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College of Nursing Research

The faculty at UTHSC College of Nursing have been exceedingly successful at securing funding for a variety of programs of research. In addition to NIH funding, our researchers have been awarded significant funding from private and public foundations and corporations. Links on researchers' names will navigate to their faculty profiles with the College of Nursing.

Alexandrov, Anne W. PhD, RN, CCRN, ANVP-BC, NVRN-BC, FAAN
Dr. Anne Alexandrov has more than 25 years of expertise directed at the hyperacute treatment of ischemic stroke and is a leading international nurse researcher in the area of intracranial hemodynamic augmentation in acute stroke. Her team's original work forms the major body of current knowledge about arterial blood flow in acute ischemic stroke and, in particular, head positioning as a method to augment blood flow in acute ischemic stroke. She is also a co-inventor and U.S. patent holder for ultrasound-enhanced thrombolysis and ultrasound-augmented brain perfusion. Dr. Alexandrov’s team directs vascular neurology in Memphis, TN, leading the U.S. and the world in annual thrombolytic treatment volume from a single site. As attending nurse for a Comprehensive Stroke Team, she has access to more than 1,500 acute ischemic stroke patients annually, including the CT/CTA-equipped UTHSC Mobile Stroke Unit which both diagnoses and treats acute stroke patients in the field. The team’s interest in reperfusion therapies has driven the Stroke Team to excel in hyperacute clinical trial enrollment. Dr. Alexandrov’s work has led her to her being recognized by many national and international awards as a committed researcher and expert practitioner capable of enlarging knowledge and effectively driving adoption of best practices for acute stroke.
Cao, Xueyuan PhD
Dr. Xueyuan Cao has more than 10 years of extensive experience in statistical support and research, especially in clinical trials and pharmacogenomics in pediatric leukemia. He has provided considerable support to three St. Jude-sponsored multicenter acute myeloid leukemia (AML) clinical trials. He is a coinvestigator of a NCI-funded R01 research grant to study ‘Pharmacogenetics of the Ara-C Metabolic Pathway’ in pediatric AML and recently serves as sub-award PI in UTHSC. He also serves as co-investigators in multiple genomic related research grant proposals in College of Nursing. Dr. Cao’s methodological research lies in the integration analysis of high dimension genomic data in both gene/gene set level and in multiple phenotypes in cohort studies. He has published 3 software packages in Bioconductor.
Channappanavar, Rudra DVM, MVSc, PhD

Dr. Channappanavar’s research program is focused on understanding the host immunity to a pathogen challenge. His research programs include 3 related research topics.

1) Host-virus interactions: Dr. Channappanavar is interested in studying the host-virus interactions during respiratory virus infections. Specifically, he aims to understand the host and virus determinants of the protective and pathogenic immune response following high and low pathogenic viral lung infections. His research program will use in vitro studies and in vivo experiments in animal models to identify major players in the pathogenesis of viral lung infections. Majority of these studies will be conducted in the UTHSC Regional Biocontainment Laboratory.

2) Immune response to infections during aging: Another area of Dr. Channappanavar’s research focus is to investigate the host factors responsible for sub-optimal immune response to virus infections in the elderly, with an ultimate goal to develop therapeutics for viral lung infections and enhance the immune response to viral infections and vaccines.  Since the elderly population is increasing due to increased life expectancy, understanding the basis of this increased susceptibility to infections is critical. Using human samples and animal models, he aims to identify the bases for impaired immune responses during aging. His research program is recently funded by the NIH/NIA to examine the role of interferons in host protection during aging.

3) Dr. Channappanavar is also developing a research program to elucidate the bases for the immune impairment and enhanced susceptibility to secondary infections in sepsis survivors, with a goal to develop strategies to boost immune responses and reduce post-sepsis complications.

Graff, J. Carolyn PhD, RN, FAAIDD
Dr. Carolyn Graff focuses her research on children with or at risk for intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families and the influence of prenatal and early childhood environments on health and developmental trajectories across childhood. She has investigated caregiving within families of children with chronic health disorders and/or genetic disorders and who are in custody of relative caregivers. She is currently principal investigator of a project that provides services to children being cared for by relatives living in low-income families. Her research broadly focuses on improving child health and developmental outcomes in diverse, low-income populations.

Likes, Wendy M. PhD, DNSc, APRN-BC, FAANP

Dr. Wendy Likes’ research area focuses on lower genital tract disease and human papillomavirus (HPV). Dr. Likes has investigated quality of life and sexual function in women with vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She has also investigated vulvar cytology, vaginal dilatation, and those at risk for anal intraepithelial neoplasia. Her program of research is tightly aligned with her clinical work as a nurse practitioner in the Center for HPV and Dysplasia. Dr. Likes currently has funding to evaluate biomarkers in the progression of VIN to vulvar cancer.

Rhoads, Sarah J. PhD, DNP

Dr. Sarah J. Rhoads is a telemedicine/telehealth researcher and educator, emphasizing the human impact of technologies and evidence-based implementation of technology. Research interests include connected health technology/telehealth, maternal and neonatal health, community based research, and rural health disparities. She has a passion for improving maternal and neonatal outcomes in the Mississippi River Delta region.
Stanfill, Ansley Grimes PhD, RN

Dr. Ansley Stanfill’s program of research focuses on the influence of genetic and epigenetic factors on long-term outcomes after neurological injury and disease. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of her work, she shares a joint appointment in the College of Medicine in the Department of Genetics, Genomics, and Informatics. She serves as principal investigator on a prospective study in subarachnoid hemorrhage funded by the UTHSC Cornet Award. This project is currently enrolling patients at Methodist University Hospital and Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis to donate serial blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples for genetic and methylation analyses. This information is matched with patients’ clinical and demographic data; patients are then followed for 12 months post-stroke to investigate those factors that are most predictive of long-term physical, cognitive, and affective outcomes.

Dr. Stanfill is also principal investigator on a second project in sports-related concussion/mTBI. This work is funded through a Dean’s Research Fellowship Award and has two arms. In the first, former student athletes are interviewed about their experiences of sports-related concussion and factors that they feel relate to the injury, the trajectory of recovery, and readiness to return to play and classes. The second arm of this project is in partnership with the Athletic Department of Rhodes College. Here, she and her co-investigators are recruiting a prospective cohort of student athletes that will be followed longitudinally throughout the season and monitored for concussion. Upon injury, the student athlete will then donate serial blood samples and undergo further standardized testing and clinical assessment, which will allow characterization of the genetic, epigenetic, and biomarker changes related to the injury and recovery process.

Starks, Shaquita A. PhD, APRN, FNP-BC
Dr. Shaquita Starks’ research focuses on determining what affects the quality of life for African American women caring for patients with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)—to include examining the mood profile of study participants, reported substance use, prevalence of historical depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms of depression. She is currently developing a program of research that will examine the connections between social influences and mental and physical health in ethnic minorities.
Umberger, Reba PhD, RN, CCRN-K

Dr. Reba Umberger joined the UTHSC College of Nursing in July 2017 as an Assistant Professor in Department of Acute and Tertiary Care. Her program of research is focused on long-term outcomes and immune suppression in survivors of sepsis.

She has over 30 years of experience in critical care, focused on cardiac and medical intensive care populations. She was initially certified in critical care by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses in 1992, recertified in 2009 and has maintained certification in adult critical care (CCRN-K). Her work with pulmonary and critical care researchers studying acute respiratory distress syndrome and sepsis led her to pursue advanced research degrees at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She received a Master of Science degree in Epidemiology in 2004 and a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Science in 2011. She completed a pre-doctoral fellowship in genetics with the National Institute of Nursing Research. Her dissertation examined the influence of exaggerated inflammatory cytokines, cytokine polymorphisms, and environmental factors on the development of secondary infections in patients admitted to the ICU with sepsis. She received funding for this work from the International Society of Nurses in Genetics.

Her funded research has included feasibility of the electronic medical records to identify patients with sepsis and explored techniques for gathering data efficiently for future prospective trials. She also collaborated with qualitative researchers to gain deeper insights into experiences of both survivors of sepsis and their informal caregivers. These experiences have broadened her perspective and will be beneficial as she moves her research forward at UTHSC in long-term immune suppression among survivors of sepsis. This work was funded by the Physicians Medical and Education Foundation (PMERF) in Knoxville, TN. The next steps in her program of research are to examine sepsis-related hospital readmissions in a national readmission database, and to collaborate with researcher to better understand mechanisms of immune suppression in a cohort of sepsis survivors. This work will involve examining biomarkers and potential epigenetic mechanisms influencing adaptive immunity. Dr. Umberger encourages nurses with an acute care background who are interested in pursuing a PhD towards improving long-term outcomes in sepsis to contact her about potential research opportunities.

Waller, Melody N. PhD, RN
Dr. Melody Waller’s interests lie in the areas of Health Disparity and Women’s and Minority Health research. Her recent research efforts focus on African American women’s sexual health. She is currently serving as principal investigator on a project entitled “Factors Associated with African American Women’s Sexual Health and Risk Behavior during Emerging Adulthood,” a study using a holistic approach to explore young African American women’s sexual behavior and perceptions of sexual health. She has used mixed methods research designs to better understand women’s health behavior related to sexuality and overall sexual well-being. Dr. Waller is a College of Nursing Research Fellow and has received funding from a Sigma Theta Tau Beta Theta-at-Large Chapter Research Grant. She has also served as co-investigator on a funded grant to evaluate the efficacy of vaginal dilatation to maintain vaginal patency in cervical cancer patients.
Wicks, Mona N. PhD, RN, FAAN
Dr. Mona Wicks has for 24 years investigated the influence of chronic conditions on families, the health of ethnic minority populations broadly, and the health and well-being African American women who are caregivers primarily to a chronically ill relative. She is the site principal investigator of a funded and multi-site 5-year study entitled "Peer-Led Asthma Self-Management for Adolescents (PLASMA)." The study sites include three locations: Buffalo, NY; Baltimore, MD; and Memphis, TN. This important study focuses on a serious health concern among inner-city adolescents. She is also a consultant on a funded study exploring the experiences of working caregivers. Dr. Wicks’ most recent NIH-funded study as PI was a randomized control trial testing the efficacy of INSIGHT (a cognitive behavioral group intervention) and its influence on symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as caregiver mental health functioning. She previously served as co-investigator on a National Institutes of Health, National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities grant that resulted in the development of a Health Disparities Exploratory Center of Excellence (PI, White-Means). Dr. Wicks also was a consultant on a National Cancer Institute grant focused on prostate cancer in African Americans (PI, Ukoli).


Last Published: Jan 16, 2020