Meharry Medical College research

metrc research Projects

Collaborative Research Projects
Pilot Projects
Clinical Research Projects


Collaborative Research Projects

Collaborative Research Projects are conducted by seasoned clinical and translational scientists, the projects show promise for productive scientific discovery within our core mission of advancing Health Disparities research for under represented populations.

Waldemar Popik, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine and
Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research

Mechanism of HIV-1 Infection of Urinary Podocytes in HIVAN
Podocytes, cells in the kidney that help filter blood, do not have the same molecules on them that HIV uses to infect other cells, yet HIV patients with a certain genetic mutation suffer from rapid kidney failure. This project has shown how HIV can still damage the kidneys of these patients, overwhelmingly African American, and is working on refining a way to detect the genetic mutation using urine instead of a kidney biopsy in order to make early diagnosis easier.

Role of Autophagy in HIVAN pathogenesis
While HIV may be able to use a trick of the immune system to enter kidney cells without actually infecting them (see Mechanism of HIV-1 Infection of Urinary Podocytes in HIVAN above), it may also use what is called an 'accessory protein' to make kidney cells self-destruct. This study is trying to define how this happens so that a drug might be designed to stop kidney damage in HIV patients.

Xinhong Dong, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of  Microbiology and Immunology  and
Member, Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research

A Novel Target for Developing Anti-HIV Inhibitors
HIV hijacks proteins in the patient's cells and uses them to make virus copies. This project is looking for a way to interfere with how the virus uses a specific human protein to actually build more copies.

Donald Alcendor, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Microbiology and Immunology and
Member, Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research

In vitro model for the effects of BV on vaginal epithelium HIV infectivity
Public health researchers have known for a long time that women with bacterial vaginosis, a condition in which the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina become unbalanced, leading to an infection, are at a higher risk of acquiring HIV. This study is revealing how a few specific species of bacteria disrupt the vaginal immune system, making it easier for HIV to get past the body's natural defenses.

Hua Xie, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Oral Biology and
Member, Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research

Prevalence and correlation of Porphyromonas gingivalis and Streptococcus cristatus
This project explores how two different bacteria common in the mouth interact. Porphyromonas gingivalis is a bacterium responsible for gingivitis, a condition in which the gums and bones around the teeth become infected, ending in tooth loss. Streptococcus cristatus creates a chemical that makes it difficult for P. gingivalis to group together below the gumline and might be used to prevent the development of gingivitis.

Bindong Liu, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine and
Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research

Characterizing GBV-C E2 protein for anti-HIV drug design
A harmless virus, called GBV, shares many characteristics with HIV but without causing disease. This project is trying to control GBV so that it might be used to deliver drugs straight to cells that HIV infects. This would make treatment more effective and less expensive and have fewer side effects.

Pius N. Nde, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Molecular mechanism of cardiac fibrosis induced by Trypanosoma cruzi infection
Typanosoma cruzi is a parasite common to South and Central America and has been making appearances in the United States. The parasite causes Chagas Disease, a condition in which many patients die of heart failure. This research has discovered a protein produced by the parasite that damages the heart. This discovery may lead to a way to interfere with that protein.

Stephania T. Miller-Hughes, Ph.D., M.S.C.I.
Associate Professor, Department of Surgery

Community Partnership to Reduce the Diabetes/Obesity Burden among African American Women in Nashville, TN
Working with Mt. Zion Baptist Church and the Full Circle Healthy Community Coalition, this project plans to test a peer-support technique to help women with very little time for themselves better manage their weight and Type 2 diabetes.

Stella Nowicki, D.D.S.
Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology

CD55, Vitamin D3, and Race in Preterm Labor
Preterm labor, associated with increased infant death, affects about 12 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. and occurs more often in minority women, especially among African American women in Nashville. This study is exploring a link between hormones dependent upon Vitamin D and preterm labor. Results may indicate that proper nutrition or Vitamin D supplements could alleviate preterm labor.

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Pilot Projects

Pilot Projects are funded by MeTRC in order to provide preliminary data leading to larger scale applications in Clinical and Translational research activities. 

Smita Misra, Ph.D.
Instructor, School of Graduate Studies and Research

Racial Disparity in Breast Cancer Due to Disregulation of BRCA2 Expression
The gene BRCA2 has been shown in recent years to have a significant influence on breast cancer. Mutations in the gene, most common in African American women, are associated with aggressive cancers. This work has identified a protein overproduced as a result of these mutations and suggests that it is causing the aggressive cancers. If the details of this protein can be understood, new drugs might be able to stop its effects.

L. Leon Dent, M.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Surgery

Comparative Genomic Sequencing in Multi-Resistant Acinetobacter Baumannii Phenotypes
Taking advantage of the cutting edge Proteomics Core of the MeTRC, this project has identified the genetic sequences of several kinds of drug-resistant bacteria, which might help identify their origin and better ways to treat them.

Xinhong Dong, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and
Member, Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research

The role of Gag-AP-3 interaction in HIV-1 target cells
HIV must go through several biochemical steps to force an infected cell to make a copy of the virus. One of these steps takes the new virus copy to the cell surface where it will be released into the body. This project is identifying how viral proteins interact with human ones to accomplish this. Once identified, small pieces of proteins, called peptides, can be designed that might stop the cell from carrying new virus copies to its surface.

Donald Alcendor, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Microbiology and Immunology and
Member, Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research

Pericytes and Cytomegalovirus Neuropathology in Congenital Disease
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a virus that is associated with the vast majority of congenital diseases and is most common among minority and low-income populations. This research has identified several genes in cells of the blood-brain barrier that CMV seems to change, which may result in birth defects.

Pandu Gangula, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Physiology
Racial/ethnicity differences on Vitamin D, Nitric Oxide synthesis & function in pre & postmenopausal and women vasculature
Vitamin D is used in many ways to keep the body healthy and is related to hormone production and fluctuation in women. This research is showing how low levels of vitamin D, common among African American women, may be contributing to the hypertension more commonly diagnosed among black women than white women.

Anthony Archibong, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Physiology

Female fertility preservation using peripheral blood stem cells
Many cancers that occur in women of reproductive age often result in infertility after treatment with chemo or radiation therapy. This project is exploring if the use of peripheral blood stem cells, a non-embryonic source of stem cells, can help protect women from, or repair, the effects of cancer treatment on fertility.

Chandravanu Dash, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Cancer Biology and
Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research

Proteomics analysis of HIV-1 Preintegration Complexes (PICs)
As antiretroviral drugs keep HIV patients alive longer, we see the rise of drug-resistant HIV. In order to keep ahead of these mutations in the virus, new ways of using drugs to interfere with the virus's reproduction cycle must be developed. Working with MeTRC's cutting edge Proteomics core facility, this project is identifying proteins used by the virus to insert itself into human DNA. Once identified, drugs might be designed to stop this process.

Sylvie Akohoue, Ph.D., CNS
Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine

A comprehensive approach to Type 2 diabetes self-management for low-income women
This study is testing a self-management program coupled with a dedicated liaison to help keep diabetic women on track with exercise and diet to control their Type 2 diabetes.

Kushal Patel, Ph.D.
A questionnaire to assess biospecimen donation among African Americans
Nationwide, the availability of blood and tissue specimens from African Americans is very low, preventing critical research to improve the health of black communities. This project looks to identify attitudes among African Americans that negatively impact donating tissue for research.

Uma Rao, M.D.
Coping with Interpersonal Violence in African American Women
Research indicates that African American women have an unusually high risk of interpersonal violence, often resulting in symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder and having the same devastating effects on the ability to function well in daily life. This project looks to identify what biological factors help some women overcome these traumatic events more quickly than others, and how these affect coping mechanisms.

Amos Sakwe, Ph.D.
Evaluation of calcium sensing receptor variants as prognostic markers for aggressive breast cancer
The most aggressive types of breast cancer occur most frequently in young African American women. These kinds of cancer are very difficult to treat, and identifying them early often improves the outcome of the disease. This research is looking at a unique chemical that might be used to identify early on if a woman has this kind of cancer.

Anil Shanker, Ph.D.
Improving adoptive immunotherapy in breast cancer
The body continuously tries to control the appearance of cancer, and cancerous cells continuously try to suppress the body's immune system. This research is attempting to stop tumor cells with a one-two drug punch. One treatment makes the cancer cells easier for the body to kill, and another treatment amps up the body's cancer killing cells.

Chandrasekhar Thota, M.D.
Impact of Oral Microbes on Pregnancy Outcomes in African American and Caucasian Women
This study, funded by a special American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) supplement to the MeTRC program, seeks to define how bacteria living in the mouth can get into the bloodstream and negatively impact pregnancy. Preterm labor is a significant problem among African American women, and oral health may play a part in this disparity.

Tultul Nayyar, Ph.D.
Ovarian hormones and β-arrestin1 during major depression in reproductive women
This project focuses on the influence of female hormone fluctuations on the development of major depressive disorder, which is more common in women than men. Identifying which hormones have the largest affect may help refine treatment options.

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Clinical Research Projects

Chandrasekhar Thota, Ph.D.
Instructor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Impact of Oral Microbes on Pregnancy Outcomes in African American and Caucasian Women

Sunil Halder, Ph.D.
Former Instructor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Molecular Determinants of Green Tea Nonresponsiveness

Yong Cui, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine
Risk of concurrent use of herbs & conventional drugs in breast cancer patients