Faculty Description

iRISE Translational Research Scholars who are funded by NIH must be mentored by one of thirty Core Faculty associated with the Program. UTHSC Translational Research Scholars may be mentored by any eligible faculty at UTHSC and our partner Institutions.

Full Faculty

Anne Alexandrov Professor College of Nursing, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Alexandrov brings more than 30 years of experience in emergency and critical care nursing with a concentration in the area of hyperacute stroke management. She also has 25 years of experience with emergency reperfusion treatment, providing clinical care and oversight of hospital staff in both the Thrombolysis in Myocardial Infarction (TIMI) trials and the NINDS rtPA Stroke Study. She is recognized internationally as a leading nurse expert in acute stroke management and has developed numerous system initiatives in this area, including The Joint Commission’s Primary and Comprehensive Stroke Center certification programs. In her current role, she is a Professor of Nursing, Director of the NET SMART Program, and an advanced practice nurse on the Methodist University/UTHSC Comprehensive Stroke Team.

John Bissler Professor Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Bissler’s research program study a disease in children and adults called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), which predisposes patients to an unusual type of renal tumors. The team is translating new insights into the pathogenesis of tumors into study of whether anti-hypertension drugs already approved for use in children will prevent tumors and the associated renal disease. Dr. Bissler is Chief of Pediatric Nephrology at LBCH and at SJCRH and is the Director of the Tuberous Sclerosis Center of Excellence. His research spans the spectrum from novel work in animal models of TSC to outcomes research and clinical trials in children and adults.

Candace Brown Professor Department of Clinical Pharmacy, College of Pharmacy, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Brown conducts clinical trials in women with vulvodynia, a chronic pain disorder characterized by pain in the outer vagina. In broader terms, her overall research program is focused on conducting clinical trials where the fields of gynecology and psychiatry overlap, including female sexual disorders, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and chronic pelvic pain. She has successfully led or served as site PI for more than 50 clinical trials.

Stephania Cormier Professor Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Cormier has extensive experience in the fields of immunology, developmental biology, and pulmonary inflammation. Her research program is built around the hypothesis that adult airways disease results, in part, from environmental insult(s) that occur during a critical window of pulmonary and immunological immaturity. These insults can be allergen, pathogen, or particulate in nature. The long-term objective of her laboratory is to realize the initiators of the immune and pathophysiological changes that occur during the early stages of pulmonary airways disease so that more effective interventions and therapy might be developed. She is currently Director of the Translational Asthma Program at LBCH.

William Cushman Professor Department of Preventive Medicine, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Cushman’s research focuses on optimizing treatments for hypertension in a variety of populations. He has chaired two VA Cooperative Studies: 1) PATHS (Prevention and Treatment of Hypertension Study), a multicenter clinical trial examining the effects of reducing alcohol intake on blood pressure in heavy drinkers, and 2) the VA participation in the Antihypertensive and Lipid Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial (ALLHAT), an NHLBI study comparing cardiovascular events from four classes of antihypertensive agents. He was PI of the VA Clinical Center Network (CCN) of the NHLBI-sponsored Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) trial (2000-2010) and is currently PI for the VA CCN of the NHLBI-sponsored Systolic Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) (2009-2018). He has more than 200 journal articles and has received approximately $60 million in research funding over his career. Dr. Cushman iss co-author of the 2014 Evidence-Based Guideline for the Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: Report from the Panel Members Appointed to the Eighth Joint National Committee (JNC 8).

Samuel Dagogo-Jack Professor Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Dagogo-Jack's current research interests include the pathobiology of pre-diabetes, diabetes prevention, and the regulation of leptin in humans. He is the Director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and holds the A.C. Mullins Endowed Chair in Translational Research at UTHSC. He is the PI for the NIH Diabetes Control and Complications Trial/Epidemiology of Diabetes Interventions and Complications (DCCT/EDIC) study at UTHSC and is well known nationally for his work on health disparities in diabetes.

James Dale Professor Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, UTHSC and staff physician and researcher at the VAMC

Summary

Dr. Dale has conducted a continuum of translational research, including very basic structure-function studies of streptococcal proteins, discovery of new protective antigens of GAS, identification of protective and tissue cross-reactive epitopes, development of novel techniques to construct highly complex recombinant multivalent vaccines, development of several pre-clinical animal models of infection, and phase 1 and 2 clinical trials of vaccines originally produced in his laboratory. He has also directed the UTHSC/VAMC infectious diseases research program for over 25 years.

Robert Davis Professor Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, UTHSC, and ORNL

Summary

Dr. Davis’ research program focuses on vaccine safety, health services research, human development and disability, group health, pediatrics and epidemiology. Dr. Davis joined UTHSC in December 2013, after serving as Director of the Center for Health Research Southeast. While at Kaiser-Georgia, Dr. Davis had development oversight of their research data warehouse and played a leadership role in the highly successful HMO Research Network. He has been PI or investigator on more than 40 grants and authored more than 150 articles. He served on Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines from 2006-2007; the Secretary’s Advisory Committee Heritable Disorders Newborn and Children (2008-2012); and currently serves on the FDA’s Vaccine and Related Biologics Products Advisory Committee (since 2007). He currently directs UTHSC’s Center for Biomedical Informatics and serves as a UTHSC-ORNL Governor’s Chair in Biomedical Informatics.

Alex Dopico Professor Departments of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Dopico’s biomedical research expands from human studies and phase 2-3 clinical trials in essential hypertensive patients to work of atomic resolution to identify the molecular sites where ligands that perturb cerebrovascular function bind and thus, exert their effects. His laboratory has been focused on small ligands, whether physiological lipids such as cholesterol or drugs of abuse such as alcohol, that perturb ion channel function and thus neurovascular homeostasis by acting at the interface between the ion channel proteins and their surrounding lipid microenvironment. He is currently Chair of the Department of Pharmacology.

David Hains Associate Professor Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Hains’ research focuses on the genetics of kidney innate immunity/inflammation and congenital renal disease. He has extensive experience with the genetics and pathophysiology of vesicoureteral reflux using animal models. Currently, his translational research focuses on genetic causes of vesicoureteral reflux and how genetic alterations in the innate immune system lead to disease sequelae such as urinary tract infections and renal scarring. These studies utilize DNA from the RIVUR (Randomized Interventions for Children with Vesico-Ureteral Reflux) study. He is Module Director for the Biorepository and Integrative Genomics Module.

Donna Hathaway Professor College of Nursing, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Hathaway’s 25-year program of research has focused on examining biobehavioral linkages to quality of life (QOL) outcomes of organ transplant recipients. This work has included studies that have examined QOL outcomes related to autonomic neuropathy, cardiovascular function, obesity and weight gain, various pharmaceutical regimens, graft function, and other co-morbidities. These studies have included collaboration with basic scientists as well as clinicians, and her work has ranged from descriptive and explanatory designs to clinical trials.

George Huang Professor College of Dentistry, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Huang investigates the potential use of stem cells in tissue regeneration. His team was the first to show that dental stem cells can be utilized to regenerated dental pulp and dentin in an emptied root canal space in vivo and that dental stem cells can be easily reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. This marks the first step towards further characterization of these iPS cells generated from dental stem cells. His recent work has shown that dental iPS cells appear to be more potent in osteogenesis than human embryonic stem cells, leading to potential clinical applications of dental iPS cells.

Jonathan Jaggar Professor of Physiology College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Using a wide variety of molecular, biochemical, cellular, and functional techniques and cardiovascular disease including genetic animal models, Dr. Jaggar’s research program studies physiological functions and pathological alterations in ion channels and local and global calcium signals in arterial smooth muscle cells. This research has identified novel signaling mechanisms and physiological functions of arterial smooth muscle local and global calcium signals, mitochondria, IP3 receptors, voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels, TRP channels, Ca2+-activated Cl- channels, and carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide, endogenous physiological gas transmitters.

Robert Klesges Professor Department of Preventive Medicine, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Klesges’ research focuses on smoking cessation and other healthy lifestyle issues, particularly in underserved populations (e.g., lower income, minorities, military personnel). He is a seven-time contributor to the Surgeon General’s Report on the health consequences of smoking and was a contributor to the Institute of Medicine (2009) report on Smoking and Tobacco Use in the Military and VA populations. He has conducted several studies evaluating behavioral and pharmacologic interventions for smokers not ready to quit, a particularly hard-to-reach population. His recent collaborative work documented, through meta-analysis, that combined behavioral and pharmacologic rate reduction more than doubles the odds of smoking cessation in smokers not ready to quit. Dr. Klesges is currently Director of the Center for Population Sciences at UTHSC.

Csaba Kovesdy Professor Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, UTHSC and 5/8s appointment at the VAMC (Chief of Nephrology at the VAMC)

Summary

The primary focus of Dr. Kovesdy’s research over the past 10+ years has been understanding the driving forces behind the high mortality seen in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal disease (ESRD), as well as the etiologies of CKD development and progression and the risk factors determining outcomes in kidney transplant recipients. He has conducted numerous clinical trials and observational studies in these patient populations to examine clinically actionable risk factors and to study the effects of their correction on clinical outcomes. Dr. Kovesdy is Chief of Nephrology for the Memphis VAMC. He is the Module Leader for the Recruitment of Research Participants Module of iRISE.

Mark Ledoux Department of Neurology, College of Medicine, UTHSC Genetics and Biology of Human Dystonias

Summary

Dr. Ledoux’s laboratory is focused on the genetics, systems biology and molecular biology of movement disorders with a concentrated interest in dystonia. Using tools from genetics, morphological neuroscience, molecular biology, neurophysiology and neurochemistry, he has made important contributions to the understanding of dystonia-related genes (ATCAY, TOR1A, THAP1, CAR8, CIZ1, GNAL, TFDP1 and SGCE), networks, and cellular pathobiology. Recently, he provided strong evidence that adult-onset primary dystonia can be caused by rare, low penetrance sequence variants in THAP1, identified mutations in CIZ1 and GNAL as causes of adult-onset primary dystonia, and pointed out the critical role of G1-S checkpoint dysregulation in primary dystonia. At present, he is actively pursuing the cause of Parkinson’s disease in a large multiplex African-American pedigree. His laboratory identified the first gene associated with dystonia in African-Americans (GNAL) and characterized the world’s largest pedigree with HDL2 due to expansions in JPH3.

Charles Mullighan Member Department of Pathology, SJCRH

Summary

The goal of Dr. Mullighan’s research is to comprehensively define the genomic alterations that drive the pathogenesis of high risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), in order to develop novel approaches to improve treatment outcomes for this disease. He has identified multiple novel recurring regions of genetic alteration in ALL, many of which perturb key cellular pathways. He identified genetic alterations that are hallmarks of high risk ALL, notably IKZF1 alterations, and conducted one of the first studies to characterize the relationship between genetic alterations, tumor clonal heterogeneity, and disease progression, and identified genetic alterations that facilitate resistance to therapy in ALL. He has described multiple new subtypes of ALL, notably Ph-like ALL, a common high risk subtype defined by a range of new genetic alterations that activate tyrosine kinase signaling pathways that are druggable with available tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Finally, he has generated important insights into the nature of inherited genetic alterations driving leukemogenesis, identifying inherited PAX5 and TP53 mutations in specific subtypes of ALL. His work is extending these approaches by studying additional high risk subtypes of ALL, and using innovative genomic, epigenomic and modeling strategies to dissect the leukemia genome and translate these findings to clinical advances.

Darryl Quarles Professor Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Quarles’ research uses molecular, mouse genetic and clinical translational expertise to bridge the basic and clinical sciences. His laboratory is interested in bone and mineral metabolism, with a major focus on investigating the extrarenal functions of primary cilia and polycystins. This work led to the discovery a novel mechanosensing mechanism in osteoblasts involving polycystins 1 and 2 (PKD1 and PKD2) that regulates osteoblast and adipocyte differentiation. Most recently, his group established collaborations with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop computational models, based on three major areas of interest (i.e., FGF23/a-Klotho/FGFR1; GPRC6a, and PKD1 and PKD2), to develop novel small molecules to target these pathways as potential treatments for a variety of clinical disorders affected by these factors.

Radhakrishna Rao Professor Department of Physiology, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Rao has been working in the area of gastrointestinal physiology for over 30 years, focused on the structure and regulation of intestinal epithelial tight junctions. The overall goal of his research has been to understand the role of cell signaling involving protein phosphorylation in regulation of tight junction dynamics and control of epithelial barrier function. These studies so far have shed light into the role of protein kinases, such as c-Src, PKCη, PKCζ, PKCε and PKCβI, and protein phosphatases, such as PP2A and PP1, in different models of gut barrier dysfunction. These insights support identification of mechanisms associated with tight junction disruption in various gastrointestinal and associated diseases and investigation of the therapeutic benefits of mucosal protective factors such as growth factors and probiotics in treatment of gastrointestinal diseases. An interest in stress and its implication in tight junction disruption and gastrointestinal diseases emerged from an interesting observation that JNK, one of MAP kinases, negatively impacts the tight junction integrity. Subsequent studies uncovered a stress-activated signaling pathway (involving calcium, JNK2, c-Src and MLCK) that disrupts intestinal epithelial tight junctions.

Guy Reed Professor Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Reed’s laboratory research focuses on elucidating mechanisms that regulate the fibrinolytic system, in order to make translational insights that will improve the treatment and prevention of thrombotic vascular diseases, such as ischemic stroke, myocardial infarction and venous thromboembolism. With support from the NIH and AHA, he has translated a series of basic mechanistic insights into a new therapeutic agent, which has successfully completed pre-clinical evaluation and that will be tested in clinical trials beginning in the spring of 2015. He is currently Chair of the Department of Medicine, head of the Medical Scholar’s Program at UTHSC, and the Module Leader of the Translational Workforce Development Module.

Mary Relling Member Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, SJCRH

Summary

Dr. Relling’s group has published extensively on clinical pharmacology and pharmacogenomics. Her career and research is focused on identifying the basis for interpatient variability in response to medications, desired therapeutic and undesired adverse effects, and using that information to improve care of patients—especially, children with leukemia. One mechanism underlying variability in response to all antileukemic medications involves polymorphisms (variations) in genes responsible for drug metabolism and response. These polymorphisms partly account for why individual patients differ from each other in many characteristics. Dr. Relling has active research projects studying genetic polymorphisms that affect response to antileukemic agents, and is part of a national network to study how genetics influence drug response. She is currently Chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at SJCRH.

Phyllis Richey Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine and Physical Therapy Colleges of Medicine and Health Professions, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Richey is an exercise physiologist, with specializations in adult and pediatric cardiovascular physiology. Her research program focuses on clinical trials and community-based physical activity interventions. She was recently funded by DOD to conduct a comparative effectiveness trial of a microprocessor controlled prosthetic foot, with greater range of motion and active power, compared to a traditional prosthetic foot in older veterans with trans-tibial amputations. Primary study outcomes will include: functional performance, ambulatory safety, and patient quality of life. The trial is being conducted with Memphis VAMC and directly addresses the somewhat unique health care needs of aging veterans. This population has not traditionally had access to more recent innovations in prosthetic limbs and no guidelines have been developed regarding tailored use of these devices in relation to the functional abilities of the older amputee.

Gabor Tigyi Professor Department of Physiology, College of Medicine, UTHSC, and 3/8s Researcher at the VAMC

Summary

Dr. Tigyi’s primary career interest concerns the physiological and pathophysiological role of lysophospholipid mediators. His research has focused on the isolation, biochemical structure elucidation, molecular target identification and cellular signaling of lysophosphatidic acid and sphingosine-1-phosphate. His laboratory has been elucidating the molecular pharmacology of lysophospholipid targets, and, in collaboration with ORNL, has developed and applied computational chemical methods for drug discovery. This work yielded several patents and a rationally designed LPA mimetic, octadecenyl thiophosphate (OTP/Rx100) that is currently being tested in non-human primates and has entered the FDA approval process on the fast track for the treatment of radiation injury. Dr. Tigyi is currently Chair of the Department of Physiology.

Jeffrey Towbin Professor Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Towbin’s research team has been a leader in gene discovery and mechanisms of cardiomyopathies, arrhythmias, sudden cardiac death, vascular disorders, and congenital heart disease, as well as viral causes of myocarditis, cardiomyopathies, transplant rejection, and transplant coronary vasculopathy. He pioneered the concept of pathway-focused candidate gene analysis using his “final common pathway hypothesis” and has defined disease mechanisms and targeted therapies using animal models. He is currently the Director of the Le Bonheur Heart Institute at LBCH.

Junling Wang Associate Professor Department of Clinical Pharmacy, College of Pharmacy, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Wang has a unique niche in research - disparity implications of value-based strategies. She found this unique niche by uniting two continuous foci of her experience in health services research: racial and ethnic disparities in the utilization of health services and prescription drugs, and outcomes/economic evaluation of pharmaceutical products and services, including medication therapy management services. Her research on health outcomes and policies is key to understanding disparities in management of chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Christopher Waters Professor Department of Physiology, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Waters’ laboratory has a long-standing interest in understanding how changes in mechanical forces contribute to acute lung injury, particularly in ventilator-induced lung injury. His research focuses on the role of mechanical stretch in epithelial repair mechanisms. Dr. Waters is PD of the iRISE Translational Research Scholars Program and of this application.

Teresa Waters Professor and Chair Department of Preventive Medicine, College of Medicine, UTHSC

Summary

Dr. Waters applies economic concepts and tools to health and health care delivery issues, using large databases to examine relationships, assess performance and project solutions. For example, she was recently funded to examine the impact of Medicare’s Hospital Readmission Reduction Program (HRRP). In FY2013, CMS began assessing financial penalties on hospitals with unplanned readmission rates for congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction and pneumonia that exceeded rates expected for their patient population. Her study will examine which hospitals are getting penalties, how their readmission rates are changing over time, and how other readmission rates not targeted by HRRP may be affected by the policy. The study will also look for policy "spillover" in readmission rates for non-Medicare patients.

Mentors in Training

Chunrong Jia Assistant Professor Division of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Environmental Health, School of Public Health, University of Memphis

Summary

Dr. Jia’s research interests are in human exposure to air pollutants and the associated health effects. He is especially interested in cumulative health effects from exposure to multi environmental, social, behavioral, and physical stressors. His research activities over the past 15 years include indoor and ambient air pollution, exposure and risk assessment of air toxics, environmental epidemiology, statistical and empirical modeling of air pollution, sampling and analytical methodologies for air pollutants, and environmental disparities. Dr. Jia maintains an environmental monitoring laboratory well-equipped to measure a wide range of air pollutants, and he was recently selected to the Harvard University JPB Environmental Health Fellowship Program to work with other fellows to advance multidisciplinary environmental health research.

Jun Yang Assistant Member Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, SJCRH

Summary

Dr. Yang’s research program focuses on genomics and pharmacogenomics of pediatric cancers. In particular, he is interested in characterizing the genetic basis of inter-individual variability in susceptibility and drug response of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), using state-of-the-art genomic approaches. This includes the biology of racial differences in childhood cancer risk and anti-cancer drug response. His long-term goal is to implement genetics-guided treatment individualization and to improve cancer survival in children.

Hongmei Zhang Associate Professor Division of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Environmental Health, School of Public Health, University of Memphis

Summary

Dr. Zhang holds three master’s degrees (Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, Statistics) and a PhD in Statistics, and her research focuses on statistical methodology development related to variable selection, joint clustering, and Bayesian networks. She has been the recipient of several NIH research grants for her methods development, as well as for collaborative research in cancer and allergy/immunologic disease. She recently joined the faculty at the University of Memphis (from the University of South Carolina).

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