Georgia Research Alliance names three new Augusta University eminent scholars

By Maria Saporta

For the first time in its history, the Georgia Research Alliance is bringing three new scholars at one of its member institutions – Augusta University.

The three new eminent scholars will anchor Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia research in age-related diseases.

Susan Shows, president and CEO of the Georgia Research Alliance, explained at a board meeting Thursday that Georgia is the 8th most populous state but ranks 6th among states with elderly population.

The new hires also included the “first husband-wife team” of recruited GRA eminent scholars, Shows added.

Renowned immunologists and vascular biologists Drs. Klaus Ley and Catherine “Lynn” Hedrick from California’s La Jolla Institute for Immunology will become co-directors of the new Center for Immunology at the Medical College of Georgia, an initiative which will dramatically expand research to better harness the power of the immune system to prevent and treat disease.

The third eminent scholar announced this week is Dr. Qin Wang, an expert in molecular neuropharmacology exploring how cell surface receptor signaling regulates healthy brain function and contributes to neurological and psychiatric disorders. She has been named the inaugural director of the Program for Alzheimer’s Therapeutics Discovery at the Medical College of Georgia.

The new eminent scholars will fill three of the 12 vacancies for GRA researchers across the state. Currently, there are 72 eminent scholar positions supported by state dollars with matching private funds at GRA’s eight partner institutions: the University of Georgia, Augusta University, Emory University, Clark Atlanta University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Mercer University and the Morehouse School of Medicine.

Drs. Ley and Hedrick will join the faculty of the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) on Oct. 1. They already have started strategic, aggressive recruitment of an additional 20 scientists with expertise in the cutting-edge immunology field, according to Dr. David Hess, MCG’s dean.

““Our immune system is essential to our health and wellbeing but also is a factor in most disease states, from heart disease and cancer to rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and COVID-19,” Hess said. “These expanding efforts in immunology will enable Georgia’s public medical school to better address big questions that affect our health, like why most patients don’t get the resounding response to immunotherapy President Jimmy Carter did to his metastatic melanoma a handful of years ago, and how to keep our immune system protecting us from disease rather than contributing to it, particularly as we age.”

Ley and Hedrick will be collaborating with MCG scientists already working in the field, like Dr. Gang Zhou, who is working to improve the impact of immunotherapy; and Dr. David Munn, who is exploring the therapeutic potential of inhibiting a naturally occurring enzyme called IDO, which tumors exploit to protect themselves from the immune response.

“It’s a tremendous win for Georgia to recruit researchers of the caliber of Lynn Hedrick and Klaus Ley,” Shows said. “Together, they will build an ambitious research enterprise that attracts major public and private funding, creates valuable workforce opportunities and further enriches our state’s reputation for boldly pursuing answers to real needs.”

In a press release, Ley said their motivation is to give back by providing immunology expertise and hiring the 20 best possible people to build an immunology institute that will eventually become world class.

Work at the new center will translate to better care for people, like monoclonal antibodies, cell-based therapies and new diagnostics, Ley said. Eventually Ley and Hedrick hope to help educate the next generation of immunologists by offering a graduate program in immunology.

Hedrick and Ley rank among the top 0.1 percent of scholars worldwide publishing studies about monocytes, frontline immune responders to both infections and other invaders like cancer.

The recruitment of Dr. Wang also is being celebrated as a big win for Georgia.

“Qin Wang is a superstar who has already moved the needle significantly in Alzheimer’s research,” Show said. “She has deepened understanding of the toxic cascade in the brain that contributes to the disease, and she has discovered new avenues for treatments. Georgia is fortunate to add her great breadth and depth in pharmacology to our university research portfolio.”

Dr. Hess agreed.

“The Alzheimer’s Association tells us that more than six million Americans already are living with this devastating problem, a number that is likely to more than double in the next few decades,” Hess said. “With great support from the Georgia Research Alliance, Dr. Wang will enable us to more strategically address this pervasive condition generally associated with aging and help us identify better therapeutic and prevention strategies that improve people’s lives.”

Dr. Wang joins the faculty of the MCG Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine on April 1. She is an MD/PhD who completed her postdoctoral studies in pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, joined the faculty there then moved to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2005 where she is currently a professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology.

She is a member of the American Heart Association Councils on Basic Cardiovascular Sciences and High Blood Pressure Research. She has served as a regular member of the National Institutes of Health and AHA Molecular Peer Review Study Groups.

Dr. Wang also has served as a grant reviewer for the Alzheimer’s Association for more than a decade and has served on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Alzheimer’s Disease Congress and on the Executive Committee of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics’ Molecular Pharmacology Division.

The Georgia Research Alliance is an influential organization with top business leaders, presidents of the state’s research universities and key civic leaders. After witnessing Georgia’s success, other states have copied the public-private partnership model.

The mission of the 31-year-old Alliance has been to nurture Georgia’s technology and research sectors by attracting top researchers who are able to secure increased federal and private research grants that have to job growth and economic development.

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