Irina Buhimschi, researcher and mentor, takes on new leadership role
Dr. Irina Buhimschi, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, was recently named associate vice chancellor for research at UIC, directing the Office of Clinical and Human Subjects Research Compliance. The role oversees clinical trials and other research involving human subjects — a familiar area for Buhimschi, who studies the biological causes of pregnancy complications.
In the full Q&A on the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research’s website, Buhimschi talks about how global collaborations and her mentorship of early career faculty across campus led to her new role. Read an excerpt below.
OVCR: Tell us about your research interests.
Irina Buhimschi: My lab studies biomarkers and novel treatments for pregnancy disorders. We work in discovering new biomarkers, understanding why they’re there, and then implementing them in current clinical care by designing and testing better therapeutics.
Our research starts with biological samples that we collect from patients which inform us on how to further subdivide pregnancy disorders. Today, cancer is not just one disease, but before we didn’t think like that. Now we treat cancer with different drugs, depending on what subtype it is. But that doesn’t exist in our area. If you have preeclampsia or preterm labor, there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. So my research is trying to subdivide these conditions into entities with more homogenous causation so we can then think about treatments.
OVCR: One of your most notable research outputs is the Congo Red Dot Test, which can diagnose preeclampsia from a urine sample using red dye. How did you develop this test?
Buhimschi: When I was at Yale, I made a very basic science discovery by connecting different specialties. It is kind of my hobby to read things that apparently have no use in my career, and that has been both good and bad. I read a lot of research not only in my area, but in many different specialties. So, one of the fascinating things I found was that I made the connection between preeclampsia, a disease of pregnancy, and Alzheimer’s and other diseases related to protein misfolding.
I thought that we could use this dye, called Congo red, that binds to misfolded proteins to detect preeclampsia, and maybe understand more about the disease. So, I designed a simple test that mixes the urine of patients with preeclampsia with the dye, and that has led to three patents that have been licensed to companies that develop them for commercialization.