Asthma Research

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    Division Director

    A photo of Gurjit Khurana Hershey.

    Gurjit Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD Director, Division of Asthma Research

    is the principal investigator of a federally funded Asthma and Allergic Diseases Cooperative Research Center which supports, in part, the asthma and allergy-based Greater Cincinnati Pediatric Clinic Repository. She also focuses on elucidating the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the development of asthma and eczema. 

    Visit the Khurana Hershey Lab.

    513-636-7054
    gurjit.hershey@cchmc.org

    Gurjit Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD

    Director, Division of Asthma Research

    Co-Director, Office of Pediatric Clinical Fellowships

    Academic Information

    Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics

    Phone: 513-636-7054

    Fax: 513-636-1657

    Email: gurjit.hershey@cchmc.org

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    Specialties

    Clinical

    Asthma; allergic rhinitis; food allergy; urticaria

    Research

    Genetics of allergy and asthma; cytokines; signaling pathways

    Visit the Khurana Hershey Lab.

    Biography

    Gurjit Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD, received a BS degree from the University of Iowa, and MD and PhD degrees from Washington University School of Medicine. After completing pediatric residency and an allergy/immunology Fellowship at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Dr. Khurana Hershey joined the faculty at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. She now directs the Division of Asthma Research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and is the director of the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

    In addition to her clinical duties, Dr. Khurana Hershey directs an NIH-funded research program focused on the genetics and genomics of allergic inflammation with a focus on cytokines and signal transduction. Her research has been continuously funded for over fifteen years. She is the principal investigator of an NIH-funded Asthma and Allergic Diseases Cooperative Research Center (AADCRC), and is also the PI of the Inner City Asthma Consortium, an NIH funded subcontract. She is the PI of the UC T32 MSTP training grant. In addition to her research contributions, she is an outstanding clinician and teacher/mentor. Several of her trainees now hold academic faculty positions. She is the recipient of the 2013 Cincinnati Children’s Educational Achievement Award.

    Dr. Khurana Hershey is a fellow of the American Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. She serves on the Executive Council of the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology Program Committee, is the Chair of the Grant Review Committee and appointed Vice Chair of the Basic and Immunology Interest Section. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. She was recently named One of the Five Leading Women in Healthcare in the Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan Area, and Outstanding Woman at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

    Education and Training

    BS: University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, 1985.

    PhD: Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, 1990.

    MD: Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, 1992. 

    Residency: St. Louis Children's Hospital, St. Louis, MO, 1992-1995. 

    Fellowship: St. Louis Children's Hospital, St. Louis, MO, 1995-1997.

    Board Certification: American Board of Pediatrics, 2009 - Present.

    Board Certification: American Board of Allergy and Immunology, 2008 - Present.

    Publications

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    Faculty

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    Jocelyn M. Biagini Myers, PhD

    is a molecular epidemiologist whose long-term goal is to develop a research career with a focus on reducing pediatric allergic disease. Her current research seeks to identify genetic and environmental causes of asthma, with a focus secondhand smoke exposure. She is also interested in interventions for reduction and prevention of smoke exposure and providing an evidence base for policy on smoking bans around children. 

    Visit the Biagini Myers Lab.

    513-803-1110
    jocelyn.biagini.myers@cchmc.org

    Jocelyn M. Biagini Myers, PhD

    Academic Information

    Assistant Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics

    Phone: 513-803-1110

    Email: jocelyn.biagini.myers@cchmc.org

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    Specialties

    Molecular epidemiology; secondhand smoke exposures and biomarkers; genetic and environmental causes of asthma and allergic disease

    Biography

    Dr. Biagini Myers is a molecular epidemiologist who began her training with a master’s degree in epidemiology 2004 and subsequent doctorate in molecular epidemiology at the University of Cincinnati (UC) in 2008. She was also a fellow in the Molecular Epidemiology in Children’s Environmental Health training program at UC from 2001-2004. During her time at UC, she was an integral part of building a new birth cohort of children at high risk for developing allergic disease and her research interests in secondhand smoke exposures and allergic disease pathogenesis were established. Her dissertation work evaluated genetic variation in nicotine metabolism-related genes and their effects on hair cotinine levels and wheezing in young children.

    Following her successful dissertation defense in 2008, she began a postdoctoral fellowship at Cincinnati Children's. From 2008-2011, she collaborated on a project focused on characterizing epithelial genes in allergic diseases and delineating the mechanisms by which they contribute to the allergic response. She also assisted collaborators in developing a custom SNP-chip for studying genes related to asthma and atopic dermatitis. In addition, she was successful in receiving funding in 2009 with a PI at UC to evaluate the contributions of genetic variation in nicotine metabolism and oxidative stress-related genes in pediatric asthma development.

    Dr. Biagini Myers’ long-term goal is to develop her research career as a molecular epidemiologist focused on reducing and preventing secondhand smoke-related pediatric asthma and allergic disease. She is also interested in intervention-based research for early-life prevention and reduction of smoke exposures in children and providing further evidence to promote public policies for smoking bans around children.

    Education and Training

    BS: Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH, 2001.

    MS: University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, 2004.

    PhD: University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, 2008.

    Postdoctoral Fellowship: Division of Asthma Research, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2008-2011.

    Publications

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    A photo of Melinda S. Butsch Kovacic.

    Melinda S. Butsch Kovacic, MPH, PhD

    is an epidemiologist who has clinical, translational and community-based participatory research projects. Her research group studies the genetic/epigenetic, environmental and socioeconomic basis of chronic diseases such as cancer, asthma and obesity, with specific interest in understanding how environmental exposures modify risk in vulnerable families. Her research is highly interdisciplinary with collaborators across the academic health center and in the community.

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    513-803-0130
    melinda.butsch.kovacic@cchmc.org

    Melinda S. Butsch Kovacic, MPH, PhD

    Academic Information

    Associate Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics

    Phone: 513-803-0130

    Fax: 513-636-1657

    Email: melinda.butsch.kovacic@cchmc.org

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    Specialties

    Clinical and molecular epidemiology; gene-environment interactions; biomarkers; community-based participatory research  

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    Biography

    One of Dr. Butsch Kovacic’s long-term goals is to improve the understanding of how the environment modifies chronic disease risk in genetically and/or economically vulnerable children. To this end, she is the PI of an ongoing study that is evaluating associations between environmental exposures and biomarkers of oxidative stress and whether or not these biomarkers will better predict risk of severe/uncontrolled childhood asthma compared to parental report of exposure alone (previous NIEHS R21 and CCTST KL2). As part of this study, her team is evaluating diesel exhaust particle and second hand tobacco smoke exposures, as well as obesity levels, markers of inflammation and antioxidant status, genetic and socioeconomic factors, and DNA methylation patterns. As her preliminary data revealed strong associations between her outcomes and socioeconomic factors, over the last year, she has partnered with Cincinnati’s CoreChange, a grassroots advocacy group, and Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses (SHNH; http://7hillsnh.org/), a full service social service agency and community center in the West End of Cincinnati, to expand her research into the community using a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach. To this end, she has implemented a community-based research registry and begun needs assessments using a child-centered PhotoVoice approach and adult focus groups. A peer family health COACH (Coaching On Achieving Community Health) program will begin soon. To inform these community-based studies, she is collaborating on a project seeking to develop unique multimedia educational materials targeting low-income and low-literacy caregivers with asthmatic children.

    In addition to these studies, she is also the PI of an ongoing longitudinal epidemiological study seeking to evaluate environmental and sexual exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV) in families with children diagnosed with Fanconi anemia (current NHLBI R01). Individuals with Fanconi anemia are genetically vulnerable to squamous head and neck cancers previously shown to be positively associated with HPV. Her team is testing for oral HPV DNA, HPV serological markers as well as markers of immune response. As part of this study, Dr. Butsch Kovacic regularly interacts with a community of families associated with the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, a strong parent led advocacy group focused on the improving the lives of children with Fanconi anemia, to design, optimize and disseminate the findings from her study.

    Education and Training

    MPH: Quantitative Methods, Harvard University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, 2003.

    PhD: Biochemistry, the Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, 2002.

    Postdoctoral Fellowship: Epidemiology/Public Health, Cancer Prevention Fellowship, Hormonal and Reproductive Epidemiology Branch, Division of of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, 2002-2006.

    Publications

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    Grants

    Fanconi Anemia as a Model for Susceptibility to Human Papillomavirus Infection. Principal Investigator. NIH/NHLBI. July 2011-Jun 2016.

    Epithelial Genes in Allergic Inflammation. Co- Investigator. NIH/NIAID Asthma and Allergic Diseases Cooperative Research Center. July 2011-June 2016.

    A photo of Weiguo Chen.

    Weiguo Chen, MD, PhD

    is seeking to understand the biological role of interleukin-13 receptor alpha2 in the development of allergic asthma as well as to assess the role of the asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA)/dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolase (DDAH) pathway in allergic asthma. He is also participating in collaborative research with the Divisions of Immunobiology and Pulmonary Biology at Cincinnati Children’s.

    Visit the Chen Lab.

    513-636-4752
    weiguo.chen@cchmc.org

    Weiguo Chen, MD, PhD

    Academic Information

    Assistant Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics

    Phone: 513-636-4752

    Fax: 513-636-1657

    Email: weiguo.chen@cchmc.org

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    Specialties

    Research

    Asthma; allergy and immunology

    Biography

    Dr. Chen received his MB degree in clinical medicine and an MS degree in biochemistry at Shanghai Medical University. In 2000, he received his PhD degree in cell and molecular biology at the University of Cincinnati. After completing his postdoctoral training at the University of California, Berkeley, he joined Cincinnati Children’s in 2001.

    Dr. Chen is a molecular biologist with research interests in molecular mechanisms of asthma pathogenesis. Over the past few years, Dr. Chen’s research focus shifted to studying epigenetic regulation of gene expression in allergic asthma, especially the enzymes involved in nitric oxide metabolism and oxidative stress, and seeking novel pharmacological therapies for asthma. His current studies include (1) Role of dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolases in the development of allergic asthma; (2) Epigenetic regulation of dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolases; and (3) Therapeutic effect of farnesoid X receptor agonists in allergic asthma.

    Dr. Chen has been actively conducting research on regulation of signaling pathways in the development of allergic asthma. He is a co-investigator on a project studying the biological functions of interleukin-13 receptors, demonstrating a distinct role of interleukin-13 receptor alpha 2 in the pathogenesis of allergic asthma.  Dr. Chen is collaborating with other investigators from the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati, Center for Autoimmune Genomics and Etiology, and Pyrosequencing Core Laboratory for Genomic and Epigenomic Research at Cincinnati Children’s to study the role of RNA editing in the development of allergic asthma as allergen exposure has been shown to alter RNA editing in lung tissues in experimental asthma.

    Dr. Chen’s long-term career goals are to advance his understanding of the molecular basis for asthma and help find a cure for asthma. 

    Education and Training

    MD: Shanghai Medical University, China, 1985.

    MS: Biochemistry, Shanghai Medical University, China, 1990.

    PhD: Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Cincinnati, OH, 2000.

    Postdoctoral: University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, 2000-2001; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2001-2008.

    Publications

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    A photo of Hong Ji.

    Hong Ji, PhD

    is a molecular biologist and epigeneticist who has a long-term interest in epigenetic basis of development and disease. Dr. Ji’s current research interests include: (a) studying epigenetic responses of epithelial cells to environmental exposure and how this relates to the pathogenesis of allergic disorders and (b) epigenetic plasticity of cells involved in allergic immune responses is a second focus.

    Visit the Ji Lab.

    513-803-5055
    hong.ji@cchmc.org

    Hong Ji, PhD

    Academic Information

    Assistant Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics

    Phone: 513-803-5055

    Fax: 513-636-1657

    Email: hong.ji@cchmc.org

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    Specialties

    Research

    Epigenetic plasticity of development and disease; asthma epigenetics; genome-wide and locus specific DNA methylation analysis; epigenetic regulation of gene expression 
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    Biography

    During her postdoc training, Hong Ji, PhD, applied microarray approaches to study DNA methylation in a genome-wide scale and its role in regulating gene expression. Dr. Ji identified the methylome maps of hematopoietic progenitor cells and demonstrated the dynamic methylation changes during myeloid and lymphoid commitment in hematopoiesis, evocative of Waddington’s illustration of epigenetic landscape in development. The methylome maps she generated successfully assessed the lineage memory of induced programmed stem cells (iPS) derived from blood cells, which provides a valuable cool to evaluate to what extent iPS cells are reprogrammed compared to ES cells. In collaboration with biostatisticians, Dr. Ji provided a novel web platform with which the methylation status of any genomic locus of interest can be easily queried to generate output methylation plots, greatly facilitates the general accessibility of these datasets and identification of novel regulators of hematopoiesis. Her findings also explained the therapeutic specificity of DNA demethylating drug treatment of myelodysplasia, in which malignant cells arrested in early development may be induced to differentiate by DNA demethylation.

    Education and Training

    BS: University of Science and Technology of China, China, 2002.

    PhD: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, 2007.

    Fellowship: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, MD, 2008-2011.

    Publications

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    A photo of Melinda Mahabee-Gittens.

    E. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, MD, MS

    is the director of the tobacco cessation clinic that provides comprehensive cessation counseling, resources, and medications for adults and adolescents. Her research focuses on testing the effects of healthcare based pediatric secondhand smoke reduction interventions on improving child health outcomes and the effectiveness of parental cessation interventions on increasing adult cessation outcomes.

    513-636-7966
    melinda.mahabee-gittens@cchmc.org

    E. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, MD, MS

    Academic Information

    Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics

    Phone: 513-636-7966

    Email: melinda.mahabee-gittens@cchmc.org

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    Specialties

    Pediatric secondhand smoke exposure reduction; parental tobacco cessation; adolescent tobacco prevention

    Biography

    Dr. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens is a professor at the University of Cincinnati and attending emergency medicine physician in the emergency department at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Her areas of expertise include research on tobacco prevention and education in medical settings.

    She has extensive research experience in survey design and tobacco intervention development, and primary quantitative data collection and analysis. She has provided parents and adolescents with tobacco prevention, tobacco cessation and secondhand smoke reduction counseling both in the research and clinical setting. She has been successfully funded for her research by the NIH/National Cancer Institute (K23CA117864 and K22CA163747), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (R03HS11038), the American Lung Association (CG-004-N), and the Charlotte R. Schmidlapp Woman Scholars Award.

    She recently was co-investigator on a technology transfer grant, funded by NHLBI (1-R41HL083540 and 2-R42-HL083540) to develop and evaluate a web-based tobacco cessation educational program for pediatric respiratory therapists and nurses. She is currently the PI on a Career Development award from the National Cancer Institute which is designed to develop and evaluate a parental tobacco cessation intervention in the ED setting.

    Education and Training

    MD: State University of New York at Brooklyn, NY, 1992.

    Residency: The Children's Hospital at Yale-New Haven, CT, 1995.

    Fellowship: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, 1999.

    MS: University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, 1999.

    Publications

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    Grants

    Exploring a Cessation Intervention for Low Income Smokers in an Emergency Setting. Principle Investigator. NIH/National Cancer Institute. Sept 2011 - Aug 2014. K22CA123747.  
    A photo of Tesfaye Mersha, PhD.

    Tesfaye B. Mersha, PhD

    is the principal investigator of a federally funded mentored research science award (K01). The goals of his research are to develop and evaluate an efficient approach to localize asthma liability genes in diverse African American populations in collaboration with members of the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati, and to identify genes and regulatory networks that impact onset and severity of eczema. 
    Visit the Mersha Lab.

    513-803-2766
    tesfaye.mersha@cchmc.org

    Tesfaye B. Mersha, PhD

    Academic Information

    Assistant Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics

    Phone: 513-803-2766

    Fax: 513-636-1657

    Email: tesfaye.mersha@cchmc.org

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    Specialties

    Clinical Interests

    Allergy and allergy related disorders

    Research Interests

    Quantitative and statistical genetics and genomics; genetic linkage, association and admixture analysis; expression analysis; network and pathway analysis; gene ontology and functional commonalities analysis

    Visit Dr Mersha's external lab website.

    Visit Dr. Mersha's lab at Cincinnati Children's.

    Biography

    Tesfaye B. Mersha, PhD, is a quantitative geneticist. His background includes an early exposure to the many facets of biology and statistics and interested in cross-line disciplines to understand and solve complex genetic problems. During his post-doctoral fellowship program in statistical and human genetics, Dr. Mersha worked on statistical genetics methodologies and applied genetical data analysis to localize disease genes. Particularly, he focused on genetic analyses of metabolic and mental disorders using linkage, association and admixture mapping approach.

    He developed genome-wide ancestry informative markers (AIMs) panel by mining databases including HapMap, Affymetrix and Illumina. The AIM markers are useful in ancestry inference, admixture mapping and structured association testing. He used over 4 million HapMap SNP data and developed approaches of chromosomal based finer population genetic structure characterization, localization of private SNPs and associated genes and pathways that could have pharmacogenomics implication.

    In addition, Dr. Mersha is working on gene regulatory networks, gene ontology enrichment analysis and molecular profiling using various biologic and bioinformatic methodology for prioritizing asthma candidate genes. Dr. Mersha’s overall research interest and goal includes the use of population genomics, quantitative genetics, statistical genetics as well as proteomics and biological profiling and pathway methods to understand and dissect common complex diseases.

    Education and Training

    PhD: University of Göttingen, Germany, 2004.

    MS: Alemaya University, Ethiopia, 1996.

    BS: Alemaya University, Ethiopia, 1992.

    Publications

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    Grants

    Admixture Mapping in African American Asthmatic Children. Principal Investigator. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Jul 2010 - May 2015. #1K01HL103165.
    A photo of Umasundari Sivaprasad.

    Umasundari Sivaprasad, PhD

    is attempting to elucidate the function of serpins in asthma, assess a potential role of statins in asthma and to understand the influence of IL-13Ralpha2 in eczema. She has ongoing collaborations with investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and in the Divisions of Pulmonary Biology, Immunobiology, and Pathology at Cincinnati Children’s.

    Visit the Sivaprasad lab.

    513-636-1629
    siv9ni@cchmc.org

    Umasundari Sivaprasad, PhD

    Academic Information

    Assistant Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics

    Phone: 513-636-1629

    Fax: 513-636-1657

    Email: siv9ni@cchmc.org

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    Specialties

    Visit the Sivaprasad Lab.

    Allergic inflammation; atopic dermatitis; asthma; development of anti-inflammatory therapies

    Biography

    Dr. Sivaprasad received dual BS degrees in microbiology and biochemistry (St. Xavier’s College), as well as an MS degree in biochemistry from the University of Mumbai, India. She then received her PhD degree in biochemistry from The Ohio State University in 2003 where she used surface plasmon resonance (Biacore™) technology and other biochemical methods to delineate the mechanism of prolactin binding to its cognate receptor. Her postdoctoral training in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at the University of Virginia was focused on elucidating the molecular mechanisms that regulate formation of the pre-replication complex during DNA replication initiation along with studies examining the effect of statins on regulation of prostate cancer cell proliferation.

    In 2007 Dr. Sivaprasad joined the Division of Asthma Research with a view to developing statins as an alternative to steroids as anti-inflammatory therapy in asthma and allergic diseases. Along the way, she has developed an interest in elucidating the role of serine protease inhibitors in allergic pathophysiology. Since joining the division she has served as first author or co-author on eight peer-reviewed publications.

    The long-term goal of Dr. Sivaprasad’s research is to better understand the molecular basis of allergic diseases. To this end she is utilizing her broad repertoire of skills developed during her training to apply in vitro biochemical, molecular, as well as in vivo animal model approaches to her research questions, specifically the role of serine protease inhibitors at the epithelial barriers in the lung, skin, and intestine.

    She has ongoing collaborations with investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and in the Divisions of Pulmonary Biology, Immunobiology, and Pathology at Cincinnati Children’s.

    Education and Training

    BS: St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, India, 1993.

    MS: The University of Mumbai, India, 1995.

    PhD: The Ohio State University, 2003.

    Postdoctoral Research Associate: University of Virginia, 2003-2007.

    Publications

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