Lance Skelly

Emory University Hospital Set to Be Launch Site for EPIC

Can it really be possible to transform a person’s own cells into a weapon against various forms of disease? And what if those very cells could be retrained to attack cancer cells or to prevent autoimmune diseases?

Answers to these questions and many more are about to soon be realized, as Emory University Hospital will serve as the launch site for the very appropriately-named EPIC (Emory Personalized Immunotherapy Center).

The new Center, which is the creation of Dr. Jacques Galipeau, MD, professor of hematology and medical oncology & pediatrics of Emory University, will soon be operational after final touches have been put on construction of the lab. This cell processing facility will foster development of novel personalized cellular therapies for Emory patients facing catastrophic ailments and unmet medical needs.

According to Galipeau, the premise of EPIC and its overlying mission will focus on cellular and biological therapies that use a patient’s own cells as a weapon to seek and destroy cells that actually make a person sick. In partnership with the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center and the Emory School of Medicine, EPIC seeks to improve the health of children and adults afflicted with cancer and immune disease.

“First and foremost, we seek to bring a level of care and discovery that is first in Georgia, first in human and first in child. Blood and marrow derived cells have been used for more than a quarter century to treat life threatening hematological conditions and are now established therapies worldwide. More recently, the use of specific adult somatic cells from marrow, blood and other tissues are being studied in cellular medicine of a wide array of ailments including heart, lung, neurological and immune diseases,” says Galipeau. “The use of blood borne immune cells can also be exploited for treatment of cancer, autoimmune disease, organ transplantation and chronic viral illnesses such as HIV.”

Galipeau said that once operational, EPIC will begin by working with Crohn’s disease in pediatric and adult patients, an inflammatory bowel disease. Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, weight loss, and the inability for a child to properly grow. Resulting bouts of inflammation may also affect the entire digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus and stomach.  In some cases, a radical surgery involving the removal of part of the lower intestinal tract is required.

“There is no current answer for what specifically causes Crohn’s disease, nor is there a cure. But we hope that through our research and efforts, we will be able to first target the inflammatory mechanisms in these patients through immunotherapy, and in turn reduce the amount of flare-ups and limit  the damage that occurs from this disease,” says Galipeau.

Galipeau says the EPIC program could represent a powerful cornerstone to the launch and the development of an entirely new, Emory-based initiative which bundles the strengths of the School of Medicine, Emory University Hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and many Woodruff Health Sciences Center centers of excellence,” says Galipeau.

“My ultimate goal is to elevate the biomedical scientific and scholarly enterprise to a higher level – making a difference in the lives of people. The EPIC program and multi-levels of support could be a fundamental underpinning to our success.”

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Improving the lives of those with rare blood disorders

While many people have never heard of an eosinophil, most people do know what a white blood cell is and have some understanding of its disease and infection-fighting role in the human body.

While these strange-sounding cells play an incredibly important part of the immune system by helping to fight off certain infections, when eosinophils occur in higher than normal numbers in the body without a known cause, a rare eosinophilic disorder may be present.

Typically, eosinophils make up less than five percent of circulating white blood cells in healthy individuals and can vary over time, but when the body wants to attack a substance, , eosinophils respond by moving into the area and releasing a variety of toxins. When the body produces too many eosinophils, they can cause chronic inflammation, resulting in tissue damage within the body.

Emory cardiologist Wendy Book serves as president of the American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders (APFED), one of the organizations within the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). Book recently accepted the Abbey S. Meyers Leadership Award on behalf of APFED. The award, named for NORD’s founding president, is presented each year to a NORD Member Organization for demonstrating outstanding leadership and representation of its members.

“I am honored to be part of a collaborative effort among patients, families, physicians, researchers, policy makers and others to develop diagnostics and therapeutics for rare diseases,” says Dr. Book. “We are grateful to work with NORD and other member organizations to provide a voice for those living with rare, and often poorly understood, diseases.”

The awards were presented at the annual NORD Partners in Progress Celebration.  Each year, NORD—a nonprofit organization that represents the 30 million Americans with rare diseases—celebrates pioneering achievements of individuals, organizations, and companies in public policy, patient advocacy, medical research, and product development.

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Cardiac alliance seeks improved care and response time for heart attack patients

Approximately 250,000 people each year suffer from a particularly deadly form of heart attack known as a STEMI (ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction), in which blood flow is completely blocked to the heart. Restoring blood flow quickly is crucial in order to save the patient’s life, yet more than 30 percent of these patients receive no life-saving intervention at all.

Michael Ross, MD

Led by Emory emergency medicine physician Michael Ross, the Society of Chest Pain Centers (SCPC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recently announced they will be joining efforts to save even more lives. The joint agreement seeks to improve cardiac care, specifically the care of patients suffering from STEMI.

The new collaborative framework for hospital accreditation meets criteria of the AHA initiative “Mission: Lifeline,” established in 2007 to improve the processes surrounding care of the STEMI patient by eliminating the obstacles that keep patients from accessing and receiving appropriate treatments.

Mission: Lifeline systems start with the 9-1-1 call or at the point of entry in the emergency system, continue through the catheterization laboratory and through hospital discharge by promoting best practices that use the latest scientific evidence-based treatment for STEMI.

Mission: Lifeline systems currently cover more than 56 percent of the United States. Mortality rates from STEMI have decreased from 5.8 percent in 2008 to 4.8 percent in 2010.

“SCPC, through their Chest Pain Center accreditation, has already improved cardiac processes in close to 14 percent of hospitals within the U.S. and has moved this accreditation to the international setting,” says Ross, who is immediate-past SCPC president and an associate professor of emergency medicine and medical director for observation medicine at Emory.

“Collaboration between these two non-profit organizations, who share similar missions, will help bring consistency to health care delivery by providing a standard approach to the treatment of STEMI. Providing cardiac accreditation programs is in the best interest of patients, meets the needs of the health care community, and will help to significantly reduce cardiac deaths.”

Both Emory University Hospital and Emory University Hospital Midtown are not only accredited by the Society of Chest Pain Centers, but are also  the only accredited chest pain centers in metropolitan Atlanta to be accredited with PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention), which indicates a higher level of emergency cardiac care services.

Most commonly known as coronary angioplasty, PCI is a therapeutic procedure to treat the narrowed coronary arteries of the heart found in coronary heart disease. The designation is a distinguishing attribute since PCI is now the preferred treatment for heart attack patients.

For more information about heart disease and cardiac care option – from heart transplants and ventricular assist devices to imaging services and minimally-invasive interventional treatments, please visit Emory Healthcare at: http://www.emoryhealthcare.org/heart-center-atlanta/.

 

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Kidney donation kicks off life-saving chain reaction


In this video, players in this extraordinary transplant exchange tell their story.
You can also watch “The Mother of All Swaps,” a news report from 11 Alive Atlanta

When Jon Pomenville of Anderson, SC, decided to donate a kidney altruistically to someone – anyone in need, anywhere in the country – little did he know his selfless sacrifice would in turn change the lives of not one, but numerous individuals and their families, including one little boy from Atlanta.

And little did he know that the selfless, anonymous act would quickly become not so anonymous. During a recent post-surgical clinic visit to Emory University Hospital, Pomenville met by accident – right in the transplant clinic waiting room – many of the individuals whose lives were changed. Soon the patients – recipients and donors – two father and son combinations and Pomenville, the man who would give to anyone – were hugging, shaking hands, and recounting their backgrounds and experiences.

Pomenville and the others, who were all part of what is called a paired kidney exchange, were unwittingly scheduled for appointments within a short period of one another. As one person began recounting the experience, eyes and ears began to focus on the tale being told from across a crowded room.

People involved in the six-person kidney exchange

A chance meeting in a doctors’ waiting room led to a meeting between most of the people involved in the paired kidney exchange.

The Emory Transplant Center created and opened its innovative Paired Donor Kidney Exchange Program in 2009, providing greater hope for patients in need of kidney transplants. According to Kenneth Newell, MD, director of Emory’s living donor program, a paired exchange donation allows healthy individuals to donate a kidney to either a friend, loved one, or even altruistically to a stranger, despite incompatible blood matches. In paired donation, a donor and recipient are matched with another incompatible donor and recipient and the kidneys are exchanged between the pairs.

The procedure is another form of living donor transplantation. Donated kidneys also come from recently deceased donors. While most kidneys from deceased donors function well, studies have shown that a kidney from a living donor, either a blood relative or an unrelated person, provides the greatest chance for long-term success.

“Paired donor exchanges allow us to cast a much wider net to find compatible donors and recipients,” says Newell. “With a paired kidney transplant, one incompatible donor-pair is able to give a healthy kidney to a compatible recipient. In exchange, the second donor-recipient pair will give a compatible kidney to the first donor-recipient pair, making two compatible living donor transplants possible and increasing the potential number of available donor kidneys. This option can help those patients waiting for kidney transplants who have family members or friends willing to be donors and who are medically suitable, but who have an ABO blood type that is incompatible with the recipient’s blood type.”

Because of Pomenville’s donation, a 7-year-old boy named Zion was able to receive a lifesaving kidney from an unrelated donor because his dad, Mike, was able to donate. His surgery took place at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

And Gerald Smith of Five Points, Ala., would receive his life-saving kidney because his son, Matt, a recent University of Alabama graduate, would donate his to Zion. And finally, 20 year-old Edward Hill of Macon, a young man with a history of health challenges, would also receive his transplant at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – completing the six-person cycle, although the donor of Edward’s kidney is still unknown.

And Zion and Matt Smith will not only share a common bond and connection throughout life in the form of a kidney, but something even sweeter that that … blue Powerade.

“I’ve always really enjoyed drinking Powerade, particularly the blue flavor,” says Smith. Shortly after Zion awoke from his surgery, he inexplicably began requesting the blue-tinted soft drink too.

Other powerful kidney transplant stories out of Emory:

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Detecting Lung Cancer at a Higher Rate

The findings from a recent study show the risk of dying from lung cancer could be reduced by 20 percent by use of a low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) scan.  With 160,000 deaths each year related to cigarette smoking, this type of screening could save up to 32,000 lives each year.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) launched the multicenter National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) in 2002,  led at Emory by radiologist and researcher Dr. Kay Vydareny.  This trial compared two ways of detecting lung cancer: low-dose helical (spiral) computed tomography (CT) and standard chest X-ray, for their effects on lung cancer death rates in a high-risk population.

Both chest X-rays and helical CT scans have been used as a means to find lung cancer early, but the effects of these screening techniques on lung cancer mortality rates had not been determined. Over a 20-month period, more than 53,000 current or former heavy smokers ages 55 to 74 joined NLST at 33 study sites across the United States. In November 2010, the initial findings from NLST were released. Participants who received low-dose helical CT scans had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer than participants who received standard chest X-rays.

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NASCAR weekend full of health care success stories

Terry “Mr. 500” Green

This weekend’s slate of racing at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, including the marquee Emory Healthcare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday night, will have a uniquely Emory flavor that exceeds far beyond just the naming rights for the event that will be watched by millions of fans around the country. Emory Healthcare is the official healthcare partner for the Atlanta Motor Speedway and this year’s Emory Healthcare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race.

Mr. 500

When Emory Healthcare and Atlanta Motor Speedway officials began searching for the grand marshal of this year’s Emory Healthcare 500 Sprint Cup Series race, they didn’t have to search long or far to find the perfect candidate – and one who already possessed the perfect tailor-made nickname for such an occasion.

Lawrenceville native Terry “Mr. 500” Green has been named the grand marshal for this year’s race.

Green first came to be known as “Mr. 500” in March 2008, after he became the 500th heart transplant recipient at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Keeping his motor running

Wayne Reese has been racing motocross and super late model cars on dirt tracks for more than 11 years, and he knows the risks. One risk he won’t take, however, is with his health.

Reese, a prostate cancer survivor, will be the Honorary Starter at the Emory Healthcare 500.  In this role, Reese will drop the Green Flag to start the race.  In addition, his son Brian will drive his Reese Motorsports Super Late Model Number 33 in the pre-race parade.

Reese, 55, recently completed therapy at Emory University Hospital’s Department of Radiation Oncology.  He says he knew he wanted to be treated at Emory because his wife was treated at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute.  “We appreciate all the help we’ve gotten there.”

Reese recently demonstrated his appreciation by putting the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University logo on his race cars.

Emory’s own pit crew

When more than 150,000 race fans, visitors and support crews flood Atlanta Motor Speedway this Labor Day weekend, they may learn a thing or two about their health – possibly saving their own lives in the process.

Emory Healthcare will bring its own pit crew team of volunteers to Henry County this weekend to provide free health care screenings including:
•    Blood pressure screenings
•    Smoking cessation help and information
•    Head, neck and skin cancer screenings
•    Body Mass Index (BMI) screenings
•    General health and wellness information

“Having this incredible opportunity to reach out to so many men and women to provide potentially life-saving cancer screenings, blood pressure checks, and informative ways to live a longer and healthier life, is a perfect way for us to thank those in our community who have allowed us to serve them over the years, while also supporting this special event that means so much to our region,” says Dane Peterson, chief operating officer for Emory University Hospital Midtown. “At the end of the day, we hope to make a difference in the lives of more than a few individuals and ensure that they will be able to return for many more exciting Labor Day weekends at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.”

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Ventricular Assist Therapy Helping More Heart Failure Patients

After a long battle with congestive heart failure, former Vice President Dick Cheney this month was implanted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) in order to help improve the pumping function of his ailing heart.  Cheney, who has had numerous documented heart problems and hospitalizations, undoubtedly opted to have the small internal heart pump installed in order to help him live a better quality of life, and potentially reduce his hospital visits in the near future.

An LVAD is a battery-operated, mechanical pump that aids the left ventricle in pumping blood into the aorta.  Most commonly, an LVAD is installed to help patients survive the wait until a fully-functioning heart is available for transplant. However, in some cases the LVAD is used as a form of destination therapy (in place of a transplant) for patients who are not candidates for heart transplant. In 2006, surgeons at Emory University Hospital implanted Georgia’s first ventricular assist device (VAD) as destination therapy.

“When offering LVAD destination therapy, our goal is to safely integrate patients back to their respective communities and normal mode of living,” according to David Vega, MD, surgical director of the Emory Heart Transplant Program.

“Ventricular assist devices offer new hope and a much greater quality of life for individuals who are not transplant candidates, patients who do not want a transplant or those who may be transplant eligible in the future.”

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) there are more than 3,100 Americans – 34 in Georgia – who are currently awaiting a heart transplant. Regardless of the number of donor hearts available, many patients are not candidates for a heart transplant for a variety of reasons including cancer, personal and religious beliefs, blood clotting problems, and other debilitating health conditions.

“There are approximately five million Americans who suffer from congestive heart failure, with another half million diagnosed each year. Many of these people are limited by the severity of their heart failure, yet are not able to be transplanted for one of many reasons,” adds Dr. Vega. “These devices may be a viable option for many patients, allowing them to resume a much more normal lifestyle and improved quality of living.”

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Emory University Hospital celebrates 3000th bone marrow transplant


An Emory University Hospital patient recently prepared to celebrate a “birthday” with family, friends and caregivers  – but this was no typical birthday according to any calendar or tradition.

Instead, cheerful songs and celebratory clapping echoed through the halls of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Emory University Hospital, as always when a potentially life-saving bone marrow transplant is about to occur. And the tradition did not stop on May 20, as the unit physicians, nursing staff, patients and hospital administrators gathered to celebrate the 3000th transplant.

Encouraged by Emory’s success, Edmund Waller, MD, PhD, director of Emory’s Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center says, “While 3,000 is a nice round number, it’s the middle of a growing and successful program. After 3,000 procedures, I know we all look forward to the future of this program.”

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Creative program expands kidney transplant options

The Emory Transplant Center at Emory University Hospital recently opened its innovative Paired Donor Kidney Exchange Program, providing greater hope for patients in need of kidney transplants.

A multi-patient organ swap, known as a paired donor exchange, can now save the lives of numerous people while matching each patient with the very best kidney for his or her blood profile.

Nearly 85,000 Americans are on a waiting list for a donated kidney – nearly 3,000 in Georgia alone. The opportunity to quickly identify and match more organ donors and recipients is critical to saving more lives.

This month, Emory’s transplant team performed this type of exchange involving a total of six patients – three donors and three recipients – from Texas, Colorado and Georgia.

In April, Howard Irving Scott, III, received a new kidney at Emory University Hospital. The kidney came to him as part of a six-person paired kidney transplant “chain,” in which three recipients and three donors were cross-matched. One of the participants was a friend of his, Casey Campbell. Although Scott did not receive Campbell’s kidney, her participation in the program made the “chain” transplant possible, saving Scott the possibility of waiting five years on a kidney.

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Visioning for the future of aging and health

Ted Johnson, MD, says the United States is not prepared to meet the care needs of the next wave of aging older adults. “The statistics nationally show that by the year 2030, the demographics of every U.S. state will be similar to that of Florida today. Another way of looking at that: the number of people age 65 and older in the state of Georgia will increase 100 percent by 2020. We’re facing a tremendous aging wave, and we don’t know how we’re going to meet the needs of that group.”

Ted Johnson, MD

Johnson is leading the Emory Center for Health in Aging, a program that addresses health care issues affecting the rapidly growing senior population in the United States through research, clinical care, community outreach and education.

Johnson also serves as director of the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology, Department of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, and is associate director and Atlanta site director for the Birmingham/Atlanta VA Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center.

Johnson says he is committed to a new vision of aging. His agenda for reaching that vision:

Target conditions associated with disability common in seniors: We need to target specific disease processes–Alzheimer’s, urinary incontinence, obesity, congestive heart failure–and develop breakthrough treatments and better predictive models so that we can understand what it is that makes people with these chronic conditions get out of control and currently, end up in nursing homes.

Build livable communities: We need to build communities that will sustain people as they age, and that means livable and walkable communities, with public transportation and access to stores and food. We need urban planning, as well as rural planning. Aging people shouldn’t lose their ability to live independently because they can no longer drive a car.

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