2023 ASRM Research Institute Grant Awardees

Dr. Marina Peluffo

2023 ASRM Discovery & Innovation Grant Awardee

Marina Peluffo, PhD (Centro de Investigaciones Endocrinológicas)

Title: “Chemokine signaling within the human cumulus oocyte complex: a critical mediator of fertility”

Dr. Marina C. Peluffo is a reproductive biologist with research focusing on ovarian processes such as folliculogenesis, follicular atresia, as well as corpus luteum formation, and luteolysis. She received her PhD from the Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina) and completed her post-doctorate at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC-OHSU, USA). After receiving her post-doctorate, Dr. Peluffo returned to her home country of Argentina to establish an independent laboratory studying the role of chemokines in C-OE and oocyte maturation at the “Centro de Investigaciones Endocrinológicas Dr. César Bergadá” (CEDIE-CONICET). Dr. Peluffo was also recently promoted to Independent Scientist by the Argentine National Research Council (CONICET).

Dr. Courtney Marsh

2023 ASRM Pilot & Exploratory Grant Awardee
(ASRM Access to Care Grant)

Courtney Marsh, MD, MPH (University of Kansas School of Medicine)

Title: “Attitudes Towards Sperm Donation in Black Cisgender Men”

Dr. Marsh is an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Kansas Health System and Chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. She attended the University of Kansas where she obtained both her undergraduate and medical school degrees. During medical school, she also completed a fellowship in epidemiology at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. She also completed her masters in public health at the University of Kansas in 2006. She then completed her Obstetrics and Gynecology residency at Emory University in 2010. After residency, Dr. Marsh completed a Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility fellowship at the University of Michigan.

In 2013, Dr. Marsh returned to the University of Kansas to join the Advanced Reproductive Medicine team. She has a dual appointment at the Institute for Reproduction and Perinatal Research and is actively involved with many research projects with a commitment to furthering understanding of reproductive biology in diverse populations.

Bluma Lesch, MD, PhD

2023 ASRM Pilot & Exploratory Grant Awardee

Bluma Lesch, MD, PhD (Yale School of Medicine)

Title: “Natural variation in epigenetic poising in sperm of men undergoing assisted reproduction”

Bluma Lesch, MD, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Genetics and of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut. During her PhD studies at Rockefeller University, she identified new factors contributing to transcriptional control of cell fate maintenance. As a postdoc at the Whitehead Institute, she defined the developmental and evolutionary dynamics of the bivalent chromatin state in mammalian male germ cells. Her lab now focuses on understanding the unique regulatory biology of mammalian spermatogenesis and applying it to learn about the interactions between fertility, epigenetic regulation, development, and evolution. She is the recipient of several awards including the Searle Scholar award in 2019 and Pew Biomedical Scholar award in 2021, and was named a “Rising Star” by the Society for the Study of Reproduction in 2023.

Alisha Tolani, MD

2023 ASRM Pilot & Exploratory Grant Awardee
(Supported by an Education Grant provided by EMD Serono)

Alisha Tolani, MD (University of California, San Fransisco)

Title: “Sperm Preparation prior to IntraUterine inSemination”

Dr. Alisha Tolani is a Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility Fellow at the University of California, San Francisco. She attended Stanford University and received the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel and James Lyons service awards for her work on mental health and gender-based violence. She received a J. William Fulbright Fellowship to study women’s health initiatives in Honduras. She returned to Stanford for medical school and residency and served as an Administrative Chief Resident. She has worked as a volunteer doula domestically and internationally as well as a clinical research coordinator for investigator-sponsored and FDA clinical trials in Family Planning. She has also worked at the American Public Health Association, Planned Parenthood, and Mother Teresa’s Orphanage. As a fellow at UCSF, she is leading another randomized controlled trial examining access to semen analysis via clinic versus mail-in at-home testing among patients seeking infertility care at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. She was selected to participate in the UCSF Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program and continues to work on advocacy and policy initiatives in collaboration with the Alliance for Fertility Preservation, RESOLVE, and ASRM. She is committed to advancing fertility care for medically complex patients, reducing health disparities, and working on health systems and technologic innovation to expand access to care.

Audrey Gaskins, ScD

2023 ASRM Pilot & Exploratory Grant Awardee
(Supported by Legacy, Inc)

Audrey Gaskins, ScD (Emory University Rollins School of Public Health)

Title: “Microplastics and Male Fertility”

Audrey Gaskins, Sc.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. She earned her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Epidemiology from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This training was preceded by a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering from Duke University. As a reproductive and environmental epidemiologist, Dr. Gaskins’ research uses creative study designs and methodologies to advance the science in the area of environmental, dietary, and lifestyle influences on human reproduction. Her research, which includes over 150 papers, has been cited more than 3,500 times and resulted in many awards including the NIEHS Extramural Science Paper of the Year, the Best New Researcher Award from the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology, the Rising Star Award from the Society of Pediatric and Perinatal Research, and New Investigator Award from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). She has been the principal investigator of three research grants from the NIEHS including a recently completed K99/R00 award on maternal exposure to air pollution and early pregnancy outcomes, an ongoing R01 focused on air pollution and fertility among couples undergoing donor oocyte ART, and a newly awarded R21 on extreme heat and human reproduction using national ART surveillance data. Dr. Gaskins serves on the executive board of the Nutrition and Environmental Special Interest Groups of ASRM and as Member-at-Large for the Society for Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiologic Research. She is currently a methodological editor for Fertility & Sterility and on the editorial board for the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.

Lisa Vrooman, PhD

2023 ASRM Pilot & Exploratory Grant Awardee
(Supported by The Maya's Wings Foundation)

Lisa Vrooman, PhD (Oregon Health and Science University)

Title: “Placental PREP Function in Spontaneous and Assisted Reproductive Technology Pregnancies”

Dr. Vrooman is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Reproductive and Developmental Sciences at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health and Science University. She completed her PhD in Genetics and Cell Biology with Dr. Patricia Hunt at Washington State University followed by postdoctoral training with Dr. Marisa Bartolomei at the University of Pennsylvania. The Vrooman lab uses mouse and non-human primate models to study the genetic control of placentation and how it can be adversely impacted by ART procedures.

Patricia Hershberger, PhD, MSN

2023 ASRM Pilot & Exploratory Grant Awardee
(Supported by an Educational Grant provided by EMD Serono)

Patricia Hershberger, PhD, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, FAAN (University of Michigan)

Title: "A Developmental Study to Extend the Donor Conception Tool to Empower Parental Telling and Talking for Use During Pregnancy”

Dr. Patricia Hershberger, PhD, APRN, FNP-BC, FAAN is the Rhetaugh G. Dumas Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Biological Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. Building on her clinical practice as a Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner, she leads transdisciplinary research teams to advance knowledge about decision making among individuals and families who interface with medical reproductive technologies to create scalable digital health interventions. Currently, Dr. Hershberger and her team are completing an NIH funded feasibility trial of the Tool to Empower Parental TeLling and TaLking” (TELL Tool) to augment clinical care and improve the health and well-being of donor-conceived families across generations. Dr. Hershberger has received multiple research awards including funding from the NIH (NICHD, NINR); Sigma Theta Tau, International; and the International Society of Nurses in Genetics. She is the recipient of the National Award of Excellence in Research from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses for her contributions to advance women’s decisions around reproductive technologies. Dr. Hershberger’s dedication to the mission of ASRM includes serving as the immediate past chair of the Nurses Professional Group and chair of the Abstract Review Committee for the Mental Health Professional Group in 2017 and 2021.

Winifred Mak, MD, PhD

2023 ASRM Pilot & Exploratory Grant Awardee
(Supported by the Recurrent Pregnancy Loss Association)

Winifred Mak, MD, PhD (UT Health Sciences at San Antonio)

Title: "A study to elucidate the role of abnormal sperm DNA fragmentation in human recurrent pregnancy loss”

Dr. Winifred Mak is an Associate Professor in the division of REI at University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) and REI faculty in the Dept. of Women’s Health at the Dell Medical School, UT Austin.  She completed medical school at the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy’s and St. Thomas Hospitals (London, UK) and completed her Obstetrics and Gynecology residency at Addenbrooke’s Hospital (Cambridge, UK) and St. Mary’s Hospital (London, UK).   After residency, she received her PhD in Genetics from Imperial College (London, UK). She then completed a second residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles) and completed a clinical fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of Pennsylvania.  She was recruited to Yale School of Medicine as one of their Women’s Reproductive Health Research (WRHR) scholars performing basic science research in primordial folliculogenesis.  As an independent investigator, she has established a translational research program to elucidate new causes of recurrent pregnancy loss.  In addition, she has a busy academic REI practice with a focus on taking care of recurrent pregnancy loss couples. In her spare time, she educates patients on research in recurrent pregnancy loss by blogging at miscarriageMD.com (https://www.miscarriagemd.com/news ). She also serves as the REI fellowship director at UTHSCSA where she is actively involved in educating the next generation of REI.

Xavier Santamaria, MD, PhD

2023 Pilot & Exploratory Grant Awardee
(Supported by the KY Cha Award)

Xavier Santamaria, MD, PhD (The Carlos Simon Foundation)

Title: “Effect of CD133 Bone Marrow Derived Stem Cells on the maternal-fetal interface in patients with Asherman Syndrome”

Xavier Santamaria MD, PhD is a Board Ob/Gyn specialist in Reproductive Medicine. He obtained a post-graduate fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Yale University (USA) and completed his PhD at the Universitat Autònoma Barcelona (Spain). Dr. Santamaria was the Director of the International Department at the IVI between 2012 and 2016. In 2016, he joined Dr. Simon’s Research group as a Senior Principal Investigator, where he developed his research related to Asherman’s Syndrome. His main clinical and scientific interest is in understanding the regenerative capacity of the human endometrium and developing strategies to regenerate the endometrium to improve embryo implantation. His group was the first to complete a trial using human bone marrow stem cells to treat Asherman’s syndrome and endometrial atrophy (PMID: 27005892), demonstrating this approach’s feasibility in treating endometrial pathologies. As a result, CD133+ cells have been designed as the first Orphan Drug (ODD) by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the field of gynecological research. Dr. Santamaria has also participated as an inventor in 7 different patent applications and is a co-founder and scientific director of 4 different start-up companies. He has published 27 papers in peer-reviewed journals (H-index of 15) and 12 book chapters. He has been an invited speaker at more than 70 international conferences and was awarded the prize for Best Oral Presentation for Young Investigators at the Society of Gynecological Investigation Meeting in 2009. He has directed one doctoral thesis.