Katherine (Kate) Elfer, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Katherine (Kate) Elfer, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Entry Year

Doctoral Degree

Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, Tulane University (2018)

Master's Degree

M.P.H., The Johns Hopkins University (2020)

Research Interests

Digital Pathology, Medical Devices, Regulation of Diagnostic Devices, Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, Image Perception

Primary Preceptor/Branch

Brandon Gallas, Ph.D., Division of Imaging, Diagnostics, and Software Reliability; Office of Science and Engineering Laboratories; Center for Devices and Radiological Health; U.S. Food and Drug Administration


Elfer K, Dudgeon S, Garcia V, Blenman K, Hytopoulos E, Wen S, Li X, Ly A, Werness B, Sheth MS, Amgad M, Gupta R, Saltz J, Hanna MG, Ehinger A, Peeters D, Salgado R, Gallas BD. Pilot study to evaluate tools to collect pathologist annotations for validating machine learning algorithms. J Med Imaging (Bellingham). 2022 Jul;9(4):047501. doi: 10.1117/1.JMI.9.4.047501. Epub 2022 Jul 27. PMID: 35911208.

Garcia V, Elfer K, Peeters DJE, Ehinger A, Werness B, Ly A, Li X, Hanna MG, Blenman KRM, Salgado R, Gallas BD. Development of Training Materials for Pathologists to Provide Machine Learning Validation Data of Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes in Breast Cancer. Cancers (Basel). 2022 May 17;14(10):2467. doi: 10.3390/cancers14102467. PMID: 35626070.

Liu J, Wang M, Tulman D, Mandava SH, Elfer KN, Gabrielson A, Lai W, Abshire C, Sholl AB, Brown JQ, Lee BR. Nondestructive Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer on 18-gauge Core Needle Renal Biopsy Using Dual-color Fluorescence Structured Illumination Microscopy. Urology. 2016 Dec;98:195-199. doi: 10.1016/j.urology.2016.08.036. Epub 2016 Sep 3. PMID: 27597632.

Elfer KN, Sholl AB, Wang M, Tulman DB, Mandava SH, Lee BR, Brown JQ. DRAQ5 and Eosin ('D&E') as an Analog to Hematoxylin and Eosin for Rapid Fluorescence Histology of Fresh Tissues. PLoS One. 2016 Oct 27;11(10):e0165530. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0165530. eCollection 2016. PMID: 27788264.

Wang M, Tulman DB, Sholl AB, Kimbrell HZ, Mandava SH, Elfer KN, Luethy S, Maddox MM, Lai W, Lee BR, Brown JQ. Gigapixel surface imaging of radical prostatectomy specimens for comprehensive detection of cancer-positive surgical margins using structured illumination microscopy. Sci Rep. 2016 Jun 3;6:27419. doi: 10.1038/srep27419. PMID: 27257084.

Wang M, Kimbrell HZ, Sholl AB, Tulman DB, Elfer KN, Schlichenmeyer TC, Lee BR, Lacey M, Brown JQ. High-Resolution Rapid Diagnostic Imaging of Whole Prostate Biopsies Using Video-Rate Fluorescence Structured Illumination Microscopy. Cancer Res. 2015 Oct 1;75(19):4032-41. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-14-3806. Epub 2015 Aug 17. PMID: 26282168.

Goel UO, Maddox MM, Elfer KN, Dorsey PJ, Wang M, McCaslin IR, Brown JQ, Lee BR. Feasibility of quantitative diffuse reflectance spectroscopy for targeted measurement of renal ischemia during laparoscopic partial nephrectomy. J Biomed Opt. 2014;19(10):107001. doi: 10.1117/1.JBO.19.10.107001. PMID: 25321401.

Schlichenmeyer TC, Wang M, Elfer KN, Brown JQ. Video-rate structured illumination microscopy for high-throughput imaging of large tissue areas. Biomed Opt Express. 2014 Jan 7;5(2):366-77. doi: 10.1364/BOE.5.000366. eCollection 2014 Feb 1. PMID: 24575333.

Program Spotlight

2023 Merit Award Winners

August 31, 2023
2023 Merit Award Recipients: Drs. Elfer, Harris, McGee-Avila, Ramirez-Peña.

The Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program recently announced its 2023 Merit Award Winners, recognizing the exceptional contributions of Drs. Kate Elfer, Alexandra Harris, Jennifer McGee-Avila, and Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña. The winners were honored at the Annual Potluck, a celebration marking the culmination of a year and the welcoming of a new cohort of fellows.

Kate Elfer

Dr. Kate Elfer, a recipient of the program's Merit Award, has made significant strides in various areas of cancer research. Their expertise spans digital pathology, medical devices, regulatory aspects of diagnostic devices, artificial intelligence/machine learning, image perception, and the integration of sex and gender in research. Dr. Elfer's contributions have been supported by research funds from prestigious organizations such as the NCI-FDA Interagency Oncology Task Force and the Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, FDA/CDRH Office of Science and Engineering Laboratories. They have developed continuing medical education courses and been recognized for their involvement in esteemed events, including the STEM Representation Matters Series at Brown University and the Biomedical Engineering Departmental Seminars at UMass Lowell. Dr. Elfer's commitment extends to serving as a co-chair in working groups such as the FDA DigiPath and AI/Machine Learning Working Groups. Additionally, they actively mentors aspiring researchers through programs like the CPFP Peer Mentoring Program and FDA PRIDE Mentoring Committee. Their exceptional contributions to the Peer Mentoring Program have earned her the prestigious NCI Director's Champion Award in 2023. Dr. Elfer also takes an active role in service within the CPFP, they served as former co -chair of the Fellows Advisory Board CDSS committee, and organizes the CPFP Book Club.

Alexandra Harris

Dr. Alexandra Harris, another recipient of the 2023 Merit Award, has made remarkable strides in cancer research. Her dedication to bringing the worlds of laboratory science and molecular epidemiology to study the breast tumor microenvironment, molecular underpinnings of epidemiologic risk factors, and breast cancer disparities in women of African descent has garnered widespread recognition and support. Dr. Harris has been honored with prestigious accolades such as the CPFP Transdisciplinary Fellowship Research Award, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG )Intramural Research Award, and, together with her mentors, the Center for Cancer Research (CCR) Health Disparities Flex Award. Her commitment to science communication, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) , and outreach is evident through her leadership roles in significant initiatives like the CPFP Grants and Scientific Writing Committee and active participation in the DCEG Cancer Health Disparities Fellows Interest Group, DCEG Inclusivity Minute Project, and NCI Cancer Community Partnership. Dr. Harris's passion for mentorship is exemplified through her involvement in programs like the CPFP Peer Mentoring Program for which she earned an NCI Director's Champion Award, and STEM for Her, where she empowers aspiring researchers and promotes diversity in STEM.

Jennifer McGee-Avila

Dr. Jennifer McGee-Avila has also been honored with a merit award for her notable contributions to cancer prevention research. Her achievements span a wide range of areas, including cancer prevention in people with HIV, cervical cancer, HPV-associated cancers, cancer inequities, and public health policy. Dr. McGee-Avila's active participation in influential initiatives such as the NIH Federal Cervical Cancer Collaborative, focusing on cervical cancer elimination, and the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) Evidence-Based Cancer Control Policy Research Working Group, and the DCEG Cancer Health Disparities Fellows Interest Group, showcases her dedication to the field. She has been recognized with prestigious awards, including the NCI Director's Champion Award and the Sallie Rosen Kaplan Fellowship. Dr. McGee-Avila's involvement in various working groups, councils, and committees highlights her commitment to addressing cancer health disparities. As a mentor, she actively contributes to programs like the CPFP Peer Mentoring Program and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Policy Research Scholars Program.

Esmeralda Rameriz-Pena

Dr. Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña, a distinguished recipient of this Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program's prestigious award, has made exceptional contributions to cancer prevention research. Her expertise in real-world and clinical trial data analysis, chemoprevention, and cancer recurrence measurements has led to her work being presented at renowned events. Esteemed institutions have recognized Dr. Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña's work, reflecting the quality and impact of her research. With a commitment to collaboration, she actively engages with national and international partners, participating in working groups focused on addressing cancer recurrence and systemic racism. Dr. Ramirez-Peña's notable accolades include the NCI Director's Emerging Leaders Award and the NCI Director's Champion Award, further underscoring her contributions to the field. As a mentor in the CPFP Peer Mentoring Program, she plays a pivotal role in empowering aspiring researchers and cultivating a diverse and inclusive environment in STEM. Her dedication to fostering equity and promoting underrepresented groups' involvement in research is evident.

The Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program's 2023 Merit Award winners, Drs. Kate Elfer, Alexandra Harris, Jennifer McGee-Avila, and Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña, represent the program's commitment to recognizing excellence in cancer prevention research. Their diverse expertise, significant contributions, and dedication to mentorship underscore the program's mission of advancing the field and reducing the burden of cancer. These accomplished researchers serve as inspirations for the future generation of cancer prevention scientists.

2023 recipients Jennifer McGee-Avila, Esmeralda Ramirez-Pena, and Kate Elfer, pose with previous recipients Heather Platter and Lauren Hurwitz.
Figure 1. From left, 2023 recipients Jennifer McGee-Avila, Esmeralda Ramirez-Pena, and Kate Elfer, pose with previous recipients Heather Platter and Lauren Hurwitz.
Katherine (Kate) Elfer, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Dr. Kate Elfer Uses a Training Rotation at NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health to Learn about Sex and Gender in Research

October 4, 2022

In June 2022, Dr. Kate Elfer, fourth-year fellow with CPFP and third-year fellow with Interagency Oncology Task Force (a program between FDA and NCI), started working with NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) through a part-time training rotation. A training rotation is a temporary position, part-time or full-time, where the fellow joins another laboratory, office, or agency to gain additional skills and knowledge not available through their primary appointment. Dr. Elfer works under the mentorship of Dr. Sarah Temkin (associate director for clinical research) and Dr. Elizabeth Barr (social and behavioral scientist administrator).

In their fourth year with CPFP, Dr. Elfer began considering how to best utilize their remaining time in the fellowship. Their work at the Food and Drug Administration involves researching methods of measuring performance between humans and artificial intelligence algorithms in digital pathology. “I realized that many of my research teams were very one-dimensional in composition and thinking—we’re engineers, mathematicians, and algorithm developers. Frequently, I’d attend a presentation for a diagnostic algorithm for breast, cervical, or other women’s diseases, and the development research team would be men. I knew there were other factors in the data and analysis to consider but was unsure how to identify and use them,” Dr. Elfer says. Through their training rotation with ORWH, they have received training in using sex as a biological variable and have initiated a research project to integrate sex and gender research within their current work. They also are integrated into ORWH’s Clinical Research Section by assisting with developing future research questions and participating in the office’s journal club.

In addition, Dr. Elfer has pursued experiences in the career development and education work of ORWH. These experiences included participation in NIH-wide working groups, such as the Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers, in which they would “learn by listening.” Through these meetings, they have learned about conducting portfolio analyses and constructing funding proposals. Dr. Elfer plans to use these skills to plan their future research program as they transition to an independent research position.

The CPFP is always looking for additional opportunities to connect our fellows with new professional experiences. If you are interested in offering a training rotation to a Cancer Prevention Fellow, please email: ncicpfpnews@mail.nih.gov.

Katherine (Kate) Elfer
NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) trainee