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Kenneth Ataga Named Director of New UTHSC Center for Sickle Cell Disease

Dr. Kenneth Ataga (Photo by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine)

Kenneth Ataga, MD, has been named director of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s new Center for Sickle Cell Disease in the College of Medicine. He will begin his new role July 1.

The UTHSC Center for Sickle Cell Disease is a collaborative effort among UTHSC, West Cancer Center, UT-Methodist University Hospital and Regional One Health. In addition, Dr. Ataga will serve as a professor of internal medicine, director of the section of Non Malignant Hematology in the Division of Hematology/Oncology, and the director of the Memphis Consortium for Sickle Cell Disease and Non Malignant Hematology Research. He is also being named the Methodist Endowed Chair in Sickle Cell Anemia.

UTHSC’s Chancellor Steve Schwab, MD, said, “Dr. Ataga has pioneered the research on the role of coagulation in sickle cell disease, served as the lead investigator in several multicenter studies, and been very successful in maintaining an uninterrupted string of research funding. I have no doubt he will continue to be one of the national leaders in sickle cell disease research. The University of Tennessee Health Science Center is delighted he will be joining us to lead us in our sickle cell efforts in patient care, education, and research.”

Dr. Ataga comes to UTHSC from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) School of Medicine, where he was a professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and director of the UNC Comprehensive Sickle Cell Program. Dr. Ataga received his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees from the University of Benin School of Medicine in Benin City, Nigeria. He completed his residency in internal medicine at State University of New York Health Science Center, now Upstate Medical University, in Syracuse, New York, followed by fellowship training in Hematology/Oncology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His research focuses on the development of new treatments for sickle cell disease and its complications. Dr Ataga’s team is also interested in understanding the pathophysiology of chronic kidney disease and pulmonary hypertension in sickle cell disease. In addition, Dr. Ataga and his colleagues are evaluating the contribution of coagulation and platelet activation to the pathophysiology of sickle cell disease.

Dr. Ataga’s decision to come to UTHSC was motivated by the opportunity to expand the clinical infrastructure that is responsible for the care of a large number of patients with sickle cell disease. “I want to further develop the research infrastructure in collaboration with investigators at UTHSC and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” he said. “In addition, I hope to develop and expand the section of non-malignant hematology at UTHSC.”

“We are extremely excited to welcome Dr. Kenneth Ataga as the inaugural director of the UTHSC Center for Sickle Cell Disease,” said Lee Schwartzberg, MD, chief of Hematology and Oncology in the UTHSC Department of Medicine and executive director of the West Cancer Center. “He will integrate all the clinical, research and educational activities around sickle cell disease currently being provided in our region under one program and thus elevate our care and understanding of this disease. As the city where sickle cell comprehensive care began in earnest with Dr. Diggs and Kraus some sixty years ago, it is fitting and necessary to have a new world-class center led by Dr. Ataga, a world-class sickle cell researcher, to reduce the suffering from this disease.”

Dr. Ataga’s interest in sickle cell disease began in Nigeria, where the disease is prevalent. “I was surrounded by individuals affected by this inherited disease,” he said. “However, I became acutely aware of the unmet needs in this area during my residency and fellowship training. Despite the first description of sickle cell disease in the western world approximately a hundred years ago, there was a substantial disparity in the care for patients and in the development of treatments for this disease compared to many other disease conditions.”

“The recruitment of Dr. Ataga provides a tremendous opportunity for UTHSC to live up to its long-envisioned potential as a citadel of learning, service, and advances in the field of sickle cell disease,” said Samuel Dagogo-Jack, MD, A.C. Mullins Endowed Chair in Translational Research; professor of medicine; director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism; and director of the Clinical Research Center at UTHSC.

Dr. Ataga has been active in the American Society of Hematology for many years. In addition, he is a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the Southern Society of Clinical Investigation.

Dr. Ataga has written multiple scholarly articles, book chapters and abstracts during his career. His research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and pharmaceutical industry.