Investigative Instincts: FVSU biotechnology graduate researches autoimmune diseases at Emory University’s School of Medicine

by Russell Boone

Posted on Jul 17, 2019

Aisha Hill, a lead research specialist and scientist at Emory University's School of Medicine, conducting research in a lab.

Aisha Hill, a lead research specialist and scientist at Emory University's School of Medicine, conducting research in a lab.

A Fort Valley State University biotechnology graduate is conducting research at one of the top research universities and hospitals in the country.

Aisha Hill, 34, a 2014 graduate of FVSU’s Master of Science program in biotechnology, is a research specialist and research scientist at Emory University’s School of Medicine. At Emory, she mainly works with peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PMBCs) which investigates biological aspects of autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, HIV and lymphoma.

“It is an opportunity that I don’t take for granted,” Hill said of her working at one of the top research institutions in the country. “More than anything, I am elated at the chance to be a part of cutting edge research focused on helping people battling autoimmunity,” Hill said.

Hill said the research she is conducting concentrates on the cellular malfunctions of the subject patients, leading to the development of different medications or therapies. “With that information we’re able to develop different pharmaceuticals that specifically target those malfunctions, using a more ‘tailored’ approach,” Hill said.

She found out about FVSU’s program while working as a lab technician at the LabCorp branch in Macon. LabCorp is a nationwide diagnostic laboratory that analyzes more than 115 million human biological samples annually. A colleague informed her of the biotechnology program and the research coordinator at the facility also recommended it to her after learning about her love for biological science.

“I wanted to one day become a medical or forensic scientist in which a biotechnology degree would provide me the proper background for each discipline. Biotechnology is a broad field that provides access to numerous careers. Once I researched the program at FVSU, interacted with a few people in the program and department, I knew it would be a great decision to invest in my future career.”

That investment paid off for Hill. After graduating from FVSU in 2014, she went on to serve as a graduate assistant at Georgia State University (GSU). At GSU, she conducted research with breast and prostate cancer patients before accepting the position at Emory in 2016.

The Twiggs County native said studying for her degree at FVSU provided her the strong foundation she uses as a researcher at Emory. “My studies at FVSU taught me time management, organization and that you must have a plan and structure. If you master those skills, you will save time and likely succeed at what you’re trying to achieve,” Hill said.

During her time as a student at FVSU, Hill served as a graduate research assistant and enjoyed her experiences with professors, colleagues, research and classwork.

“I also enjoyed the field work and working outside with both plants and animals,” Hill said. She added that her professors cared about her education and the committee members overseeing her studies extended an open door policy to help answer any questions she had.

“The chairperson of my dissertation, Dr. (Nirmal) Joshee (instructor of biotechnology at FVSU) was and still is one of my best mentors. He continues to provide direction to my research,” Hill said. She said the biotechnology program is well structured and made her educational experience an enjoyable one.

In giving advice to students interested in obtaining a graduate degree in biotechnology at FVSU, Hill’s advice is simple. “I would say go for it! Make sure that you have your thinking cap on and you’re available, willing and determined. Graduate school is not supposed to feel comfortable. The faculty and staff will aid you throughout the process. They will not give it to you, you have to be the driving force, but they will help,” Hill said.

The Dry Branch native’s future plans include returning to the Middle Georgia area and practicing epidemiology. “I want to give back through initiatives and programs focusing on health outcomes in high risk areas. I’ve always been interested in trying to help people obtain better health. I love natural approaches, and I believe my degree will help me obtain the knowledge needed to formulate methods needed to target different diseases and ailments.”

Additionally, Hill wants to educate elders on understanding medical terminology and the importance of adhering to their physician’s orders to maintain proper health. She also wishes to promote the benefits of physical activity and healthy eating habits to adults serving food to children.

“I cringe at the idea of parents feeding or allowing their children to eat fast food daily. I want to educate these populations and promote overall wellness,” Hill said.

FVSU is the only public institution in Georgia offering a Master of Science in biotechnology. For more information about the program, contact Dr. Hari P. Singh, research professional and biotechnology graduate program coordinator, at (478) 822-1077 or

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