What's Up Research Newsletter

The Emory Department of Medicine Office of Research distributes a weekly "What's Up" research newsletter filled with useful information to help faculty members, postdoctoral fellows and other researchers in the department stay informed of helpful funding opportunities, events and announcements.

Highlighted Researcher


Renita Wiley (Department of Medicine RAS)

Renita is the new Pre-award Lead in our Department of Medicine’s Research Administration Service (RAS) Unit. She has 20 years of research administration experience. Renita comes to the Department of Medicine’s RAS from the Yerkes RAS and before that, she worked in the Office of Sponsored Programs. She has also worked in research administration at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University. In her free time she loves to watch UNC basketball and Carolina Panthers & San Francisco 49ers football.

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JWJinhu Wang, Ph.D. (Cardiology)

Dr. Wang is an assistant professor in the Division of Cardiology. He received his PhD in Developmental Biology at the Chinese Academy of Science and completed his postdoctoral research training with Dr. Kenneth Poss at Duke University. His broad research goal is to understand how regenerative responses to injury have been optimized in non-mammalian vertebrates like zebrafish in order to identify potential targets that are responsible for regenerative deficiencies in mammals. The coronary vasculature supplies oxygen and nutrients to a large region of myocardium, and re-vascularization is considered an important step for heart recovery. Adult zebrafish have a dense coronary vasculature, and regenerated myofibers become re-vascularized in a few weeks. Using this model, Dr. Wang investigates the molecular mechanisms of coronary re-vascularization during heart regeneration by utilizing genetic manipulation and live imaging techniques. His results will provide insights into the cardiac repair process in mammals. In his free time, he enjoys traveling, hiking, tennis, fishing and swimming.

KTKiyoko Takemiya, MD, PhD (Cardiology)

Dr. Takemiya joined Emory from Kurume University in Japan. She recently received an American Heart Association Scientist Development grant to support her research on the detection of bacterial infections associated with medical devices. Currently, the diagnosis of device infection is made based on symptoms or clinical signs, and when it is diagnosed, the infection has already expanded and damaged the surrounding tissue. Dr. Takemiya’s work aims to detect infection in the very early stages with no clinical signs or symptoms, which will help to improve the prognosis of patients and to reduce unnecessary surgeries.

To detect small amount of bacteria, Dr. Takemiya’s team focused on the differences in sugar metabolism between bacteria and mammalian cells. Maltodextrin, a kind of sugar, is used by bacteria as a major energy source through the “maltodextrin transporter,” but cannot be internalized by mammalian cells. The maltodextrin transporter is large enough to pass an imaging probe conjugated with maltodextrin or its analogue, leading to accumulation in bacteria, and allowing sensitive and specific detection of bacteria. Dr. Takemiya uses rat models to test these maltodextrin and maltodextrin analogue-based imaging probes for near infrared imaging and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to detect the existence of bacteria. In her free time, Dr. Takemiya enjoys cooking, reading, playing with jigsaw puzzles, and crafting.

elsieQian “Elsie” Xu (Cardiology)

Qian (Elsie) Xu is a visiting Chinese medical student who came to Emory to conduct biomedical research as part of Emory’s partnership with Xiangya School of Medicine, one of China’s leading medical programs. She decided to work in Dr. Kathy Griendling‘s research group because they investigate the role of reactive oxygen species in smooth muscle function and the role of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of vascular disease. Elsie is studying the redox-regulation of actin cytoskeleton in vascular smooth muscle cell attachment while also exploring the underlying redox signaling pathway during cell adhesion. After completing her research project at Emory, Elsie will return to China to complete her MD. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, her favorite activity; she also enjoys cooking, watching movies, and playing the ukulele. 

BTBoghuma Titanji (MD, MSc, DTM&H, PhD)
Boghuma K. Titanji is a first-year research-track resident in the J. Willis Hurst Internal Medicine Residency Program. Prior to starting her training at Emory, Dr. Titanji completed a PhD in infectious diseases at University College London in the United Kingdom. Her research focused on cell- to-cell spread of HIV-1 across a virological synapse and how antiretroviral agents can be used to target this unique mode of spread. She plans to continue her research on HIV pathogenesis and how to more effectively target the virus within the host, with the aim of eliminating the viral reservoir. Dr. Titanji is also very passionate about how clinical research can be translated into policies that impact the lives of vulnerable patient populations, especially in Africa. As she continues to mature as a clinician and scientist, Dr. Titanji hopes to combine translational research with clinical practice to influence health policy from a global health perspective, especially in the field of infectious diseases. In her free time Dr. Titanji enjoys playing board games, spending time with family and friends, exploring the beautiful city of Atlanta, cooking, and traveling.

abenderAlexis Bender, PhD (General Medicine and Geriatrics)
Alexis Bender, PhD is an assistant professor in the Emory Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics. Her research highlights the ways health trajectories impact relationships as well how interactions with healthcare providers influence perceptions of life events. Additionally, Dr. Bender’s research focuses on relationships over the life course, including patient-provider interactions, social and intimate relationships following spinal cord injury, and issues of sexuality among older adults. Her future research will continue to explore the psychosocial aspects of injury and recovery across patients, health professionals, and families over time. Dr. Bender received her PhD in sociology and a gerontology certificate from Georgia State University. After completing her PhD, Dr. Bender had a unique opportunity to work with the Army Public Health Center in Maryland conducting mixed methods research and evaluation of social and behavioral health concerns (e.g., behavioral health access, suicide, violence) among active-duty soldiers.
Dr. Bender enjoys spending her free time with friends and family. She also loves baking, running, and traveling whenever possible.

BWBrandi Wynne, PhD (Renal Medicine)

Dr. Brandi M. Wynne is an instructor of medicine in the Division of Renal Medicine with a background in cardio-renal physiology and pharmacology. Previously, Dr. Wynne was a postdoctoral fellow under Dr. Robert Hoover, where she focused on the hormonal regulation of the sodium chloride cotransporter (NCC) and the epithelial sodium channel. Her current research investigates the role of inflammation in the etiology of salt-sensitive hypertension. Hypertensive patients frequently have a normal level of aldosterone, the main ligand for the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR), which regulates sodium transport proteins in the distal nephron. However, these patients often have indices of aldosterone excess and respond positively to MR antagonists, suggesting that there are alternative mechanisms of MR activation. Dr. Wynne’s research has shown that interleukin-6 (IL-6) plays a role in this process. She recently discovered that IL-6 transactivates the MR, leading to activation of the NCC. Understanding how renal-specific immune cells and cytokines regulate sodium homeostasis is the focus of her NIH NIDDK K01 application. In her spare time, Dr. Wynne enjoys the arts, politics, and traveling as much as possible.

SYSamantha M. Yeligar, MS, PhD (Pulmonary)
Dr. Samantha M. Yeligar is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine. She was recently awarded a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism R00 grant to study the “Effect of Peroxisome Proliferator Activated-Receptor Gamma (PPARγ) Ligands on Alcohol-Induced Alveolar Macrophage Oxidative Stress.” The project focuses on alcohol-mediated down-regulation of NADPH oxidase-related microRNAs that contribute to alveolar macrophage dysfunction, which can be reversed by treatment with PPARγ ligands. The considerable translational impact of these investigations on the management of alcoholic patients to mitigate their susceptibility to developing respiratory infections will set the stage for future clinical studies. In her free time, Samantha loves to paint with acrylics, draw with charcoal, travel, and concoct interesting culinary experiments for which her friends volunteer as study subjects (not to worry, everyone remains friends).

CKColleen Kelley, MD, MPH (Infectious Diseases)
Dr. Kelley is a faculty member at Emory University School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases with a multi-disciplinary background and previous experience in clinical HIV medicine, HIV epidemiology and clinical outcomes research, and laboratory-based HIV research. For the last several years, the focus of Dr. Kelley’s research has been translational immunology studies of HIV susceptibility in men who have sex with men (MSM), with a particular interest in biomedical prevention interventions. Dr. Kelley aims to optimize the efficacy of HIV biomedical prevention interventions, such as an HIV vaccine, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis, and microbicides for populations at high risk of infection. For this work, she has developed a successful translational immunology program at Emory focused on rectal HIV transmission in MSM. In addition, Dr. Kelley is the associate director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research Clinical Core and serves as a faculty member in the Rollins School of Public Health’s PRISM Health Group, which conducts various large research studies focused on HIV prevention in MSM. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Jeremy, and their three kids, Jane (8), Kiernan (6), and Ronan (4).

mhernandesMarina Hernandes, PhD (Cardiology)
Dr. Hernandes is a cardiovascular researcher in the Division of Cardiology in the lab of Dr. Kathy Griendling. Her research focus is on vascular permeability associated with cerebral ischemia. She is specifically interested in understanding how different signaling pathways in astrocytes contribute to disruption of the blood-brain-barrier in cerebral ischemia. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, son, and daughter; exploring the outdoors; and enjoying time with friends. Recently, Dr. Hernandes won the “Best Basic Science Poster Award” at the Department of Medicine’s 9th annual Research Day.


Yang Xie (Renal Medicine)

Yang Xie is a visiting medical student in her 8th year from Xiangya School of Medicine, Changsha, China; her school is the second oldest medical school in China. She is conducting research in the Renal Division under the guidance of Dr. Russ Price. Her interest in nephrology and the consequences of chronic kidney disease (CKD) began during her 5th year of clinical medicine. Muscle atrophy is a common problem in CKD patients and diabetic patients who frequently develop nephropathy. While at Emory, Yang is investigating a new signaling pathway that contributes to the expression of myostatin, a myokine that contributes to skeletal muscle loss by altering insulin signaling and increasing the expression of proteins that disrupt muscle proteostasis. Outside of the lab, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and painting.


imageMelissa Stevens, MD (Hospital Medicine)

Dr. Stevens won the 2016 Top Overall Research Prize for her abstract and oral presentation, entitled “EQUiPPED Expansion: Results from a multi-site quality improvement initiative to change prescribing practices in VA Medical Center Emergency Departments (EDs).” Out of 141 abstracts submitted to the 9th annual Department of Medicine Research Day, Dr. Stevens’ abstract and oral presentation scores ranked the highest. As the prize recipient, she will receive $1,000 to be used toward research costs. Read more about the EQUiPPED project on the Department of Medicine’s blog, Emory Daily Pulse

imageClintoria Williams, PhD (Renal Medicine)

Dr. Williams is a renal physiologist in the Division of Renal Medicine. Her research interest focuses on the pathophysiology of kidney disease. Her work has identified a key functional difference in the isoforms of calcineurin, a family of ubiquitous calcium-dependent phosphatases. These enzymes contribute to the regulation of sodium channels in the distal nephron of the kidney and subsequently blood pressure homeostasis. Notably, patients that take calcineurin inhibitors for immunosuppression frequently develop hypertension. Since current drugs that inhibit calcineurin do not discriminate between the isoforms of the enzyme, there is an opportunity to refine pharmacological interventions to selectively target calcineurin isoform(s) implicated in the immune system versus isoform(s) involved in sodium regulation by the kidney. Recently, Dr. Williams received American Heart Association funding on her project, entitled “Selective regulation of distal nephron sodium handling by calcineurin isoforms.” In her free time, she serves as a motivational speaker, life coach, personal chef, and chauffeur to her children.
Learn more about Dr. Williams’ work at the 9th annual Department of Medicine Research Day on Friday, 10/28 in the Cox Hall Ballroom, where she will present "NADPH oxidase-2 mediates zinc deficiency-induced oxidative stress and kidney damage."

pokala-kusumaS. Kusuma Pokala (Medical Student)
Kusuma Pokala is a student at Emory University School of Medicine with an expected graduation date of May, 2017. Her interest in the field of gastroenterology began during her first year of medical school and has deepened over the years. Under the guidance of Dr. Field F. Willingham, she is investigating the incidence, survival, and markers of regional lymph node metastasis in different types of gastric tumors. With increasing advances in endoscopy, this information helps determine which patients are good candidates for endoscopic resection. This fall, she is applying to internal medicine residency programs with the goal of completing a Gastroenterology fellowship after residency. Outside of research, she enjoys trying new recipes, traveling, and hiking.
Learn more about Kusuma’s work at the 9th annual Department of Medicine Research Day on Friday, 10/28 in the Cox Hall Ballroom, where she will present “Predictors of lymph node involvement in early stage gastric adenocarcinoma in the United States." View schedule | RSVP 

johnson-brandonBrandon Johnson (Cardiology)
Brandon Johnson is a PhD student working under Dr. Young-sup Yoon. His research interests involve the investigation of novel cell and biomaterial therapies for cardiovascular disease. Presently, Brandon is working to develop an autologous cell therapy for patients suffering from critical limb ischemia. Brandon likes to spend his free time following trends in physics and astrology and eating with friends and family.
Learn more about Brandon’s work at the 9th annual Department of Medicine Research Day on Friday, 10/28 in the Cox Hall Ballroom, where he will present "Isolation of a highly angiogenic subpopulation of CD31+ cells." View schedule |RSVP


Amit Shah, MD, MSCR (Cardiology)
Dr. Shah is an epidemiologist and cardiologist who focuses his research on understanding the mechanisms through which psychological stress may impact the cardiovascular system. He recently received NIH K23 funding for a project entitled “Emotional stress as a risk factor for arrhythmia ischemia and genetic mechanisms.” He will study the ischemic and genetic mechanisms by which emotional stress leads to increased arrhythmia risk. Additionally, he is interested in general preventive cardiology, with a focus on mobile health technologies and risk-prediction analytics. In his free time, Dr. Shah enjoys running around with his two energetic sons and playing and watching basketball.
Learn more about Dr. Shah’s work at the 9th annual Department of Medicine Research Day on Friday, 10/28 in the Cox Hall Ballroom, where he will give a talk entitled, "An electrocardiogram-based risk equation for incident cardiovascular disease from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey." View schedule... 


Madeleine Hackney, PhD (General Medicine and Geriatrics)

Dr. Hackney’s DREAMS (Developing a Research Participation Enhancement and Advocacy Training Program for Diverse Seniors) project grew out of an ongoing problem in clinical research. Older adults with low socioeconomic status and/or from racial or ethnic minority populations are historically underrepresented in research because of multiple barriers, including distrust of the research community, difficulties with access, ageism, health literacy challenges, and strict trial inclusion criteria. To help break down the existing barriers and build relationships with these underrepresented populations, Dr. Hackney decided to use the tango to treat mobility problems in people with Parkinson’s disease. While some of the participants danced, those assigned to the control group attended educational sessions on various health issues. The interactive educational sessions were so popular, both with learners and the teachers, that Dr. Hackney suspected they could serve to bring together a group of diverse seniors for the DREAMS project. Funding from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) gave her the chance to empirically demonstrate her theory. Read more on the Department of Medicine's blog, Emory Daily Pulse, and in a recent feature inAtlanta Magazine.  (Photo credit: Kaylinn Gilstrap, Atlanta Magazine.)

Highlighted-ResearcherRobert Hoover Jr., MD (Renal Medicine)

Dr. Hoover is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Renal Medicine who studies the regulation of thiazide-sensitive sodium chloride (rNCC) cotransporters in various models of hypertension. His lab currently examines the intracellular mechanisms by which aldosterone and angiotensin regulate rNCC with the goal of increasing our understanding of the mechanisms that cause hypertension. This knowledge will hopefully lead to improved treatment and quality of life for patients affected by kidney disorders. Read more…