Augusta University and the University of Georgia have a long history of collaboration on research that aims to improve the health of Georgians and people around the country. In addition to educating physicians for Georgia, the AU/UGA Medical Partnership will strengthen preexisting collaborations while opening new avenues for research to improve human health.
Collaboration between AU and UGA takes a variety of forms, including researchers working together on grants in a multitude of areas, students from the UGA College of Pharmacy honing their skills at the AU campus in Augusta and AU's Center for Pharmacy and Experimental Therapeutics which includes faculty from both institutions.
Highlights of research accomplishments include the opening of a new Clinical and Translational Research Unit – a new home on campus to patient-oriented research projects. The Offices of the Vice Presidents for Research at both AU and UGA have sponsored joint seed grants that have helped to link the two campuses. In addition, there are a growing number of collaborative relationships among these universities and the teaching faculty who also practice in our community.
Faculty Spotlight - Melissa Davis, PhD
Melissa Davis joined the inaugural AU/UGA Medical Partnership faculty in 2009 as a genetics professor. Currently she is a tenure-track faculty member with the UGA Department of Genetics and serves in a dual role with the Medical Partnership. Her lab conducts research concerned with the molecular and environmental factors that impact the etiology of breast cancer subtypes. She is also investigating the role of ancestral genetics on predisposition to these tumor types and/or oncogene expression and function. For this work, Davis is collaborating with researchers in the UGA College of Public Health to uncover the environmental factors that impact epigenetic regulation of key metabolism, immunity, and cancer genes. Read more about the Davis lab below:
The Davis lab is the first and only human subjects’ genetics lab in the Department of Genetics at UGA. We study the genetic epidemiological factors that drive disparities in cancer mortality among ethnic groups. Our work is very novel for two reasons:
1- disparities research traditionally focuses on inequities in health care and our work transcends these factors, highlighting the biological diversity in physiological mechanisms that impact the behavior and treatment response of malignancy.
2- We have a unique perspective of how genetics impacts cancer etiology in that we shift our lens to the tumor microenvironment, rather than the composition/cause of the malignant mass, recognizing that tumor behavior is defined by the niche it has developed in order to circumvent internal anti-cancer mechanisms, such as the immune system. Specifically, with a focus on breast and prostate tumors as they investigate the impact of African ancestry in disparate clinical outcomes – survival and treatment response.
We know that tumor biology is one reason why African and African American women die more frequently and at earlier ages from the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, namely Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Previously, the Davis lab has produced exciting findings showing that: 1- key regulators and binding proteins of hormonal growth factor pathways have exclusive or distinct regulation of both expression levels and subcellular localization among the breast cancer subtypes, linked to African Ancestry; 2- a well-known African-specific polymorphism in the DARC/ACKR1 gene causes differential regulation of the gene that correlates with immune response to tumor progression; and 3- epigenetic modulators (KAISO, CARM1 and H2AZ) that act in concert with steroid receptors have distinct expression and localization (and therefore, function) in breast tumors among ancestry groups. Most recently, we are focused on our observation of race differences in the expression of the DARC Chemokine Receptor gene in breast tumors, which we previously showed has altered regulation due to an ancient African-specific allele, which suggests a novel role of the gene in cancer progression. DARC, which normally regulates secretion and circulating levels of pro-inflammatory molecules, elicits unique tumor-host immune responses. Our forthcoming papers highlight new findings that indicate DARC tumor expression results in distinct immunological responses through unique immune cell-type infiltration. These changes appear to be race specific and could be a key mechanism in disparate cancer survival trends. That said, the more we discover, the more our community appreciates the impact of this work.
- Melissa Davis, PhD
Research at AU
The mission of Augusta University is to provide leadership and excellence in teaching, discovery, clinical care, and service as a student-centered comprehensive research university and academic health center with a wide range of programs from learning assistance through postdoctoral studies.
Clinical and translational research programs at AU focus on three key areas that disproportionately affect the health of Georgians: cancer, cardiometabolic disease, and neurological disease including stroke. They also are developing three emerging areas of research strength: regenerative & reparative medicine, personalized medicine & genomics, and public and preventive health.
Research at UGA
The UGA Office of the Vice President for Research encourages and supports innovative interdisciplinary research, scholarship and creative activities that contribute to the physical, emotional and economic well-being of the people of Georgia, the nation and the world. Through partnerships and collaborations, they seek to share knowledge, increase innovation, and deliver the products of their research to the marketplace.