Program Leader Bios
Christine Ritchie, MD, MSPH
Dr. Ritchie is the Kenneth L. Minaker Chair in Geriatrics and Director of Research for the Division of Palliative Care and Geriatric Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is also the director of the Center for Aging and Serious Illness Research at MGH within the Mongan Institute, designed to bring together researchers across MGH and the Boston community to improve the well-being of older adults and enhancing the lived experience of those with advanced illnesses.
Over the course of her career, Dr. Ritchie has built and led palliative care programs and run research programs focused on the intersection of geriatrics and palliative care. She is board certified in geriatrics and palliative care, with long-standing experience in clinical care delivery and advanced illness research. Dr. Ritchie is co-chair of the NINR-funded Palliative Care Research Cooperative (PCRC) and directs the Investigator Development Center which conducts PCRC’s annual Clinical Trials Intensive. She is past president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. She serves as a member of the National Quality Forum (NQF) Standing Committee for Palliative and End of Life Care, and the Exclusions Committee of the National Center for Quality Assurance. She co-directs the national Home-based Primary Care and Palliative Care Consortium. Dr. Ritchie has longstanding funding from NIH and foundations and is the author/co-author of over 250 publications. She is the recipient of a number of awards, including the Palliative Medicine National Leadership Award and the Coalition for Compassionate Care’s Compassionate Care Innovator Award.
Jean Kutner, MD, MSPH
Dr. Kutner is a tenured Professor of Medicine in the Divisions of General Internal Medicine (GIM) and Geriatric Medicine, at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (UC SOM). Dr. Kutner received her MD from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in 1991 and completed residency training in internal medicine at UCSF in 1994. Subsequently, she completed a NRSA primary care research fellowship, earning an MSPH degree with honors, and a fellowship in geriatric medicine at UC SOM (1994-1997). She is Board Certified in internal medicine, geriatric medicine, and hospice and palliative medicine and cares for patients on the palliative care service and in general internal medicine clinic. Her research focuses on improving symptoms and quality of life for hospice and palliative care patients and their family caregivers. Dr. Kutner is Co-Chair of the NIH-funded PCRC. She was a member of the NIH Nursing and Related Clinical Sciences (NRCS) Study Section and of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Transforming End of Life Care Committee, and is a Past-President of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) and of the Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM). She is a member of the Cambia Sojourns Scholars Program Advisory Board. Dr. Kutner served as the Head of the Division of General Internal Medicine from 2002-2014. In 2014, Dr. Kutner became the inaugural Chief Medical Officer of University of Colorado Hospital and Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs.
Kathryn Pollack, PhD
Dr. Pollak is a social psychologist and Professor in Population Health Sciences. She also is the Associate Director of Population Sciences in the Duke Cancer Institute. She co-leads the Palliative Care Research Cooperative Group. She has been developing behavioral interventions for 20 years, mostly to promote smoking cessation, predominantly among pregnant women. She has studied clinician-patient communication for the almost 20 years in oncologists, palliative care, and primary care. She also has served as a Communication Coach for the past 7 years. She has directly coached over 100 clinicians and currently is training three communication coaches.
Ana-Maria Vranceanu, PhD
Director of Evaluation
Ana-Maria Vranceanu, PhD is a clinical health psychologist, director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Interdisciplinary Research (CHOIR) within the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, James and Elizabeth Gamble Endowed Chair Co-Director for MassGeneral Neurosciences, and Associate Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. Her research is focused on the development, testing and implementation of behavioral health interventions for patients, caregivers, and patient-caregiver dyads to prevent illness, optimize recovery after illness and promote living well with persistent or serious illness. Dr. Vranceanu’s current active federally funded trials focus on acute and chronic pain management, prevention of chronic emotional distress among patient-caregiver dyads after acute brain injury, addressing the chronic pain-early cognitive decline comorbidity to prevent dementia, and development of a physical activity intervention for older Black adults in the Boston area churches. Dr. Vranceanu is passionate about mentoring and runs a K club that is supported by a K24 mid-career investigator mentoring grant.
Stephen Bartels, MD, MS
Stephen Bartels MD, MS is the inaugural James J. and Jean H. Mongan Chair in Health Policy and Community Health, Director of the Mongan Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The Mongan Institute serves as the academic home for 13 centers and over 140 research faculty and research fellows at MGH dedicated to training and research in population and health care delivery team science aimed at achieving health equity and improving the lives of people with complex health needs. The Mongan Institute bridges research spanning data science to delivery science, and evaluative science to implementation science including a variety of disciplines and methods such as epidemiology, predictive analytics, cost-effectiveness, health policy, decision science, health disparities, health intervention and implementation research. Although the Mongan Institute is based in the Department of Medicine, it includes health services researchers in affiliate departments across MGH including the Department of Psychiatry, Surgery, Pediatrics, and others. (See https://www.monganinstitute.org/ )
Dr. Bartels has authored over 360 publications mentored over 50 early career investigators and over the past two decades he has led a highly productive research group developing, testing, and implementing interventions focused on complex health conditions and health disparities, co-occurring physical and mental disorders, health care management, health coaching, health promotion interventions for obesity and smoking, aging and geriatrics, automated telehealth and mobile technology, population health science, applied health care delivery science, and implementation science.
Abraham Brody, PhD, RN, FAAN Program Faculty
Abraham Brody, PhD, RN, FAAN is associate director of the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing and Professor of Nursing and Medicine at NYU Meyers College of Nursing. He is also the founder of Aliviado Health and the Pilot Core Lead of the NIA IMPACT Collaboratory. His work focuses on the intersection of geriatrics, palliative care, quality, and equity. The primary goal of his research, clinical, and policy pursuits is to improve the quality of care for older adults with serious illness wherever they reside. His primary mode for doing so is through the development, testing, and dissemination of real-word, technology, and informatics supported quality improvement interventions. He is currently the principal investigator of two NIH-funded large-scale pragmatic clinical trials to improve the quality of care and quality of life for persons living with dementia and their caregivers in the community and a co-investigator on several other pragmatic trials and health services research projects in geriatrics and palliative care.
From a leadership perspective, Brody works across disciplines to help advance geriatrics and palliative care nationally. As pilot core lead of the $53.4 million nationwide Collaboratory, he is responsible for heading the pilot program, which, in collaboration with the National Institute on Aging, reviews and awards funds to help investigators prepare for large-scale pragmatic clinical trials for persons living with dementia and their caregivers. He also serves on the Steering Committee of the NINR Funded Palliative Care Research Cooperative, the policy-setting body for the organization.
In addition to his research and national leadership responsibilities, Brody is passionate about mentoring and developing a diverse nursing and scientific workforce. To this end, he developed and the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association Leadership Development Program and is the technology core director of NYU Meyer’s P20 Exploratory Center for Precision Health in Diverse Populations, and serves on the Executive Committee of the Training, Research, and Education Core of the NYU-HHC Clinical Translational Sciences Institute. He mentors faculty, post- doctoral scholars, and PhD students across multiple disciplines and institutions. Brody also maintains an active practice in the Geriatric and Palliative Consult Services at NYU Langone Health.
Katie Colborn, PhD
Dr. Colborn is an Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery and is Research Director of the Surgical Outcomes and Applied Research (SOAR) Program in the Department of Surgery at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She also holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Biostatistics and Informatics. For the past 6 years, she has co-directed the Data Informatics and Statistics Core of the Palliative Care Research Cooperative Group. Her research focuses on development and validation of statistical methodologies for clinical prediction models, reducing infections, and health services research. These lines of inquiry typically involve the use of electronic health records data, machine learning, and high dimensional model selection. She is also involved in research in improving statistical methodologies for design and analysis of cluster randomized trials.
Fayron Epps, PhD, RN
Fayron Epps, PhD, RN, is a nurse with over 20 years of experience and is currently serving as an assistant professor at Emory University, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. She is a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, Southern Gerontological Society, and Gerontological Society of America. Dr. Epps serves as the principal investigator for the Faith Village Research Lab and is the founder of the Alter Program, a nurse-led dementia-friendly congregation program. She is an active member with numerous professional organizations. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Southern Gerontological Society, and Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter. She also serves on the Leadership Core of the Public Health Center of Excellence in Dementia Caregiving at the University of Minnesota. Her career goal as a nurse scholar is to promote quality of life for families affected by dementia through research, education and service. Her program of research involves evidence-based practices for promoting quality of life for African Americans with dementia and their family caregivers/care partners. She is particularly interested in exploring the way religious activities and spiritual connectedness can promote meaningful engagement among persons with dementia across the country. Additionally, Dr. Epps also works to place culturally-tailored evidenced-based programs and interventions in the hands of those individuals who need it the most.
Tamryn F. Gray, PhD, RN, MPH
Tamryn Gray is a health services researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She employs mixed methods, big data, and implementation science to investigate the complex medical, decisional, psychosocial, and socio-epidemiological factors influencing care delivery and health outcomes for patients with serious illness and their caregivers. She is particularly interested in developing solutions that spur health system and policy changes to leverage patient-family centered care, palliative care, and care transitions as innovation points to improve health outcomes, health equity, quality, and costs. Dr. Gray is a 2020 Cambia Health Foundation Sojourns Scholar and conducting a study related to older adults and their family caregivers. Additionally, she holds a clinical-administrative role in the DFCI Division of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapies. Dr. Gray earned her BSN and MSN from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an MPH in Epidemiology from Harvard, and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University where she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar.
Laura C. Hanson, MD, MPH
Laura Hanson is a professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, where she also serves as the Director of the Palliative Care Program. Board-certified in Internal Medicine, Geriatric Medicine and Hospice & Palliative Medicine, she provides clinical care for frail and seriously ill patients in diverse settings. Dr. Hanson leads a program of funded research to improve the quality of care and outcomes for people with dementia, and for other older adults living with serious illness. She has been principal investigator or co-investigator for efficacy, effectiveness and pragmatic clinical trials in dementia palliative care. Dr. Hanson leads the Patient and Caregiver Reported Outcomes Core for the NIA IMbedded Pragmatic Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and AD-Related Dementias (AD/ADRD) Clinical Trials (IMPACT) Collaboratory. She is a founding member of the Palliative Care Research Cooperative group (PCRC), and current co-leads its Measures Core with Dr. Antonia Bennett.
Jonathon Jackson, PhD
Jonathan Jackson, PhD, is the executive director of the Community Access, Recruitment, and Engagement (CARE) Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. CARE investigates the impact of diversity and inclusion on the quality of human subjects research and leverages deep community entrenchment to build trust and overcome barriers to clinical trial participation. Jonathan’s research focuses on inequities in clinical settings that affect underserved populations, and he has received generous funding for this work from the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the National Institutes of Health, including a prestigious NIH Pioneer Award to advance this work. Dr. Jackson, who received his doctoral degree in Psychological and Brain Sciences in 2014, also conducts research as a cognitive neuroscientist investigating the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in the absence of overt memory problems. He has become a well-known representative to underserved communities and dozens of affiliated organizations, especially regarding participation in clinical research. Dr. Jackson serves in an advisory capacity for several organizations focused on equity in clinical research, and has written guidance for local, statewide, national, and federal organizations on research access, engagement, and recruitment
Elizabeth Juarez-Colunga, PhD
Dr. Juarez-Colunga is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Informatics at the Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She is the Associate Director of Informatics at the Veterans Affairs Eastern Colorado Health Care. Her time is divided between methodological and collaborative research. Her methodological areas of interest include survival analysis, recurrent events, longitudinal data, and joint models. Her collaborative work has been focused on geriatrics, palliative care, seizures and health services research in general.
Frank Keefe, PhD
Dr. Keefe is a Professor in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience and Professor of Medicine, Rheumatology and Immunology at Duke University Medical Center. His research portfolio currently includes studies on Coping Skills for Colorectal Cancer Survivors with Pain and Distress, and Caregiver-Guided Pain Management Training in Palliative Care. Dr. Keefe has a longstanding interest in mentoring students and early career professionals and serves as Director of the PCRC Clinical Trials Intensives. He has played a key role in the PCRC Intensives to date and with Dr. Ritchie, actively works on ways to improve each Intensive based on evaluations from previous Intensives.
Benzi Kluger, MD, MS, FAAN
Benzi Kluger, MD, MS, FAAN is a Professor of Neurology and Medicine and Director of the Palliative Care Research Center and Neuropalliative Care Division at the University of Rochester. His research focuses on palliative care for neurodegenerative illnesses, particularly Parkinson’s disease and has spanned comparative effectiveness trials, pragmatic community-based interventions, telehealth, complementary medicine, needs assessment, and mechanistic studies of nonmotor symptoms (fatigue and cognitive dysfunction). His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, the Michael J Fox Foundation, and the Department of Defense.
Hillary Lum, MD, PhD
Hillary Lum is geriatrician and palliative medicine physician. She completed her MD and PhD at the University of Wisconsin, followed by Internal Medicine residency at UPMC and geriatric and palliative medicine fellowships at the University of Colorado. She provides primary care for older adults and their families of choice, seeking to improve care and well-being for older adults with serious illnesses. Her research focuses on designing real-world interventions in partnership with older adults and care partners. Her work includes interventions to improve advance care planning, use of the patient portal, and care for persons living with dementia and their family care partners. She is PI or site-PI related to multiple clinical trials focusing on improving care for persons living with dementia. She mentors trainees as a Co-Director for the T32 Palliative Care in Aging fellowship.
Maren Olsen, PhD
Maren Olsen is a Professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics at Duke University Medical Center, Director of Biostatistics Collaborations for the Department of Medicine, and Director of the Methods Sub-core for Duke Center for REACH Equity. Her areas of statistical expertise include methods for complex longitudinal data, methods for incomplete data, pragmatic clinical trials, health-services research, and health-disparities research. Dr. Olsen has been the lead statistician on several palliative care randomized trials, focusing on both provider- and patient-level interventions to improve communication and decision making.
Yakeel Quiroz, PhD
Dr. Quiroz is Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, MA. She is the Director of the MGH Familial Dementia Neuroimaging Lab and the Multicultural Alzheimer’s Prevention Program-MAPP. She earned her master’s degree in cognitive neuroscience and PhD in clinical psychology from Boston University. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in neuropsychology and brain imaging of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) at MGH. Her research interests include brain imaging, genomics, early detection and preclinical biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
She is the principal investigator of two NIH NIA R01 grants: 1) The Colombia-Boston (COLBOS) biomarker study of autosomal-dominant Alzheimer’s disease, which follows individuals from the world’s largest extended family with a single, AD-causing mutation (E280A in Presenilin-1); and 2) The Boston Latino Aging Study (BLAST), which seeks to characterize AD-related biomarkers and dementia risk and protective factors in older Latinos living in the US. She is also the PI of an Alzheimer’s Association Research Grant that seeks to identify genetic modifiers of cognitive resilience and Alzheimer’s resistance in individuals with ADAD (2022-2025). She is Co-Investigator of the Harvard Aging Brain Study (HABS, PI: Sperling), a longitudinal biomarker study of cognitively unimpaired older individuals at risk for sporadic AD, and Co-Investigator of the Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials Consortium (ACTC, PIs: Aisen, Sperling, Petersen).
Dr. Quiroz’s work has already provided evidence of brain abnormalities in cognitively-intact individuals at genetic risk for AD, decades before their clinical onset. Her findings have helped the field to re-conceptualize Alzheimer as a sequence of changes that begins decades before cognitive decline, and which may be targeted by promising disease-slowing treatments at a time in which they might have their most profound effect. Her research work has resulted in several publications that have generated considerable discussion in the field and has achieved recognition by colleagues at the national and international level. Dr. Quiroz’s work has been recognized with several awards, including an NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, the FABBS Foundation Early Career Impact Award, the MGH Research Scholar Award (2020-2025) and the Alzheimer’s Association Inge Grundke-Iqbal Award for Alzheimer’s Research.
Dr. Quiroz also serves as Director of the MGH Multicultural Assessment and Research Center (MARC), and the MGH postdoctoral and predoctoral training programs in Multicultural Neuropsychology. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, traveling to new places, and listening to music.
Greg Sasma, PhD
Greg Samsa is a Professor of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics at Duke University. A collaborative biostatistician experienced in the design and analysis of clinical trials, his current research interests include systematic approaches for training biostatisticians to be effective members of interdisciplinary teams. His time is divided between administration and collaborative statistics, the latter with an emphasis on palliative care and oncology. His portfolio of projects includes, but isn’t limited to, randomized trials. Dr. Samsa previously directed the PCRC Data, Informatics, and Statistics Core (DISC), which provides support to investigators, sites, and studies in the statistical and data-related aspects of trial design, quality assurance, data analysis and reporting.
Alexia M. Torke, MD, MS
Dr. Torke is a Professor of Medicine and Section Chief of Palliative Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. She is Director of the Evans Center at Indiana University Health, which conducts research and education on the role of religion and spirituality in medicine. She is also a Research Scientist with the Indiana University Center for Aging Research at the Regenstrief Institute. Dr. Torke received her undergraduate degree from Carleton College and her M.D. from Indiana University. She completed residency in Primary Care-Internal Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, GA and fellowship training at the University of Chicago from 2005-2007 in Primary Care Health Services Research and Ethics. Dr. Torke’s research focuses on spiritual, religious, ethical, and communication aspects of medical decision making for older adults. Her current research focuses on surrogate decision making for older adults with dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment. She has received funding from the NIH, the Greenwall Foundation and other foundation sources. She practices outpatient palliative care at IU Health Methodist Hospital.