In July 2018, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center welcomed Kenneth Ataga, MD, as director of the new UTHSC Sickle Cell Center. Dr. Ataga is also serving as professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, 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 Classical Hematology Research. Additionally, he was named the Methodist Endowed Chair in Sickle Cell Anemia.
“Dr. Ataga’s presence will be vital in transforming sickle cell care and research in the Delta region,” Steven R. Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for Research said. “We in Memphis must be united in our approach to sickle cell disease care for children and adults. Dr. Ataga will unify the care of adult patients and lead the research community by foraging a collaborative path for all area sites with a focus on sickle cell research.”
As written in the FY15-FY18 UTHSC Institutional Research Accomplishments Booklet, the Memphis Consortium for Sickle Cell Disease and Classical Hematology Research “will be a Consortium without walls, and with representation from all participating institutions: UTHSC, West Cancer Center, UT-Methodist University Hospital, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Regional One Health.” Major goals of the Consortium include developing a collaborative approach to sickle cell research among all the participating Memphis institutions, creating standardized evidence-based clinical care supportive of clinical and translational research across the Consortium, and the integration of care for adult sickle cell patients across Memphis with seamless transition from pediatric to adult care. Dr. Ataga will lead the consortium with the support of two co-Directors.
“Through this new consortium, we are collectively working to provide the best comprehensive care possible for those individuals with sickle cell disease,” Dr. Ataga said. “The Memphis community is invested in sickle cell disease research and has an increased interest in new treatment options for patients. What excites me most are the opportunities to perform groundbreaking research with my collaborators through a multi-prong approach to execute a common vision.”
Among Dr. Ataga’s first steps in his new roles is to learn about Memphis’ current clinical infrastructure, how each of the existing area centers work and what their top-tier needs and resources are. From there, “we can develop a plan to provide high-quality, evidence-based medical care to patients whether they are in the hospital or clinic, and no matter their age,” Dr. Ataga said. Low hanging fruits include filling out staff, creating common guidelines for consistent care, and bringing in new talent. Dr. Ataga will also focus on helping to facilitate the transition of adolescent sickle cell disease patients to the sickle cell clinic at Methodist Hospital or Regional One Hospital.
“As a pediatric hematologist at St. Jude, my interest is to help youth transition from pediatric to adult healthcare, while minimizing the risks of care abandonment and health deterioration during this vulnerable time,” Jane S. Hankins, MD, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UTHSC and Pediatric Hematologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital said. “Dr. Ataga’s presence in Memphis will be pivotal in continuing the collaboration between St. Jude and the adult Institutions (Methodist and Regional One Health) in caring for these patients after they leave pediatric care. He will be critical in bringing together all the important stakeholders that will, together, advance care quality and bring a new era for care and research for sickle cell disease, giving continuity to Memphis’ important role in the field of sickle cell disease.”
Mitchell J. Weiss, MD, PhD, chairman of the Department of Hematology at St. Jude, notes the key role Dr. Ataga will also play in pulling together the Memphis sickle cell research community to further research and the development of new treatments for the disease.
“Dr. Ataga is an internationally recognized expert on clinical care and research related to sickle cell disease,” Dr. Weiss said. “Hematologists from the three hospitals (St. Jude, Methodist and Regional One) and Dr. Steven Goodman at UTHSC will collaborate to perform research that will lead to better therapies and cures for sickle cell disease. Our overall vision is to strengthen patient care and research on sickle cell disease in Memphis by leveraging the talents and dedication of hematologists and researchers at St. Jude, Methodist and Regional One Hospitals, and UTHSC. As a respected scholar in the field of sickle cell disease, Dr. Ataga will facilitate our goal tremendously.”