean for Research & Facilities at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and Professor of Bioengineering, who had watched his wife go from specialist to specialist, only to be told that she just had “unfortunate, painful menstruation,” the endometriosis diagnosis was an answer to questions of pain and infertility that had plagued the couple for years. In fact, Dr. Lee suspected that the cause of the couple’s infertility over a decade prior was likely her endometriosis. “That was heartbreaking to know that there was likely a solution, we just didn’t know about it,” Dr. Vorp says. But Dr. Vorp decided to take the experience and put it to work. His wife’s diagnosis changed the course of his career in research — and that of a young graduate student who was also searching for answers.

“TEACH ME WHAT YOU KNOW” ISABELLE CHICKANOSKY’S JOURNEY WITH PELVIC PAIN In the spring of 2021 — months before Allison would visit Dr. Lee at UPMC Magee — an undergraduate student named Isabelle Chickanosky interviewed to work with Dr. Vorp at the Vascular Bioengineering Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. Like Allison, Isabelle was trudging through her own multi-year journey of searching for a diagnosis for her pelvic pain — a complex process that drove her desire to study endometriosis. But Isabelle’s story began in her junior year of high school — a time she had her sights set on joining college cross country and track teams. During a routine run, a sharp pain in the left part of her pelvis stopped her in

Pictured: Dr. Nicole Donnellan her tracks. It was so severe she temporarily could not stand or move. “I did what I think all teenage girls do when they have some kind of pain that they think they can assign to menstrual pain. I said, ‘You know what? It’s normal.’ And I moved on.” Fast forward two years — now a sophomore runner for Carnegie Mellon University, Isabelle was logging significantly higher mileage and balancing a limited college sleep schedule.


The pain struck again. But this time, it was worse; Isabelle knew that something was wrong. The first provider she visited had her start birth control — a dosage that brought Isabelle in and out of depressive episodes. Concerned, Isabelle’s mother helped compile a list of physicians for her to see — including Dr. Donnellan at the UPMC Magee Center for Endometriosis and Chronic Pelvic Pain. Upon hearing Isabelle’s story, she recommended surgery to look for endometriosis. “I tell people there’s nothing normal about saying you’re in so much pain that you can’t go to work, or you can’t go to school. That’s not normal,” says Dr. Donnellan. “I think it’s important to be believed.” Isabelle’s surgery, which excised multiple lesions of abnormal tissue to be analyzed, relieved her pain initially. Her complex and continuing search for a potential diagnosis only drove Isabelle’s passion for researching endometriosis further. But, when Isabelle got a call from Dr. Vorp asking to interview to work in his lab, which historically worked on vascular biomechanics, regenerative medicine, and tissue engineering — she considered the opportunity: “It was a hard decision because I didn’t want to give up endometriosis research and Dr. Vorp made it clear that it was not his area of expertise.” MAGEE :: PAGE 27

He encouraged her to consider other avenues. “I came right out and said, ‘You seem really passionate about endometriosis research, but I don’t do endometriosis research. You need to be passionate about your research to pursue your PhD,’” Dr. Vorp recalls. “I told her that if she was interested in vascular bioengineering, I’d love to work with her.” However, Isabelle saw a mentor in Dr. Vorp and reasoned that she would be able to apply the knowledge she gained in his lab to work on endometriosis after her PhD. She joined the Vorp Lab in the Fall of 2021. In November 2021, a couple of months after the semester started, Dr. Vorp’s wife Allison went to see Dr. Lee. As she prepared for surgery to confirm whether she had endometriosis, he began to investigate what is known about it and who was doing the best research in it around the world. “I was really surprised and disappointed to find that not a lot of people are working on it and not a lot of funding was being put into it,” he says. “If endometriosis affected the white male, there would be all kinds of funding being put into it. The human impact of the of the disease is just mind-boggling.” Endometriosis affects approximately 11% of American women aged 15 to 44, or about 6.5 million people. Dr. Vorp decided to dedicate himself to learning more about endometriosis from the expert who happened to already be nested in his lab: Isabelle. He went back to her with a request: “I remember that you were interested in endometriosis research. Teach me what you know about it.”

“IT’S AN INVESTIGATION OF LOVE” THE HUB FOR ENDOMETRIOSIS RESEARCH (HER) Dr. Vorp and Isabelle began meeting regularly for onehour brainstorming sessions to swap knowledge about endometriosis and its impact. Isabelle shared details from her personal journey of searching for answers to the cause of her pelvic pain. It was a search that, like many other women’s, would continue even after her surgery. “To me, it was an investigation of love for my wife and seeing what she went through,” Dr. Vorp says. “I just wanted to learn more about it and do as much as I can


The investigators developed a name for their unique group: the Hub for Endometriosis Research (HER) and began seeking funding opportunities. In a proposal developed for the Department of Defense — 20% of the military force now being women — the team, led by Dr. Vorp, outlined the organizational structure and transdisciplinary nature of HER along with five initial, interconnected projects addressing endometriosis.

to help other women that are in her situation or will be in her situation.” The duo began working together to connect current projects at the lab to their potential uses in endometriosis. For instance, a project using AI and machine learning to predict outcomes of patients with aortic aneurysms was reimagined as a diagnostic tool for endometriosis using patient surveys and other data. “We started transitioning our machine learning models and algorithms that we were using for aortic aneurysms and applying them to endometriosis with some very Spartan data that we had our hands on to that point,” Dr. Vorp says. “Some of the preliminary models showed me that this had some great potential.” From there, Isabelle represented the team in multiple pitch competitions aimed at developing commercializable products with the potential to make an impact in the health care field. The team won a grant from the Center for Medical Innovation, second prize at the Michael G. Wells Student Healthcare Competition, and first prize at the Clinical and Translational Science’s Virginia Kaufman Pain Competition. Dr. Vorp credits Allison for the team winning the Kaufman competition — she provided a testimony they used for their video application. “I tell her she won it for us — hands down — because it was such a powerful personal testimony that she gave that put a human face to the disease,” he says. “Without it, I don’t think we would have won.” As they gained steam and funding, Dr. Vorp and Isabelle connected with Dr. Donnellan to explore her interest in collaborating with them. She excitedly agreed, as she had championed endometriosis research since arriving at UPMC Magee. “The team they have assembled are the basic scientists that I’ve been waiting 12 years of my career to find that really care about this,” says Dr. Donnellan, who is also an investigator at Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI). In fact, when she was formerly a fellow, Dr. Donnellan was already imagining ways to leverage the high volume of surgical candidates seen at UPMC Magee to advance endometriosis research. She devised a plan to establish a tissue registry or biobank for research — even taking on the task of transporting samples to be frozen herself.

Pictured: Isabelle Chickanosky, Dr. David Vorp, and Allison Vorp

“That was first and foremost on my mind as a fellow because I’m like, ‘This is like crazy. We need to capitalize on this at some point. Someone will want to study it,” she says. “I started [the biobank] myself. I would run the samples across the street [to MWRI] for a few years before I was too busy.” But her lone wolf days were over. Dr. Donnellan brought fellow MWRI Investigator Dave Peters, PhD, onboard the team, as she had been collaborating with him on endometriosis-related projects for years. (Coincidentally, two decades prior Drs. Vorp and Peters had also previously collaborated — and played racquetball together — but had since lost touch.) Now with members from UPMC Magee, MWRI, and the University of Pittsburgh, the newly formed team consisted of engineers, geneticists, cell biologists, immunologists, gynecologic surgeons, and other specialties. They envisioned a collaboration that would play to each member’s strengths while fostering novel insights and potential clinical applications through interconnected uses of the data. “Having a bunch of people who are all motivated by the same problem is really helpful because you think about it through their lenses sometimes and vice versa,” Dr. Peters says. “It’s just fascinating to see how people with different backgrounds and different training approach similar challenges.”

“The way that all of this came together must be more than a series of coincidences,” says Dr. Vorp. “It seems destined that we were to create this HER team here and now.” Once the HER team receives funding, it will activate several initial projects designed to address the critical and immediate need for early detection and accurate diagnosis of endometriosis and improve the understanding of this difficult-to-diagnose disease and its progression. The goal is to enable future development of innovative treatment options. “The amount of energy committed to this grant application is very promising to me,” Dr. Donnellan says. “Even if this proposal isn’t funded, this team is here to stay.” The $7 million grant is the current goal, but the HER team is united by a mission greater than a single proposal: supporting and honoring the journeys of those affected by this painful disease, and for those with chronic pelvic pain who are looking for answers. “I’m motivated first by the love for my wife. Just knowing what she went through and trying to honor her, the experience that we had together, and the emotional and physical pain that she had,” Dr. Vorp says. “But also, with a large motivation of helping other women that are experiencing this and don’t have answers — so that women experiencing this in the future have solutions that did not exist when we were going through it.”

To learn more about the UPMC Magee-Womens Center for Endometriosis and Chronic Pelvic Pain, scan the QR code.



SPLAT! The sound of paint hitting clothing precedes peals of laughter, as participants line up to take turns splattering paint on the honored guests of the evening. At a Splatter Me Crazy event, this scene is a typical one. During the festivities, Dominique Murray and local Pittsburgh celebrities transform into living canvases, all in support of a worthy cause — one of them being the largest women’s health research institute in the country, right in their own backyard.




CRAZY An Artistic Event Series Benefiting MWRI

Dominique’s artistic roots trace back to her college days at Robert Morris University, where she studied fine arts and photography. For her senior project, Dominique created a gallery filled with splattered, painted portraits. Each portrait depicted individuals donning matching outfits, wigs, and makeup, while immersed in vibrant backdrops and interacting with colorful candies. After showcasing her senior project, Dominique’s work captured the attention of fellow female entrepreneurs, and the idea to turn her project into an event series took root. In 2019, Splatter Me Crazy was born.

DOMINIQUE’S CHARITABLE TRIFECTA With a desire to give back to the community, Dominique chose three meaningful causes to support through Splatter Me Crazy events: Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation (MWRIF), The Magic Yarn Project, and the Western PA Bleeding Disorder Foundation. Dominique’s support for MWRIF stems from her personal connection to breast cancer. Having witnessed her grandmother’s battle with the disease, she is a passionate advocate for finding a cure.


“I wanted to pick somewhere I knew the money would be used for something meaningful — an organization actually doing breast cancer research and looking for a cure. When I got connected with MWRIF, I saw what a powerful institution it was,” Dominique says.

“As a female business owner, it is empowering to donate to an organization dedicated to advancing women’s health.” — Dominique Murray

A COMMUNITY UNITED FOR A COMMON PURPOSE Participants of all ages and backgrounds come together, donning white outfits and protective gear, to splatter paint. Admission fees, paint cup sales, and additional donations contribute to the money raised, where 100% of the proceeds are given to Dominique’s three dedicated charities. The 2022 event featured a range of activities such as spin art, photo booths, and vendor tables showcasing local businesses. Celebrity guest appearances, like acclaimed Pittsburgh photographer Dave DiCello, add star power to the festivities. When asked what advice she has for anyone on transforming their passion into meaningful ways to give back, Dominique says, “If you can dream it, if you have an idea, you can make it come to life.” Within any passion or spark of creativity lies the ability to make a difference — to effect change — even just one splatter at a time.

Interested in hosting your own community fundraiser benefiting MWRI? Scan the QR code to learn how.


Pictured: Dominique Murray


The following grants awarded are funding invaluable, groundbreaking work to improve women’s health on a global scale. This research acts as the foundation of progress on topics that are aimed to ensure improved health, survival, and quality of life for all women, mothers, and children.

Sandra Cascio, PhD

Received a 5-year, $1.6 million R01 grant from NIH-NCI titled “The Role of Egfl6 in Tumor Immunity.”

Ronald Buckanovich, PhD

Received a 5-year, $2.2 million R01 grant from NIH-NCI titled “Evaluating Unique Aspects of Quiescent Ovarian Cancer Cell Biology for Therapeutic Targets.”

Eldin Jašarevic´, PhD

HELP CHANGE THE WAY THE WORLD TREATS WOMEN There are many ways to support Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation. The most common, and immediately impactful, is to make a gift of cash. However, planned gifts are often made with assets such as securities, real estate, artwork, retirement plan assets, donor-advised funds, and insurance policies. Many of these gifts come with unique tax benefits. You can make a gift from just about any type of asset you own.

WAYS TO MAKE A GIFT: Bequests and Beneficiaries | IRA Charitable Rollovers | Appreciated Stocks Life Insurance | Real Estate and Other Property To learn more, contact Jazmin Rosenberger at

Received a 4-year, $500,000 grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund titled “Maternal Microbial Metabolites in the Intergenerational Transmission of Metabolic Disease Risk.”

David Peters, PhD

Received a 2-year, $454,000 R21 grant from NIH-NICHD titled “The Non-invasive Early Detection of Endometriosis.”

Hyagriv Simhan, MD

Received a 7-year, $2.1 million UG1 competitive renewal grant from the NIH-NICHD supporting the MaternalFetal Medicine Unit (MFMU) Network Clinical Center at Magee.

Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation may be designated as the beneficiary of Charitable Remainder Trusts, Charitable Lead Trusts, and Charitable Gift Annuities but will not serve as Trustee.



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