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Kevin Hellman

Kevin M. Hellman, PhD

Pre-clinical Director:
Kevin M. Hellman PhD, Research Scientist NorthShore University 

Research Scientist, 
NorthShore University HealthSystem

Assistant Professor (Part Time), 
Pritzker School Of Medicine
University of Chicago

Tel: 872-226-7124 Fax: 847-570-1846
e-mail: khellman@northshore.org
Address:  Department of Ob/Gyn, 2650 Ridge Ave. Walgreen Building, Evanston, IL 60201

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Postdoctoral Training, University of Chicago                               2009
Ph.D. in Neurobiology, University of Pennsylvania                      2004
B.S. in Computer Science, University of Wisconsin Madison       1998 

I am an academic scientist focused on the neurobiology of uterine pain with a goal of developing better treatments and mentoring a new generation of medical scientists. Our  work has challenged the conventional understanding of opioidergic analgesia and lead to the development of a new hypothesis regarding pain modulation published in the Journal of Neuroscience. In a short period of time, our lab has generated new models of uterine pain, novel diagnostic tests and identified epidemiological risks associated with pelvic pain. I envision a future where we can tell patients why they are suffering pain and where we can eliminate their pain through novel therapeutic approaches. To attain this vision, I am focused on pain pathophysiology and educating others to pave the way to a more certain and pain free future.


1993 Medical College of Wisconsin Research Fellowship

1993 University of Wisconsin Applied Mathematics Scholarship

1994 Frank Academic Scholarship

1995 University of Wisconsin Honor Society

1995 Epilepsy Foundation of America Health Sciences Student Research Fellowship

1997 U.W. Neuroscience Training Program Award for Outstanding Research in Neurobiology

2000 National Institute of Health, National Research Service Award

2004 Elliot Stellar Scholar

2004 U.W. Madison Neuropsychology Travel Fellowship Award

2006 American Academy of Sleep Medicine Faculty Research Award

2013 AAGL, Best abstract on pelvic pain

2013 Best poster award, International Pelvic Pain Society

2014 New Investigator of the Year /NorthShore University HealthSystem


Other Experiences and Professional Memberships  

1998 Member Society for Neuroscience

2006 Member American Academy of Sleep Medicine

2009 Associate Member, Faculty of 1000

2009 Chicago Chapter for Neuroscience, Councilor

2010 Member International Association for Study of Pain

2011 Member International Pelvic Pain Society

2013 Member Society for Reproductive Investigation

2014 Member Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee

Contribution to Science:

Deciphering the hippocampal mechanisms of memory consolidation during sleepThe purpose of sleep is mysterious, but our research suggests that one function of sleep may be memory consolidation. I began by developing computer models of the hippocampus, the proposed site of memory consolidation. Our research suggested that the same oscillations responsible for memory consolidation during sleep could elicit seizures in epilepsy.  As a graduate student I showed that sleep, pain and memory are linked by a common biological signaling pathway using transcript profiling, transgenic mice and electrophysiology.


a.    Lytton WW, Hellman KM, Sutula TP. Computer models of hippocampal circuit changes of the kindling model of epilepsy. Artif Intell Med. 1998 May;13(1-2):81-97. PubMed PMID: 9654380.

b.    Hellman KM, Abel T. Sleep and brain plasticity. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 2003. Molecular mechanisms of memory consolidation; p.295-325.  http://www.worldcat.org/title/sleep-and-brain-plasticity/oclc/52286813

c.     Keeley MB, Wood MA, Isiegas C, Stein J, Hellman K, Hannenhalli S, Abel T. Differential transcriptional response to nonassociative and associative components of classical fear conditioning in the amygdala and hippocampus. Learn Mem. 2006 Mar-Apr;13(2):135-42. PubMed PMID: 16547164; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1409829.

d.    Hellman K, Abel T. Fear conditioning increases NREM sleep. Behav Neurosci. 2007 Apr;121(2):310-23. PubMed PMID: 17469920; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2947315.


Molecular mechanisms responsible for sleep: Our research has also demonstrated that sleep is regulated by the same molecular mechanisms involved in memory storage, including norepinephrine, the transcription factor cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) and the PKA signaling pathway.  Further, our studies demonstrate the impairment of sleep deprivation on memory occurs via the cAMP pathway. In the following projects I developed the hardware, wrote the software, performed many of the surgical implantations, and analyzed the data. Ultimately, this will provide a foundation for the development of drugs that treat sleep and memory disorders.


a.    Graves LA, Hellman K, Veasey S, Blendy JA, Pack AI, Abel T. Genetic evidence for a role of CREB in sustained cortical arousal. J Neurophysiol. 2003 Aug;90(2):1152-9. PubMed PMID: 12711709.

b.    Hellman KM. Sleep and memory: Electrophysiological, genetic, and molecular studies. Published Dissertation. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania; 2004. 277p.  http://search.proquest.com/docview/305144786    

c.     Ouyang M, Hellman K, Abel T, Thomas SA. Adrenergic signaling plays a critical role in the maintenance of waking and in the regulation of REM sleep. J Neurophysiol. 2004 Oct;92(4):2071-82. PubMed PMID: 15190089.

d.    Hellman K, Hernandez P, Park A, Abel T. Genetic evidence for a role for protein kinase A in the maintenance of sleep and thalamocortical oscillations. Sleep. 2010 Jan;33(1):19-28. PubMed PMID:20120617; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2802244.


Brainstem mechanisms responsible for sleep and pain:  As a postdocotoral scholar, I expanded my prior experience in sleep looking at the role of sleep modulatory centers in pain and analgesia. Whereas most prior work utilized anesthetized rats, we developed methods to study naturally awake and sleeping mice. My work with Dr. Peggy Mason has also challenged the conventional understanding of opioidergic analgesia (reviewed in Faculty of 1000: 717960856). As a result of confounding by anesthesia, our work radically challenges prior work and provides a new understanding how on-demand brainstem activity modulates pain, sleep and homeostatic control.


a.    Brink TS, Hellman KM, Lambert AM, Mason P. Raphe magnus neurons help protect reactions to visceral pain from interruption by cutaneous pain. J Neurophysiol. 2006 Dec;96(6):3423-32. PubMed PMID:16928792.

b.    Hellman KM, Brink TS, Mason P. Activity of murine raphe magnus cells predicts tachypnea and on-going nociceptive responsiveness. J Neurophysiol. 2007 Dec;98(6):3121-33. PubMed PMID: 17913977; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3759357.

c.     Hellman KM, Mendelson SJ, Mendez-Duarte MA, Russell JL, Mason P. Opioid microinjection into raphe magnus modulates cardiorespiratory function in mice and rats. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2009 Nov;297(5):R1400-8. PubMed PMID: 19710394; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2777768.

d.    Hellman KM, Mason P. Opioids disrupt pro-nociceptive modulation mediated by raphe magnus. J Neurosci. 2012 Oct 3;32(40):13668-78. PubMed PMID: 23035079; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3752126.


Diagnostic tests and risk factors responsible for chronic pelvic pain: In collaboration with Dr. Frank Tu, I have studied risk factors for chronic pelvic pain and developed new diagnostic tests to develop strategies that reduce risk.  Our work demonstrates that dysmenorrhea is one of the largest risk factors for pelvic pain. We have developed a noninvasive test for measuring bladder sensitivity. Our work also suggests how risk factors for chronic pain can be examined during a routine clinical exam.  Specifically, our results suggest that patients that have pain lasting longer 10 minutes after a gynecological exam likely also have dysmenorrhea and bladder sensitivity. We are currently testing the hypothesis whether effectively treating dysmenorrhea can reduce bladder pain even in women that have not been yet diagnosed/treated for dysmenorrhea or bladder pain.    


a.    Tu FF, Hellman KM, Backonja MM. Gynecologic management of neuropathic pain. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2011 Nov;205(5):435-43. PubMed PMID: 21777899; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3205239.

b.    Tu FF, Epstein AE, Pozolo KE, Sexton DL, Melnyk AI, Hellman KM. A noninvasive bladder sensory test supports a role for dysmenorrhea increasing bladder noxious mechanosensitivity. Clin J Pain. 2013 Oct;29(10):883-90. PubMed PMID: 23370073; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3644544.

c.     Westling AM, Tu FF, Griffith JW, Hellman KM. The association of dysmenorrhea with noncyclic pelvic pain accounting for psychological factors. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2013 Nov;209(5):422.e1-422.e10. PubMed PMID: 23973396; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4191839.

d.    Hellman KM, Patanwala IY, Pozolo KE, Tu FF. Multimodal nociceptive mechanisms underlying chronic pelvic pain. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2015 Aug 20;PubMed PMID: 26299416.


Complete List of Published Work in My Bibliography:


D. Research Support

Ongoing Research Support


R21 HD081709           Hellman, Kevin (PI)                                                                             08/06/14-07/31/16

Neurophysiological Diagnostics for Menstrual Pain

This proposal examines EMG activity and ultrasound events during menstrual cramps to identify mechanisms responsible for dysmenorrhea. Specifically, we are examining how referred pain in relationship to other nociceptive and psychological factors affects the perception of menstrual pain before and after a dose of sodium naproxen.  There is no scientific overlap between this R21 investigating referred muscle pain and the proposed R21—unlike MRI, ultrasound cannot measure oxygenation and the methodology was insufficient to examine contractions.

Role: PI


R01 DK100368           Tu, Frank (PI)                                                                                     04/01/14-03/31/19 Deciphering the hormonal and nociceptive mechanisms underlying bladder pain

To determine the role of hormonal and neurophysiological mechanisms responsible for pelvic pain, we will characterize a novel phenotype of dysmenorrhea with increased bladder pain sensitivity before and after a trial of hormonal suppression with contraceptive pills.

Role: Co-Investigator


Research Career Development Award/NorthShore University Startup Funds                     10/1/2010—

The hospital system has designated startup funds or laboratory space, equipment, animals, stipends, research technicians, and research coordinators for the development of my basic and clinical laboratory to study mechanisms responsible for pelvic pain.

Role: PI


Kevin Hellman,
May 16, 2017, 9:23 AM