Dr. Heather Francis

Heather Francis, PhD is a Professor of Medicine at Indiana University and a Research Biologist at RLR VA Medical Center. The goal of her laboratory is to investigate the synergistic role that cholangiocytes and mast cells play during cholestatic liver injury, cholangiocarcinoma and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The lab is currently funded by both the NIH and the VA and these studies examine the link between cholangiocytes, mast cells and hepatic stellate cells during liver disease focusing primarily on primary sclerosing cholangitis and NAFLD. In addition, they recently found that using OTC drugs that block histamine receptors (H1HR and H2HR inhibitors) decreases both primary sclerosing cholangitis and cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) injury. The lab is particularly interested in the HDC/histamine/HR axis and the autocrine (from cholangiocytes) and paracrine (mast cells) role this axis plays in primary sclerosing cholangitis, CCA and NAFLD. Using genetic knockout mice, they have demonstrated that loss of HDC and/or loss of mast cell activation ameliorates liver damage including biliary hyperplasia and hepatic fibrosis along with decreasing NAFLD phenotypes. Mast cells also play a role in CCA tumorigenesis, angiogenesis and epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT). They have found that inhibition of mast cell-derived histamine using cromolyn sodium decreases these features of CCA progression. Their work has potential therapeutic benefit as most of the drugs they are studying are over the counter drugs and are safe for patient use (cromolyn sodium and antihistamines).

Current Research funding:

  • NIDDK – 2 R01’s
  • VA Merit
  • VA Research Career Scientist
  • Special past funding:
  • PSC Partner’s Seeking a Cure


  • Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award, Sul Ross State University, March 2018
  • New Investigator of the Year – APS, 2016
  • American Association for Cancer Research- Warner Fund Scholar-in-Training Award recipient, 2008
  • Chair, NIH HBPP study section, 2020-2022
  • ASIP member, presented a number of talks/posters & participated in Hepatomania

Francis Lab

The Francis lab, led by Heather Francis, PhD, focuses on understanding and identifying target therapies for chronic and often fatal liver diseases. Cholangiopathies are diseases that target cholangiocytes and include diseases like Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC), Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) and Cholangiocarcinoma (CCA).

Women in Pathology Leadership Change

We are excited to welcome a new year and new leadership for Women in Pathology. Please help us welcome Francisco J Carrillo-Salinas, PhD and Jennifer Sanders, PhD as new Co-Leaders of Women in Pathology. Both have a passion for advocacy and will be a great asset. Nakisha Rutledge and Maria Pilar Alcaide, PhD will remain as excellent Co-Leaders.
One of our co-leaders, Linda McManus has retired from academic life and is taking a step back. We want to give special thanks to Dr. McManus for her service and wish her well on her new endeavors.

New Co-Leaders

Jennifer Sanders, PhD

Dr. Jennifer Sanders is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and Pediatrics at Brown University. Her research is focused on the signaling pathways and gene expression networks that regulate fetal liver development and liver regeneration to provide insight into the liver’s response to injury and dysregulated cell growth that occurs during the development of cancer.

Current projects in her laboratory include understanding how epigenetic regulation of the cellular phenotype of fetal hepatocytes contributes to the ability of these cells to repopulate injured adult liver and elucidating mechanisms of hepatic ischemia-reperfusion injury.

Dr. Sanders joined ASIP in 2010 and is an ASIP Ambassador, a member of the Program Committee and received a Summer Research Opportunity Program in Pathology award to fund an underrepresented undergraduate in her laboratory this summer. Dr. Sanders received her PhD in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry from Brown University. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Gastroenterology at Rhode Island Hospital and then joined the Pediatrics faculty at Brown University. Dr. Sanders is committed to graduate education and mentoring. She is co-Director of the Pathobiology Graduate Program at Brown University and has been involved in developing grant programs for junior faculty members at Rhode Island Hospital. She also serves as a mentor in a summer enrichment program designed to expose high school students from nontraditional backgrounds to careers in basic and translational research through the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at Brown University.

Francisco J Carrillo-Salinas, PhD

Francisco J Carrillo-Salinas, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the department of Immunology at Tufts University School of Medicine (Boston, MA). Dr. Carrillo-Salinas is a current member of the ASIP. He has been the recipient of the ASIP Experimental Pathologist-in-Training (EPIT) Award in 2019, ASIP GALL Trainee Scholar Award for Excellence in Cardiovascular Research in 2018 and 2020 and ASIP A.D. Sobel Trainee Scholar Award in 2020. Dr. Carrillo-Salinas received his Master in Neuroscience and PhD in Neuroscience from Universidad Autonoma of Madrid, Spain, where he studied the therapeutic efficacy of cannabinoid derivatives in experimental models of multiple sclerosis, and the role of gut microbiota in a viral model of multiple sclerosis. Then, he joined the Alcaide lab at Tufts University to study the role of gut microbiota alterations in T cell activation and in the progression of heart failure. During this time, Dr. Carrillo-Salinas was awarded with an American Heart Association Postdoctoral fellowship, which contributed to the development of his project. He has made one of his personal and professional objectives to be involved in mentoring activities and the incorporation of under-represented groups to STEM fields. He is a faithful supporter of women in STEM and participates in initiatives helping women bridge the STEM gender gap.

Register for #ASIP2021 at #ExpBio

The Other Women in Pathology

William B. Coleman

May 2020 was the first Women in Pathology Month, and we celebrated the month by providing some history of the women in the American Society for Investigative Pathology and featured 21 of our women members. The posts, associated videos, and picture galleries were very popular with our membership and others. The entire collection of posts can be found on Pathways. Through these posts, we were able to highlight the diversity of our women scientists, physicians, and physician-scientists: the young and the more mature, trainees, new investigators, and established investigators, academics and scientists in biotech, current leaders and future leaders. Everyone should be impressed with the individual and collective accomplishments of the group of women members we featured during May. They represent the past, present, and future of our Society. We are proud of them, and proud that they represent the ASIP.

We also need to acknowledge the other women in pathology…those that we were unable to squeeze into the month of May, but that sent us their information nonetheless. We look forward to featuring some of these other women in pathology as monthly Member Spotlights on Pathways during the rest of the year. In addition, many of these other women in pathology will be featured during Women in Pathology Month 2021. So, stay tuned to learn more about our exceptional women ASIP members in the coming months.

The final group of women in pathology that need to be recognized are members of the ASIP staff. Several of these staff members are known to our members because of their visible roles with our journals and scientific meetings. Others work behind the scenes. It is impossible for me to list all of the things that these exceptional women do for our Society, so here is a brief description to give you a sense of their respective roles.

Emily Essex

Emily Essex is the Managing Editor of both The American Journal of Pathology and The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics. Emily manages the workflow for peer review and publication of both journals through supervision of our other journal staff and by working with the Editors-in-Chief (Dr. Martha Furie and Dr. Barbara Zehnbauer, respectively).

Chhavi Chauhan

Dr. Chhavi Chauhan is the Director of Scientific Outreach. She serves as Scientific Editor for the ASIP journals, and works on outreach initiatives. Currently, Chhavi is coordinating the ASIP COVID-19 webinar series and establishing new working relationships with other pathology groups.

Lisa McFadden

Lisa McFadden is Director of Scientific Meetings, Membership, and Educational Services. Lisa is actively planning for the PISA2020 and Experimental Biology 2021 meetings, developing new membership campaigns, and working on new virtual offerings in career development and education.

Gina LaBorde

Gina LaBorde is our Marketing and Communications Manager. Gina develops all of our electronic communications and outreach through email and various social media platforms. Gina produced the Women in Pathology Month features and has been working on our Pathologists Fighting COVID-19 series, among other news posts and announcements.

Donna Pluta

Donna Pluta is an Administrative Coordinator and project manager. She works closely with all of our standing committees, scheduling meetings and coordinating communications. Donna also plays a major role with the Intersociety Council for Pathology Information (ICPI) which is co-managed by the ASIP and the Association of Pathology Chairs.

Jody Zung

Jody Zung is our in-house accountant. She performs all the major book keeping functions, interacts with our outsourced accountants and auditors, and serves as the general office manager.

Kendra LaDuca and Chanel George

The most recent additions to the ASIP staff include Kendra LaDuca and Chanel George. Kendra serves as Executive Officer for two of our partner Societies: The Histochemical Society and The American Society for Matrix Biology. It has been excellent to have Kendra in our office since early 2020 to strengthen our partnerships with these other Societies and launch new initiatives to advance the priorities of all three groups.Chanel is the Managing Editor for The Journal of Histochemistry and Cytochemistry and contributes a portion of her time to the ASIP Journals.

These women in pathology are individually and collectively exceptionally talented, creative, skilled, and experienced in their respective areas of activity, and they are excellent collaborators. They represent the foundation upon which the ASIP is built and they work tirelessly every day to advance our organization and to increase the value of our Society for members. I am very grateful to have such an outstanding staff.

Honorable mention goes to the men of our staff for their excellent work and contributions to the ASIP Journals. Henry Carter is Assistant Managing Editor and Mike Dustin is the Senior Editorial Assistant for The American Journal of Pathology and The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics. Henry and Mike work closely with the Managing Editor to conduct peer review, author communications, and production of articles for the Journals. They are also exceptionally skilled and experienced in their jobs. Additional honorable mention goes out to the women who direct and/or work at many of our sister pathology Societies. There are many women serving as professional staff for pathology (or similar) societies and they are excellent to work with on issues that impact the entire field of pathology. I will not try to name them all here, but I thank them for their professionalism, wisdom, and expertise. 

Asma Nusrat, MD – Women in Pathology

Asma Nusrat, MD

Dr. Asma Nusrat has been a member of The American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP) since 2003, and is currently serving on the ASIP Council as immediate Past President (July 2019-June 2020). Dr. Nusrat served as President of the Society from July 2018-June 2019. Prior to that, Dr. Nusrat provided leadership to the ASIP on the Program Committee and as Program Committee Chair, as a long-time member of the ASIP Council, and she continues to serve as a leader of the ASIP Vascular and Mucosal Pathobiology Scientific Interest Group.

Dr. Asma Nusrat earned her medical degree from the University of Punjab (Lahore, Pakistan), and then completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA). Dr. Nusrat remained at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital for a fellowship in Gastrointestinal and Hepatobiliary pathology, as well as a research fellowship in epithelial pathobiology. While at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Nusrat began investigating fundamental mechanisms of epithelial barrier regulation and wound repair. She became an Instructor in Pathology in 1992 and then an Assistant Professor in 1997 at the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Nusrat was subsequently recruited to Emory University (Atlanta, GA) where she rose to the rank of Professor in 2007. In 2015, Dr. Nusrat was recruited to the Department of Pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School (Ann Arbor, MI) as the Aldred Scott Warthin Professor and Director of Experimental Pathology. She is now the F. Peyton Rous Professor of Pathology and continues to serve as Director of Experimental Pathology.

The research in Dr. Nusrat’s laboratory focuses on the biology of epithelial cell migration and mechanisms by which epithelia regulate intercellular junctions and transcellular permeability. In the intestine, for example, surgery and inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and infectious colitis are associated with ulceration and increased permeability across the epithelium. Rapid resealing of small mucosal wounds occurs by migration of epithelial cells, a process termed “restitution.” Restitution has also been observed in other systems such as renal, urinary and pulmonary epithelia. The long term objective of Dr. Nusrat’s laboratory is to (i) determine molecular mechanisms of epithelial cell migration, (ii) identify factors that promote restitution, and (iii) ascertain mechanisms of intercellular junction regulation and permeability across the epithelium. Their hypothesis is that the migration of intestinal epithelial cells during wound closure is driven by lamellipodial extensions at the leading edge and is dependent on dynamic cytoskeletal remodeling with modification of intercellular junctions. To model these events they have taken an in vitro reductionist approach using cultured epithelial cell lines. They have shown that Scatter factor/hepatocyte growth factor markedly enhances intestinal epithelial cell migration and wound closure by modifying intercellular junctions and focal cell matrix associations of epithelial. Epithelial cells, unlike other cell types such as fibroblasts and hematopoietic cells, migrate as sheets of cells with modified intercellular junction associations. Dr. Nusrat’s group found that lamellipodia of migrating intestinal epithelial cells are enriched in actin filaments and actin modifying proteins, villin and gelsolin. Such actin binding proteins likely play an important role in mediating rapid F-actin turnover, lamellipodial extrusion and epithelial cell migration. To investigate these possibilities they have generated epithelial cell lines overexpressing gelsolin. They have also shown that the Rho family of small GTP binding proteins play an important role in regulating permeability across the intestinal epithelium by influencing the organization of tight junction associated proteins and the actin cytoskeleton. They are dissecting the mechanisms by which the Rho family of GTP binding proteins regulate organization of intercellular junctions and their associations with the cytoskeleton. Potential benefits of this work include a better understanding of epithelial cell migration and regulation of intercellular junctions/permeability across the epithelium. Such an understanding could facilitate the development of therapeutic strategies aimed at enhancing epithelial cell migration and wound closure.

Dr. Nusrat’s laboratory has been continuously funded for many years through grants from the NIDDK/NIH and private foundations, including the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, and has been extremely productive. Dr. Nusrat has published >200 original articles, reviews, and book chapters, including 17 papers in The American Journal of Pathology. Dr. Nusrat is frequently invited to speak at international symposia related to her field, and has served on numerous NIH Study Sections. Dr. Nusrat is also a practicing Gastrointestinal and Liver Pathologist and has contributed to mentoring and teaching graduate and medical students, residents, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty. She has directly supervised 5 graduate students, 32 postdoctoral fellows, and 27 clinical fellows. She served on dissertation committees for 25 other graduate students, and has mentored 7 junior faculty. She is an Associate Editor for Molecular Biology of the Cell, previously served as Associate Editor for Gastroenterology and The American Journal of Pathology, and served as Editorial Board Member for the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the American Journal of Physiology. Dr. Nusrat is an elected member and previous President of the Pluto Society (the American Association of University Pathologists).

Denuja Karunakaran, PhD – Women in Pathology

Denuja Karunakaran, PhD is a Team Leader/IMB Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland. Her research program focuses on how inflammatory and cell death pathways drive low-grade chronic inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis, obesity and diabetes. Her interests include understanding how fat tissue inflammation drives obesity and other fatal diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Dr. Karunakaran obtained a PhD in platelet biology from Monash University prior to undertaking the prestigious Australian National Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Here, she investigated the mechanisms by which PKC regulates Apolipoprotein E secretion from human macrophages – a process thought to be athero-protective. She then pursued an Endowed Cardiovascular Genetics Postdoctoral Fellowship at The University of Ottawa Heart Institute, where she studied the role of miR-33 in macrophage mitochondrial respiration and cholesterol efflux pathways in atherosclerosis and obesity (Circ Res 2015, FWCI:5.55; ATVB 2015, FWCI: 2.98; Nat Immunol 2016, FWCI:7.39). Further, she defined the role of necroptosis, a newly defined cell death pathway involving RIPK1, RIPK3 and MLKL, in atherosclerosis, and how this pathway could be targeted for both therapeutic and diagnostic applications (Sci Adv 2016, FWCI:2.89). As an Associate Scientist, she developed her independent research program focusing on how RIPK1-mediated inflammation drives atherosclerosis and obesity. In recognition of her scientific contributions, she was awarded the ATVB Early Career Investigator Award finalist from the American Heart Foundation, both ASIP Experimental Pathologist-in-Training Award and Young Scientist Leadership Award from American Society for Investigative Pathology and more recently, ASMR Queensland Mid-career Researcher Award Finalist from the Australian Society for Medical Research. She’s also an invited early career member of the ATVB Editorial Board.

She is very passionate about mentoring young scientists, especially Women in STEM. To share her and others’ experiences and advice to succeed in STEM, she has created a twitter platform #positive_mentor (via @denujak), , and she is happy for anyone to reach out to her anytime!

Targeting Obesity with Denuja Karunakaran – BioTechniques

BioTechniques Editor Jenny Straiton caught up with Denuja Karunakaran to discuss her entry to the 2020 Queensland Women in STEM award, her research into the genetics of obesity and the challenges she has faced, and overcome, as a woman in STEM.

Trimming the Fat: Targeting novel genetic factors and molecules that drive obesity

Obesity rates are soaring at alarming rates world-wide, with at least ~66% of Queenslanders being overweight or obese. Rural Queensland is particularly affected, where 83% of people in Mackay and 75% in both Clermont and Richmond are overweight or obese.