Core Scientists

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Virginia Neelon, RN, PhD
Phone: 919-966-1410

Virginia Neelon, RN, PhD is an Associate Professor and Director of the Biobehavioral Laboratory of the School of Nursing. She received a baccalaureate degree from Duke University School of Nursing, and a master’s degree in nursing from the University of California at San Francisco. Her PhD in physiology and pharmacology from Duke University focused on membrane transport and the effects of aging on gastrointestinal transport. Her research and clinical interests apply physiological and behavioral approaches to understanding acute and chronic illness in older adults. She was a principal investigator in a NIH-NINR funded study of nursing interventions to prevent acute confusion (delirium) in hospitalized elders as part of this research developed a tool to measure acute confusion (the NEECHAM Confusion Scale). She is currently studying hypoxia, sleep and cognitive decline in older adults. As director of Biobehavioral Laboratory and consultant to the Center for Research on Chronic Illness, she provides expertise and training in ways to measure biobehavioral responses to stress and illness, in measurements using minimally invasive instrumentation, and in the assessment of cognitive impairment in older persons.

Barbara Waag Carlson, RN, PhD
Phone: 919-966-9416
Barbara Waag Carlson, RN, PhD is an Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Biobehavioral Laboratory at the School of Nursing. She has a doctorate in Nursing and a minor in Experimental Psychology from UNC. Her research focuses on biobehavioral risk factors for cognitive decline in older adults. In addition to presenting her work at the “Biomarkers and Surrogate Endpoints Conference” cosponsored by the NIH-FDA, she has received the 1999 Clinical Medicine Award from the Gerontological Society of America and the 2004 Gordon H. DeFriese Junior Faculty Research Development in Aging Research Award from the UNC Institute on Aging. Her current project examines the relationship between respiratory periodicity and cerebral oxygenation and cognitive decline in older adults. She is an expert in computer-based data acquisition and physiological waveform conditioning. She has extensive experience in developing minimally intrusive instrumentation, standard polysomnographic techniques, respiratory monitoring, neurocognitive assessment, and actigraphy.
Diane Berry, RN, CANP, PhD
Phone: 919-843-8591
Diane Berry, RN, CANP, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the School of Nursing. Her research interests are both behavioral and physiological and include working with African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian children and their parents to manage their weight and prevent type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Other areas of research interest include studying the relationship of perceived stress to salivary cortisol levels, adiposity, cardiovascular disease, and coping in African American women and studying the regulation of appetite by the Central Nervous System She is a co-investigator on two federally funded grants: Studies to Prevent or Treat Type 2 Diabetes (STOPP-T2D) and Primary Care and Communities Tackling Obesity in Kids. She is a Faculty Fellow for the Interdisciplinary Obesity Center at UNC Chapel Hill. She has experience in body composition techniques and glucose, insulin, and blood lipids in adults and children.
Joanne Harrell, RN, PhD, FAAN
Phone: 919-966-4284
Joanne Harrell, RN, PhD, FAAN is the founding director of the Center for Research on Chronic Illness in Vulnerable People. She is the principal investigator of the large and longterm research projects “Physical Activity in Youth- Preventing type 2 Diabetes: Studies to Treat or Prevent Pediatric Type 2 Diabetes (STOPP-T2D)” (to reduce diabetes and insulin resistance in middle school children) and “Energy Expenditures of Physical Activities in Youth (EEPAY)” (to measure the energy expended in activities commonly performed by children and adolescents). She also conducts federally funded Cardiovascular Health in Children and Youth (CHIC) Studies, which is an investigation of the childhood development of several risk factors of cardiovsacular disease and type 2 diabetes and the aggregation of those factors over time. She has experience in using physiological measures, such as blood lipids, aerobic power, oxygen consumption, and the accelerometer with African American and Caucasian children.
Suzanne Thoyre, RN, PhD
Phone: 919-966-8418
Suzanne Thoyre, RN, PhD is an Associate Professor of the School of Nursing. Her nursing research and clinical interests are in the area of development, taking both a physiological and behavioral approach to understanding the feeding problems of preterm infants. She has experience in the use of physiological measures (data collection and analysis), which include pulse oximetry, EKG recording, plethysmography, capnography, sucking, and swallowing. In addition she has experience in the collection and analysis of observational data, which include behavioral coding using computer programs such as Observer. She is currently conducting a pilot study of an intervention to minimize hypoxemia during preterm infant bottle-feeding. Her area of consultation is in the area of observational methods and integration of physiologic and behavioral measures.
Pamela Johnson Rowsey, RN, PhD
Phone: 919-966-9053
Pamela Johnson Rowsey, RN, PhD is an Associate Professor who is doctorally prepared in exercise physiology. Her research interests are the relationship between exercise and the immune system. Specifically, she plans to study how long-term exercise (conditioning) affects nonspecific immune responses to infection and toxins. She is the Principal Investigator on an NINR funded study of the beneficial effects of exercise in an animal model when exposed to neurotoxins and bacterial endotoxins.
Susan Brunssen, RN, PhD
Phone: 919-966-2433
Susan Brunssen, RN, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the school of nursing. She received her doctorate in Nursing from UNC while completing a research fellowship at the National Institute of Environmental Sciences at NIH. Her research interests relate to the interaction of immune responses during development with neurocognitive outcomes of prematurely born infants. She has developed a mouse model for exposure of the perinatal brain to an inflammatory mediator. Dr. Brunssen has experience with behavioral testing of early post-natal through adult mice using measures of physical, reflex, sensorimotor, emotional, and cognitive functions, including coding of behavioral observations. Dr. Brunssen’s current work integrates molecular and structural methods (microarray and protein expression) with behavioral outcomes to examine mechanisms altering neurocognitive development.
Robert McMurray, PhD
Phone: 919-962-1371
Robert McMurray, PhD is a Professor of Physical Education, Exercise & Sports Science, Professor of Nutrition, Professor of Physical Therapy, and Coordinator of the Master’s Program in Exercise Physiology. He completed his PhD at Indiana University, and had post-doctoral experiences at the Institute of Environmental Stress, Santa Barbara, California, and St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, Great Britain. Dr. McMurray has studied exercise during pregnancy and his work was used in revising the Guideline for Exercise during Pregnancy published by American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is presently part of a research team that has been funded for fourteen years by the National Institute for Nursing Research and NHLBI/ NIH to develop programs to reduce cardiovascular disease risk in youth. He also serves as investigator on a seven-year, multi-site trial funded by NHHLI to increase activity levels in adolescent girls (TAAG) and a six-year study funded by NIDDK to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes in middle-school aged youth. As a BBL scientist he provides expertise in exercise measurement and the effects of exercise interventions in individuals with obesity and at risk for cardiovascular disease.
Henry Hsiao, PhD
Phone: 919-966-2188
Henry Hsiao, PhD is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He has done research and published extensively in biomedical theory and applications of biomedical instrumentation and monitoring. Dr. Hsiao has provided ongoing consultation to the BBL and Center investigators regarding measurements such as bioimpedance and pressure methods.
Brant Nix, BS, BMET
Phone: 919-966-7598
Brant Nix, BS, BMET is Manager of the Biobehavioral Laboratory and consultant to CRCI. Prior to coming to the SON, he was manager of a Medicinal Chemistry Laboratory in the School of Pharmacy at Chapel Hill. He has 12 years of experience with bench research and his technical background includes pharmacology, DNA testing, histocompatability and biomedical instrumentation.