American Physiological Society Living History Interview

UIC Bioengineering 50th Anniversary Founder Series Interview

Dr. Brenda Russell is Professor Emerita of Physiology and Biophysics, and formerly Professor of Bioengineering and Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has ongoing NIH funding and an active research group. Dr. Russell (formerly Brenda Russell Eisenberg) received her Ph.D. in Physiology, 1971 under the direction of Professor Sir Andrew Huxley (Nobel Laureate), at the University of London, England. She has done research into muscle adaptation at Duke, UCLA, Rush University and UIC. and has served on Study Sections for NIH and the American Heart Association. She was the recipient of the 2010 Illinois Biotechnology Institute iCON Innovation Award, considered by many to be the region’s most prestigious honor for life sciences educators and researchers. Dr. Russell is a former editor of The American Journal of Physiology: Cell Section; Cell & Tissue Research and editorial board member of many journals, including Circulation Research and The Journal of Applied Physiology. She has written reviews, book chapters and well over 100 publications in peer-reviewed journals. Some of her material was incorporated into textbooks – including the widely used Gray’s Anatomy and Berne and Levy’s Physiology.

Dr. Brenda Russell

Scientific Background

Dr. Russell’s scientific training, background, experience, and productivity encompass a range of disciplines and forge linkages in the continuum between quantitative biology, bioengineering and physiology. Her current NIH support funds collaborative projects on heart failure for remodeling of hearts cells in response to mechanical cues, and the for natural tissue regeneration using bioengineering approaches. Many of her studies have been done in close collaboration with clinicians (heart failure, muscular dystrophies, urinary incontinence).


Dr. Russell served as Director of the Graduate Division of Cell Biology at Rush (1977-1988). At UIC she was Associate Dean of the Graduate College (1994-1997), Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs (1997-1999) and Executive Associate Vice Chancellor for Research (1999 to 2011). She was the UIC Research Integrity Officer from 1996 to 2011. She served six years (2013-2019) as President of the UIC chapter for the State University Annuitant Association (SUAA). She currently serves on the Advisory Council of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Major research often requires collaboration and interdisciplinary resources. Dr. Russell has chaired several cross-disciplinary task forces at UIC including regenerative medicine with stem cells (clinical, basic biomedical and bioengineering), environmental science and policy (public health, political science, pollution and geology), tobacco-related research (prevention psychology, basic biomedical, cancer, clinical treatment), bioinformatics (computer science, genomics, health informatics, biotech entrepreneurs), and structural biology (proteomics, crystallography, molecular biology). She was the founding Scientific Director for UIC of the Chicago Biomedical Consortium (2001) fostering interactions with the University of Chicago and Northwestern University to enable and encourage interdisciplinary research that is beyond the range of a single institution and thereby to promote educational, health and commercial developments that will benefit the Chicago community at large.


Dr. Brenda Russell and Dr. Tejal Desai (UCSF) founded Cell Habitats, Inc an early-stage biomedical device company developing an easy-to-administer, microdevice that allows the natural repair and regeneration of damaged tissue. They have approved patents in this area, and raised early funding but the company failed.


Dr. Russell is married to Dr. Jack Cooksey and has four children, Ben (1969), Emily (1973), Jill (1974) and Sally (1979); two step children Gregory (1978) and Jessica (1979); and seven grandchildren.