Mentoring is the single most important factor that contributes to academic success. Those with mentors are more likely to make timely progress toward their degrees and make renewed commitments to their professions. This collaboration allows mentees to meet the various challenges of their careers. Mentoring is a personal as well as a professional relationship.

The Mentor’s responsibilities include:

  1. Providing leadership for the development of scholar’s mentored research project that will lead to a K-award application and independent funding
  2. Have regular face to face meetings with the scholar and regular communication by phone and/or email
  3. Provide laboratory space and equipment or clinical resources required for the scholar to develop their mentored research project
  4. Serve as mentor for a formal K-award or similar funding by the end of the training period


Primary Mentors

Primary mentors were selected from a group of NIH-funded Augusta University investigators. The following faculty will serve as Primary Mentors:

 Dr. Julia Brittain
 Dr. Brittain is an Associate Professor in the Vascular Biology Center. Dr. Brittain’s research has focused on understanding red blood cell adhesion and pathology in sickle cell disease. She has discovered novel adhesion receptors on the surface of these cells, discovered and mapped the signaling pathways in these cells that lead to increased adhesion in the vasculature, and the study of abnormal bone marrow mobilization and stress reticulocyte release into the peripheral blood. Dr. Brittain continues to study the role of coagulation activation in hyper-inflammatory states, pro-thrombotic, preeclampsia, and regulation of blood pressure.
Dr. Robert Gibson

Dr. Gibson is a professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy. His training as a social scientist and rehabilitation specialist provides a unique perspective for his research in sickle cell patients. Dr. Gibson brings to the training program the focus of social and cultural aspects of chronic illness, health care disparities, medical home, working with minority populations and quality of life measures. Currently, Dr. Gibson serves as the Co-PI for the NCMHD Southeastern Exploratory Sickle Cell Center of Excellence.

Dr. Tohru Ikuta Dr. Ikuta is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology. The Ikuta lab was the first to demonstrate the cyclic nucleotides cAMP and cGMP play a role in drug-mediated fetal hemoglobin induction. Recent work is to develop novel combination therapy using hydroxyurea and phosphodiesterase (PDE) inhibitor. A potential MRP would involve determining the intracellular signaling pathways involved in HU-mediated fetal hemoglobin induction and the efficacy of HU combined with a cAMP-dependent PDE inhibitor.
Dr. Abdullah Kutlar 

Dr. Kutlar is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation and an Associate Professor in the School of Graduate Studies and serves as the Director of the Sickle Cell Center. Dr. Kutlar’s research interests are genetic modifiers SCD phenotypes, conducting early phase clinical trials of novel fetal hemoglobin inducing agents, and genetic correlates of sickle cell pain and response to opioids. Two MRPs under Dr. Kutlar’s mentorship are the role of haptoglobin polymorphisms as genetic modifiers of SCD and genetic factors influencing pain, hyperalgesia, and opioid response in SCD.

Dr. Steffen Meiler 

Dr. Meiler is Professor and Vice Chair for Research with academic appointments in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Medicine and the College of Graduate Studies. Dr. Meiler’s laboratory focuses on preclinical investigations of fetal hemoglobin-inducing and anti-inflammatory compounds in transgenic sickle mice. A potential MRP would evaluate a combinatory treatment strategy of hydroxyurea with endothelin receptor antagonists since hydroxyurea induces fetal hemoglobin and modulates endothelin expression. This might result in improved organ function in a long term treatment model of SCD.

Dr. Betty Pace 

Dr. Pace is a Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She is known for her work related to globin gene regulation and p38 MAPK cell signaling involved in drug-mediated fetal hemoglobin induction. A potential MRP would be related to drug-mediated γ-globin induction using in vitro tissue culture systems and the sickle mouse model. A second MRP would define genetic modifiers of fetal hemoglobin inheritability using a DNA tissue bank established in her lab and genome-wide association studies.

Dr. Dorothy Tuan 

Dr. Tuan, a Professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, has dedicated her career to investigating transcriptional regulation of globin genes expression by the locus control region. More recent her research is focused on molecular mechanism of HU-mediated γ-globin gene reactivation. Next generation fetal hemoglobin inducing drugs should therefore be cell-specific and gene-specific. A potential MRP might involve the investigation of a γ-globin promoter complex formed by the transcription factors, NF-Y, GATA-2, BCL11A, and CoupTFII to screen existing small chemical compound libraries for drugs that induce γ-globin.



Secondary Mentors/Teaching Faculty

To ensure the diversity of future scientist in the United States, we have recruited teaching faculty from complimentary areas of expertise and leaders in the red blood cell field as mentors. The following is a list of our current teaching faculty. The following faculty will provide additional areas of research/teaching expertise to achieve the MRP developed by the primary mentor and scholar.

Dr. Adviye Ergul

Dr. Ergul is Professor in the Department of Physiology. The overall goal of the Ergul laboratory is to understand the regulation of cerebrovascular function in diabetes and SCD. She has shown that ET causes cerebrovascular remodeling via matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). One potential MRP is to test if ET-1 promotes cerebrovascular remodeling in SCD. Using brain microvascular endothelial (EC) and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) exposed to deoxygenated sickled red cells +/- ET receptor antagonists, studies will determine the effect of ET-1-mediated MMP activation of growth factor, leading to growth of VSMC.

Dr. Varghese George

Dr. George is Professor and Chair of the Department of Biostatistics. He has a well-established track record of methodological and collaborative research in Biostatistics, Statistical Genomics and Genetic Epidemiology. His primary research focus is on family-based association and linkage disequilibrium studies and Bayesian methods in genetic analysis. Recent advances in high-throughput genotyping have produced challenges in data analysis, and call for new statistical and bioinformatics methods. Dr. George is developing statistical methods for differential methylation pattern of complex diseases which will be a potential MRP.

Dr. Roni Bollag (Medical Director)

Dr. Bollag (Medical Director) coordinates transfusion medicine services at Augusta University. Dr. Bollag has interest in autoimmune processes relevant to blood product transfusion. He will deliver transfusion medicine topics such as transfusion product considerations in the Hemoglobinopathy Core Curriculum and design a transfusion medicine elective.

Dr. Ferdane Kutlar

Dr. Kutlar is Director of the THJ Huisman Hemoglobinopathy Laboratory and oversees diagnostic DNA laboratory services. The laboratory conducts protein and DNA-based methods for the definitive diagnosis of hemoglobinopathies including a wide variety of complex hemoglobin syndromes. Dr. Kutlar provides training and mentorship to students at multiple levels. She will lecture in the Hemoglobinopathy Core Curriculum and develop the required Hemoglobinopathy Variant Laboratory rotation.