April 18, 2022

New Research Faculty Introduction

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The UAB Heersink School of Medicine Office of Research introduces new faculty for January to March 2022. Please join Heersink School of Medicine and the Office of Research in welcoming these new faculty.

Stefanie Robel, Ph.D., Cell, Developmental, and Integrative Biology

Stefanie Robel, Ph.D., Cell, Developmental, and Integrative Biology

Stefanie Robel, Ph.D., joined the Department of Cell, Developmental, and Integrative Biology as an associate professor Jan. 1. 

Robel, previously an assistant professor at Virginia Tech, is dedicated to revealing cellular and molecular mechanisms inducing and maintaining astrocyte responses to mild traumatic brain injury/concussion and the consequences that these adaptations have for neuronal health and cognitive function. Robel first became interested in astrocytes as a Ph.D. student at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany where she was intrigued by the—sometimes dramatic—cell biological and physiological changes that astrocytes undergo in response to brain injury. She relocated to the U.S. to pursue postdoctoral training at UAB in 2010 studying astrocyte physiology in the context of pathology including glioma. Robel joined the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech as tenure-track faculty member in 2016. One of the ongoing research efforts in her lab is to assess the contribution of astrocytes to the development of long-term consequences of traumatic brain injury including neurodegeneration and post-traumatic epilepsy. 

Kristen Allen-Watts, Ph.D., Medicine

Kristen Allen-Watts, Ph.D., Medicine

Kristen Allen-Watts, Ph.D., MPH, joined the Department of Medicine in the Division of Preventive Medicine as an instructor March 1.

Watts obtained her Ph.D. in Public Health from the University of Alabama in 2018. She subsequently completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Heersink School of Medicine in the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care from 2018-2019. She was then appointed as a MERIT IRACDA postdoctoral scholar in the College of Arts and Science from 2019-2021. During that time, she received several awards, including the Extraordinary First Year Postdoc Award and was named among the 1,000 Inspiring Black Scientists in America. Most recently, she was competitively selected as one of 12 scholars in the National Aging Initiative funded by the National Institute on Aging for her interdisciplinary research relevant to the science of multiple chronic conditions. Her goal is to become an independently funded investigator in cardiometabolic health disparities.

Bassel El-Rayes, M.D., Medicine

Bassel El-Rayes, M.D., Medicine

Bassel El-Rayes, M.D., joined the Department of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology as division director on Feb. 1, 2022. He also assumed the role of deputy director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center on March 1.

At American University of Beirut, he received B.S. and M.D. degrees. El-Rayes trained in internal medicine and in hematology and oncology at Wayne State University, where he also served as chief medical resident and chief fellow. After serving on the faculty at Wayne State and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, El-Rayes joined the Winship Cancer Institute and Emory University School of Medicine, where he was the John Kauffman Family Endowed Professor for Pancreatic Cancer Research. There, he served as professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology and vice chair for clinical research in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology. He is a nationally leading clinical investigator in gastrointestinal malignancies and pancreatic cancer. El-Rayes is currently the principal investigator of several extramurally funded clinical trials and has a R01-funded translational research program focused on pancreatic cancer and pancreatic neuroendocrine cancers.

Calia Morais, Ph.D., Medicine

Calia Morais, Ph.D., Medicine

Calia Morais, Ph.D., joined the Department of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology as an assistant professor Dec. 6.

Prior to joining UAB, Morais completed a T32 fellowship in translational clinical pain research at the Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence (PRICE) at the University of Florida. She also completed her predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and received her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama in 2019 (on the clinical health psychology track). As a pain psychologist, Morais has extensive experience delivering psychosocial treatments for pain management, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. She is looking forward to working with the interdisciplinary team and serving the patients at the Lifespan Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center. Morais is interested in pain inequities research and cultural adaptations of assessment tools, as well as psychosocial treatments for chronic pain management. She incorporates community-engagement research practices to facilitate the implementation and sustainability of evidence-based treatments for chronic pain in medical and community settings. More recently, Morais has become interested in resilience research and identifying resilience factors protecting against the negative impact of pain on functioning to inform the development of positive psychology interventions for chronic pain management. 

Ganji Purnachandra Nagaraju, Ph.D., Medicine

Ganji Purnachandra Nagaraju, Ph.D., Medicine

Ganji Purnachandra Nagaraju, Ph.D., joined the Department of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology Jan. 17 as an assistant professor.

Nagaraju obtained his M.Sc. and Ph.D., both in Biotechnology, from Sri Venkateswara University in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, India. Nagaraju received his D.Sc. from Berhampur University, Berhampur, Odisha, India. His research focuses on translational projects related to gastrointestinal malignancies. He has published over 100 research/review papers in highly reputed international journals and has presented more than 50 abstracts at various national and international conferences. Nagaraju is an author and editor of several published books and serves as an editorial board member of many internationally recognized academic journals. He has received several international awards, including FAACC. He also holds memberships with the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, American Society for Clinical Pathology, and the American Association of Cancer Research.

Chevis N. Shannon, DrPH, Neurosurgery

Chevis N. Shannon, DrPH, Neurosurgery

Chevis N. Shannon, DrPH, MBA, MPH, joined the Department of Neurosurgery Nov. 1 as director of Neurosurgical Resident Research Excellence and Innovation.

Shannon previously served as the director of the Surgical Outcomes Center for Kids at the Monroe Carell Jr. Hospital at Vanderbilt University, was a research professor of Neurological Surgery and Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and a bench-to-bedside research director for the Vanderbilt University Medical School Research Immersion Program.

As a funded investigator, Shannon’s research includes the natural history, epidemiology, and outcomes related to neurosurgical, urologic, plastics, cardiac, and high-risk fetal/neonatal-related diagnoses. She is the lead investigator in the development of the Chiari Health Index for Pediatrics, the first disease-specific patient-centered outcome for Chiari Malformation Type I and Syringomyelia in children.

Additional research expertise includes comparative effectiveness, health disparities, and cost-effectiveness analysis. In recognition of her devotion to her trainees and her commitment to scientific integrity, in 2018 Shannon was the recipient of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Elaine Sanders-Bush Award for Excellence in Teaching. Since 2020, Dr. Shannon has served as the chief education and science officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, where she oversees all professional development for trainees and professionals in the field of reproductive medicine and directs the $15M endowed ASRM Research Institute which provides bench-to-bedside research funding. 

Rodney P. Rocconi, M.D., Obstetrics and Gynecology

Rodney P. Rocconi, M.D., Obstetrics and Gynecology

Rodney P. Rocconi, M.D., joined the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology as professor Jan. 3. 

Rocconi comes from the University of South Alabama Mitchell Cancer Institute (USAMCI) where he served in numerous leadership roles including chief of Gynecologic Oncology, associate director of Clinical Research, and interim director of the USAMCI. Rocconi has a productive research career credited with over 200 presentations at national meetings and over 120 publications.  His research interests include genetic/molecular determinants of racial healthcare disparities in gynecologic malignancies as well as understanding the molecular mechanisms of chemoresistance in ovarian cancer. His research program has been supported by numerous NIH/NCI, DOD, PCORI, and foundation grants. He has been recognized for his work as a recipient of the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation Ovarian Cancer Research Award, the Gynecologic Oncology Group Young Investigator Research Award, and an invited associate member of the NCI Early Detection Research Network.

Ksenia Matlawska-Wasowska, Ph.D., Pharmacology and Toxicology

Ksenia Matlawska-Wasowska, Ph.D., Pharmacology and Toxicology

Ksenia Matlawska-Wasowska, Ph.D., joined the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology as an associate professor Feb. 1.

Matlawska-Wasowska received her M.Sc. and Ph.D. in 2007 in the Department of Cytogenetics and Molecular Biology at the University of Lodz in Poland—a premier university in Poland. Both of her degrees were awarded with honors. She pursued post-doctoral training as the Marie Curie Fellow as the National University of Ireland and at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. Her postdoctoral training focused on the cytotoxic mechanism of action of cancer therapeutics. In 2012, she was promoted to research assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UNM with a focus on T-cell lineage acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) in pediatric patients. Two years later, she transitioned to tenure track, and in 2020, was promoted to associate professor with tenure. Her current work focuses on pathways that regulate T-ALL progression and dissemination in pediatric and adult populations, and the role of CNS infiltration and inflammation in these processes.  Her recent work on RUNX2 provides a mechanistic link between alterations in cancer cell metabolism and chemotaxis in high-risk disease.