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Courtney Fitzhugh, M.D.

Laboratory of Sickle Mortality Prevention

Courtney Fitzhugh, M.D.
Assistant Clinical Investigator
Laboratory of Sickle Mortality Prevention

Building 10 Room 9N112
10 Center Dr
Bethesda, MD 20892
P: +1 301 402 6496


Courtney Fitzhugh received her B.S. magna cum laude from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1996, and her M.D. from the University of California, San Francisco in 2001. During medical school, Dr. Fitzhugh participated in the NIH Clinical Research Training Program, where she studied with Dr. John Tisdale at the NHLBI. After receiving her M.D., Dr. Fitzhugh completed a joint residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center, and in 2005 she did a combined adult hematology and pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship at the NIH and Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Fitzhugh returned to the NHLBI in 2007 and was appointed as Assistant Clinical Investigator in 2012. She is a member of the American Society of Hematology.

Research Interests

Dr. Fitzhugh is exploring new avenues of hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation for sickle cell disease (SCD), while also studying the currently underexplored cardiovascular complications arising due to this genetic blood disorder.

Currently, HSC transplantation offers the only real cure for patients with SCD, though the transplantation procedure can only be applied to select people, and it carries its own set of health risks. One risk is that traditional stem cell transplants involve near total destruction of existing bone marrow, thus severely immunocompromising the transplant recipient. Dr. Fitzhugh and her team have been developing an alternative approach in which the donor and recipient stem cells coexist, potentially reducing the risk for serious infections or other immune complications. Dr. Fitzhugh has demonstrated the efficacy of this non-myeloablative procedure in both mice and human volunteers, and is currently participating in a long-term follow-up study in people to see if they remain free of SCD.

Dr. Fitzhugh is also conducting a half-matched protocol to increase the number of people eligible for HSC transplantation. The current procedure requires a fully HLA-matched sibling donor, and less than 20% of SCD patients would qualify. Through a half-matched protocol, any immediate genetic relative (parents, children, and siblings) would be able to donate stem cells, though the immune system barriers and potential complications are greater. Dr. Fitzhugh is currently examining the feasibility of this approach in a clinical pilot study.

Dr. Fitzhugh is also interested in learning more about death due to this disease. Though HSC transplantations are still rare, hydroxyurea and other treatments have made SCD far more manageable, and the median age of death for people with SCD is in their 40s. As adults with SCD get older, heart disease becomes a common cause of death, in part related to arrhythmias such as ventricular tachycardia and also due to congestive heart failure. Dr. Fitzhugh is examining why SCD patients develop heart disease, and what can be done to prevent or possibly even reverse heart-related complications in this population. Through these joint avenues of research, Dr. Fitzhugh’s group is finding new avenues to help people with SCD live longer and healthier lives.

Selected Publications

Infusion of hemolyzed red blood cells within peripheral blood stem cell grafts in patients with and without sickle cell disease.
Fitzhugh CD, Unno H, Hathaway V, Coles WA, Link ME, Weitzel RP, Zhao X, Wright EC, Stroncek DF, Kato GJ, Hsieh MM, Tisdale JF.
Blood. 2012 Jun 14;119(24):5671-3.
[Text Abstract on PubMed]

Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for sickle cell disease: the time is now.
Hsieh MM, Fitzhugh CD, Tisdale JF.
Blood. 2011 Aug 4;118(5):1197-207.
[Text Abstract on PubMed]

Cardiopulmonary complications leading to premature deaths in adult patients with sickle cell disease.
Fitzhugh CD, Lauder N, Jonassaint JC, Telen MJ, Zhao X, Wright EC, Gilliam FR, De Castro LM.
Am. J. Hematol. 2010 Jan;85(1):36-40.
[Text Abstract on PubMed]

Allogeneic hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation for sickle cell disease.
Hsieh MM, Kang EM, Fitzhugh CD, Link MB, Bolan CD, Kurlander R, Childs RW, Rodgers GP, Powell JD, Tisdale JF.
N. Engl. J. Med. 2009 Dec 10;361(24):2309-17.
[Text Abstract on PubMed]

Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) administration in individuals with sickle cell disease: time for a moratorium?
Fitzhugh CD, Hsieh MM, Bolan CD, Saenz C, Tisdale JF.
Cytotherapy. 2009;11(4):464-71.
[Text Abstract on PubMed]

Courtney Fitzhugh's Full List of Publications

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Last Updated: April 26, 2013