Departmental News

A Champion for Women’s Health, Diversity & Science

January 27, 2021 by Jennifer Nachbur

​For Professor Elizabeth Bonney, M.D., M.P.H., juggling the roles of scientist, clinician, mentor, and advocate has been the norm for decades. So, it’s no surprise that in a year turned upside-down by the COVID-19 pandemic, the delayed reckoning with racial injustice in America, and political turmoil, she has forged ahead with her science, delivered care on the front lines, and used this pivotal moment in history to raise issues of critical importance not only to science, but society.

Elizabeth Bonney, M.D., M.P.H.

For Professor Elizabeth Bonney, M.D., M.P.H., juggling the roles of scientist, clinician, mentor, and advocate has been the norm for decades. So, it’s no surprise that in a year turned upside-down by the COVID-19 pandemic, the delayed reckoning with racial injustice in America, and political turmoil, she has forged ahead with her science, delivered care on the front lines, and used this pivotal moment in history to raise issues of critical importance not only to science, but society.

The director of reproductive science research in the University of Vermont Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Bonney specializes in the changes that occur in the immune system during pregnancy and related impacts on both mothers and babies, including preterm birth, which occurs at much higher rates in Black and Indigenous women. With strong support from the National Institutes of Health over the past 10 years, her research has examined and elucidated the mechanisms that contribute to maternal immune cell development, and the interactions between the maternal immune system and vascular system.

Trained as a chemical engineer, Bonney says she follows a scientific approach that entails examination of how complex systems return “back to baseline” to understand how they work; for example, studying the immune and vascular systems postpartum to learn clues about the changes that take place during pregnancy in response to such influences as stress and diet.

“These studies are important not only for the understanding of basic processes, but also for their potential to provide understanding of the epidemiological finding that abnormal pregnancy portends increased cardiovascular disease risk in women,” Bonney says. An example of this is detailed in a recently published paper in Reproductive Sciences that features the work of Bonney’s lab and her collaborator, Natalia Gokina, Ph.D., research associate professor emerita.

In a 2020 paper she published in Placenta – an interview with her preterm birth research collaborator, Ramkumar Menon, Ph.D., of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, about the concept of a pre-pregnancy phenotype – Bonney essentially summarizes her research philosophy: “My position has always been that breakthroughs in this area will come from an inclusive, integrative, and interdisciplinary approach that hears the voices of multiple stakeholders, encompasses ‘outside the box’ thinking and utilizes novel methodologies.”

Bonney brings that philosophy to national leadership roles, which include service as acting chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Division of Intramural Research, as president, Council member and Reproductive Investigation Task Force member for the Society for Reproductive Investigation, and as Secretary General of the Preterm Birth International Collaborative.

In 2020, Bonney was named a member of the 2020-2021 class of fellows participating in the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM) Program at Drexel University College of Medicine. ELAM is the nation’s only in-depth program focused on preparing senior women faculty at schools of medicine, dentistry and public health for institutional leadership positions, where they can effect positive change.

Effecting change is something Bonney has been committed to for her entire career, particularly regarding diversity in science and medicine.

“Throughout her career, Liz has been actively involved in the support of underrepresented groups in science,” says Ira Bernstein, M.D., chair of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences. “Teaching and mentorship are equally important elements of her mission,” he adds.

Her service has included participating on the minority affairs committee for the American Association of Immunologists, more than five years on the Society for Reproductive Investigation’s Career Development and Diversity committee, more than four years on the Dean’s Advisory Committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and service as the inaugural faculty advisor for the Minority Association for Premedical Students.

"Liz has focused on mentoring women and people of color in the academic community for her entire career," says Anne Dougherty, M.D., M.S., associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, Gender Equity Liaison in the College's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and a former mentee of Bonney's. "As an active member of the Gender Equity Steering Committee, she's spearheading an effort to develop a data collection tool to assess gender equity across the Larner community."

Bonney notes that “I have recently become interested in the social and cultural factors that not only influence disease susceptibility, but also influence how scientists think. How for example, did we come to the underlying notion that pregnancy is a conflict between mother and baby- and not a collaboration?” she asks, adding, “How is it that we come to focus on race as a marker of genetic susceptibility and not of environmental exposure? How much of this is experiment and how much of this is structural racism?”

She admires the work of investigators like Northwestern’s James Collins, Jr., and colleagues, who recently published a Letter to the Editor in Nature on “States with more killings of unarmed Black people have larger Black–White preterm birth disparities” and hopes to eventually use animal models to link chronic stress, the immune system, and poor reproductive outcomes.

This month, Bonney published a Letter to the Editor of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology on “Diversity is essential for good science and reproductive science is no different,” in which she and colleagues highlight a stark fact revealed during the pandemic.

“The coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has revealed an inconvenient truth we have recognized in women’s health for decades: not all women have benefited equally from these advancements,” she and her coauthors write. “Over the last 30 years, our progress in the critical arenas of maternal mortality and birth outcomes has been largely incremental. If we are going to continue to advance science and medicine, we must recognize and acknowledge the profound toll that societal and structural racism has had on not just the output of science and medicine but on those who are the future of science and medicine.”

Bonney remains committed to the role that science plays in ultimately making healthcare better.  

“I dream of one day being able to bring social and basic scientists together to define integrated mechanisms that underlie complex disease in marginalized peoples,” she says. “To do this will require holistic thinking on a grand scale and buy in from several corners of society. Just as equity in healthcare is a value to be upheld, so too is the value of supporting and nurturing a broad range of investigators to enable them to ask questions, get access to resources, and answer questions that are important to them and their communities.”

Announcements

CONGRATULATIONS to the following faculty who received promotions (July 2021):
Nathalie Feldman, MD
to Associate Professor and Navid Esfandiari, PhD to Professor

Navid Esfandiari, PhD, Professor, REI Division, received the "Star Award" from the 77th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) - October 2021

Congratulations to Justin DeAngelis, MD who was appointed interim assistant dean for students in the Office of Medical Student Education at the Larner College of Medicine, effective March 1. Read more here

A champion for women's health, diversity and science, Elizabeth Bonney, MD recognized in News Spotlight from UVM Larner College of Medicine.  Read the article here.

Navid Esfandiari, PhD, received the “Star Award” from the 76th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) – October 2020

Misty Blanchette Porter, MD, Associate Professor, REI Division, was invited to present at AIUM education webinar - teaching on ORADS and IOTA on the evaluation of adnexal masses – Sept 2020

Justin DeAngelis, MD, Assistant Professor, Ob/Gyn, was selected as Class Mentor to the residency by the class of 2021 and was recently awarded the 2019 APGO Excellence in Teaching Award.

SO PROUD! Congratulations to Katherine Menezes, MD (PGY-3) who was awarded the Clinical Resident of the Year Award by the LCOM graduating Class of 2021!!!!  These are the awards that are given out on Honors Night to and from the graduating class.  Check out the video here.

Marjorie Meyer, MD, Division Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine, was recognized for her work in the treatment of women with opioid dependence during pregnancy in Governor Phil Scott's State of the State address on Jan 9.  Read announcement here

Theresa Ko, PhD (Croucher Fellowship 2006), Assistant Professor in the Division of Reproductive Sciences, was recently interviewed with the Croucher Foundation in December 2019 about her molecular biology quest to reduce maternal deaths.   Read the article here

Elizabeth Bonney, MD, MPH, Professor and Head of the Division of Reproductive Sciences was selected to present the lecture entitled "A Theory of Maternal Immunity" at the 25th Annual Dr. Raymond O. Berry Memorial Lecture on October 18, 2019. Read the announcement here.

Congratulations to Marti Churchill, CNM who received the award for "Excellence in Advanced Nursing" at the Nursing Awards Ceremony  on May 6, 2019.

Congratulations to Tendai Chiware, MD who won the 2019 Beth Fitzpatrick M.D. Citizen of the World Award, awarded by the Global Health Program at UVM LCOM and the Western Connecticut Health Network. 

We are pleased to share news of the appointment of Anne Dougherty, M.D., as Gender Equity Liaison in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) at The UVM Larner College of Medicine.    Read the announcement here.

Cheung Wong, MD was invested in a formal ceremony on June 8, 2018 as the inaugural Berta Pi-Sunyer Williams Endowed Professor.   Read all about it.

The cover photo on the March 2018 issue of the American Journal of Ob/Gyn is from Dr. Kelley McLean's article Mechanical heart valves in pregnancy:  the necessity of appropriate and careful anticoagulation.

Congratulations to Cheung Wong, MD for his recent appointment as the VP for Clinical Affairs for the University of Vermont Health Network.

Congratulations to Elizabeth Bonney, MD and Natalia Gokina, PhD who have won the NIH RO1 funding for "Systemic Vasculature Remodeling Females:  Effects of the Immune System and Experience of Pregnancy".  The application was scored at the 1st percentile!

Our match results are in!  Announcing our newest residents 2018-2022:  Hayley Pierce (Saint Louis University); Allison Walker (Oregon Health & Science University) and Rebecca Zuckerman (University of Chicago).  We look forward to seeing them soon!

We are excited to welcome our new fellows on July 2, 2018 for their 3 year fellowship:  Maximilian Klein, MD (Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility fellow) and Ankita Kulkarni, MBBS (Maternal Fetal Medicine fellow)

Nathalie Feldman, M.D., Educator Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, was recently awarded (along with her colleague, Judy Lewis, MD in the Dept. of Psychiatry) the UVM Larner College of Medicine Teaching Academy's "Educational Scholarship Award" for her work on the learning environment.  

Jenna Flanagan, MD (PGY-3) will be presenting a poster "A Needs Assessment for Somali Women:  Optimizing this Populations' Peripartum Care in a Tertiary Care Center in Vermont" at the North American Refugee Health Conference, June 16-18, 2017 in Toronto, Canada.

Erin Morris, MD, received the 2017 APGO Excellence in Teaching Award.  Dr. Morris is an active clinical member of the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine.  She currently serves as our Associate Ob/Gyn Clerkship Director and the Faculty mentor for the Ob/Gyn Student Interest Group. 

May 15, 2017 - Elise Everett, MD was presented the Clinical Teacher of the Year Award from the Class of 2017 during Honors Night.

CONGRATULATIONS to our new interns starting June 2017: Johanna Kelley, Katherine Menezes & Rebecca Parad.