School of Nursing (Division of Holistic Adult Health), Dell Medical School (Department of Neurology), University of Texas at Austin
“Why do patients with similar brain injuries have markedly different outcomes?” wondered Nicole Osier, PhD, RN in 2010, while doing a clinical nursing rotation on a Neurological Step-Down unit. The quest to find the answer led her on an exciting journey that included a PhD in Nursing with an emphasis in genomics, a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health with a focus on biomarker quantification, and—most recently—joint appointments as an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Nursing and Dell Medical School. In addition, Dr. Osier also serves as the Director of the Biobehavioral Core for St. David’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research in Underserved Populations (CHPR). Dr. Osier was honored to receive a Rising STARS award through the UT System’s Faculty Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARs) Program to establish her laboratory in the Health Discovery Building.
Dr. Osier completed her doctoral studies in the laboratory of C. Edward Dixon at the University of Pittsburgh’s Safar Center for Resuscitation Research. Her dissertation project quantified melatonin (MEL)-specific receptors (MT1 and MT2) in rats after traumatic brain injury (TBI), compared to controls given sham surgery. She demonstrated reduced MEL-receptor density in the hippocampus and frontal cortex after TBI. This may explain, in part, the conflicting evidence surrounding the benefits (or lack thereof) of MEL therapy in preclinical TBI studies. For example, many reports suggest MEL therapy reduces oxidative stress (via receptor-independent mechanisms), but evidence is more conflicted when it comes to the effect of MEL on apoptosis (via receptor-dependent mechanisms). Variation in the genes encoding MEL receptors exists and may contribute to outcome variability or response to therapy after TBI. Dr. Osier is interested in exploring MEL variation in clinical TBI and how it relates to outcomes including those related to sleep quantity and quality.
In her post-doctoral fellowship, Dr. Osier expanded her work to humans and diversified her research skill set. As a post-doctoral fellow, she explored changes in biomarker proteins after TBI using samples from athletes and military members. The hope is that this line of research will ultimately lead to more objective diagnosis of- and prognosis after- TBI, as well as identification of effective therapies.
Dr. Osier’s program of research seeks to identify factors that influence brain injury recovery and response to therapy for all individuals who sustain trauma to the brain. Some populations that are especially near and dear to her heart are: members of the military, athletes, children, and survivors of intimate partner violence. Dr. Osier uses a variety of research methods in both preclinical models and clinical data in her research. She is especially interested in how genetic variation, epigenetic changes, and biomarker levels may provide important insights for clinicians after brain trauma. She is fascinated with the prospect of building predictive models to facilitate diagnosis and prognosis after brain injury.
Dr. Osier has, and is continuing to gain, expertise in ultrasensitive protein quantification, genotyping, gene expression, big data, and the microbiome. Her program of research uses both pre-clinical and clinical data. Dr. Osier has also worked on projects that included neuroimaging endpoints or tested interventions. Dr. Osier is new to the UT Austin community and will be setting up a state-of-the-art research laboratory for biomarker quantification and genomic exploration in the new Health Discovery Building. She will pursue independent and collaborative lines of research, recruiting patients with traumatic brain injuries from local hospitals, and making use of banked biospecimens and data repositories.
Dr. Osier teaches “Genetics in Healthcare” to nursing students in their junior year. This course highlights the relevance of genomics to health, healthcare delivery, ethics, as well as existing and emerging therapies. The course also critically examines the ever-expanding roles of nurses in a time of rapid growth in genetic knowledge and technologies.
Dr. Osier has always valued working with transdisciplinary teams composed of nurses, physicians, other clinicians, and basic scientists. She brings a unique perspective to the table, as well as a love of writing, editing, and graphic design (see attached figures for examples of graphics she generated to describe her research). Dr. Osier encourages interested collaborators to reach out to her regarding possible collaborations involving neurological injuries, rehabilitation, and recovery as well as any researchers with banked biosamples from pre-clinical or clinical population who would like to add a genomic or biomarker component to their investigation. Dr. Osier is also interested in collaborative grant writing and manuscript development opportunities with researchers who share similar goals to improve clinical care and recovery profiles for individuals with acquired neurological disorders.
In addition, Dr. Osier loves opportunities to work with and mentor students through independent studies and employment opportunities and is looking for bright motivated students for her laboratory.