A program aimed at increasing the diversity of young scientists is being hosted for the seventh year at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
PRIDE, or Programs to Increase Diversity Among Individuals Engaged in Health-Related Research, is a mentored research program funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute that pairs young scientists and seasoned researchers with the goal of helping junior faculty learn what it takes to advance their careers. Participants work with a mentor to learn grant writing skills and hands-on bench research skills.
At MCG, the program is directed by Dr. Betty Pace, professor of pediatrics and Francis J. Tedesco, MD, Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, who started one of the first three PRIDE programs in the country at the University of Texas at Dallas in 2006. Pace brought the program, now one of only nine in the country, with her to MCG in 2010.
This year, nine mentees from universities across the country will be in Augusta through July 30 for the PRIDE Summer Institute, which will focus on functional and translational genomics of blood disorders.
PRIDE program sites have trained more than 400 mentees since the program’s inception — 85 of those under Pace’s leadership.
Participants, their research interests and mentors are:
Dr. Benjamin J. Becerra
Dr. Becerra is an associate professor who teaches statistics and research at the Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions. He is studying complementary integrative medicine among minority populations to identify culturally relevant therapies to improve sleep. Integrative medicine is an approach that addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health. Becerra’s mentor is Dr. Gustavo Nino, principal investigator in the Center for Genetic Medicine and director of sleep medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Nancy Crego
Dr. Crego is an assistant professor in the Duke University School of Nursing who is studying genetic predictors of sickle cell disease severity and response to hydroxyurea. Hydroxyurea is the only drug that has proven to be effective in reducing the frequency of the pain crises that are a hallmark of sickle cell disease. Crego’s mentor is Dr. Abdullah Kutlar, hematologist and director of MCG’s Sickle Cell Center.
Dr. Cheryl Gomillion
Dr. Gomillion is an assistant professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia who studies tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Her research focus during the PRIDE program will be on regenerative medicine, including cell therapy and tissue engineering. Her mentor is Dr. Stephanie Bryant, associate director of the Materials Science and Engineering Program at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Dr. Kelly Harris
Dr. Harris is an occupational therapist and instructor at Washington University in St. Louis. Her project is focused on developing state population-based sets of medical and educational data for youth with sickle cell disease in Missouri. Her mentor is Dr. Marsha Treadwell, a clinical psychologist and director of hematology behavioral services at the University of California San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Martha Kenney
Dr. Kenney is a pediatric anesthesiologist and assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine. She is studying how to identify the mechanisms of chronic pain development in patients with sickle cell disease, non-opioid treatments and the genetics of chronic pain. Her mentor is Dr. Wally Smith, Florence Neal Cooper Smith Professor of Sickle Cell Disease at Virginia Commonwealth University, an internist, health services researcher and a national authority on health disparities, quality improvement and sickle cell disease.
Dr. Donald Lynch
Dr. Lynch is an interventional cardiologist and assistant professor in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. His PRIDE project is focused on investigating the mechanisms that link inflammation to platelet function and hemostasis — or stopping the flow of blood — while patients are undergoing a trans-catheter heart valve procedure, or TAVR, a minimally invasive surgical procedure that repairs the aortic valve without removing the old, damaged valve. This approach delivers a fully collapsible replacement valve to the valve site through a catheter, instead of having to open a patient’s chest. His mentors are Dr. Andrew Weyrich, vice president for research at the University of Utah and a professor of internal medicine at the university’s Bowman Gray School of Medicine, who studies novel functions of platelets in health and disease.
Dr. Tilicia L. Mayo-Gamble
Dr. Mayo-Gamble is a behavioral scientist and assistant professor of community health in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University. Her research project will focus on using community engagement to increase self-care behaviors and improve health outcomes in adults with sickle cell disease. Her mentor is Dr. Joseph Telfair, Jiann-Ping Hsu/Karl E. Peace Eminent Scholar Chair of Public Health and chair of Community Health and Behavior Education at Georgia Southern.
Dr. Margo Rollins
Dr. Rollins is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist and assistant professor at Emory University, who also is fellowship-trained in blood banking and transfusion medicine. Her project is focused on alloimmunization as a complication of blood transfusions during pregnancy in patients with sickle cell disease. Alloimmunization happens when maternal antibodies cross the placenta and target fetal red blood cell antigens causing destruction of the red blood cells and resulting fetal anemia. Her mentor is Dr. Stella Chou, a pediatric hematologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an expert in transfusion medicine and sickle cell disease and alloimmunization.
Dr. C. LaShan Simpson
Dr. Simpson is a biomedical engineer and associate professor at Mississippi State University, whose project is focused on developing therapies for the calcification of blood vessels, a hallmark of cardiovascular disease, and analyzing how smooth muscle cells switch into bone making cells called osteoblasts during the mineralization of arteries, a common complication of chronic kidney disease and diabetes. Her mentors are Dr. Sandra Murray, a cell biologist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and Dr. Juan Gonzàlez, a microbiologist and associate dean of graduate studies in the School of Natural Sciences and Math at the University of Texas at Dallas.