Tracing the start of COVID-19 in GA

At a time when COVID-19 appears to be receding in much of Georgia, it’s worth revisiting the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Emory virologist Anne Piantadosi and colleagues have a paper in Viral Evolution on the earliest SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequences detected in Georgia. Analyzing relationships between those virus sequences and samples from other states and countries can give us an idea about where the first COVID-19 infections in Georgia came from. We can draw Read more

Reddit as window into opioid withdrawal strategies

Drug abuse researchers are using the social media site Reddit as a window into the experiences of people living with opioid addiction. Abeed Sarker in Emory's Department of Biomedical Informatics has a paper in Clinical Toxicology focusing on the phenomenon of “precipitated withdrawal,” in collaboration with emergency medicine specialists from Penn, Rutgers and Mt Sinai. Precipitated withdrawal is a more intense form of withdrawal that can occur when someone who was using opioids starts medication-assisted treatment Read more

CROI: HIV cure report and ongoing research

The big news out of CROI (Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections) was a report of a third person being cured of HIV infection, this time using umbilical cord blood for a hematopoetic stem cell transplant. Emory’s Carlos del Rio gave a nice overview of the achievement for NPR this morning. As del Rio explains, the field of HIV cure research took off over the last decade after Timothy Brown, known as “the Berlin patient,” Read more

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Cervical Cancer – Can Be Hard to Detect

MedicalHorizon

The Pap smear – also called Pap test – is part of the standard annual wellness exam for women’s health and used as a first step in detecting cervical cancer.  But according to a recent article published in the International Journal of Cancer,  the Pap test may not provide reliable results for certain types of cancer that are harder to detect.

Kevin Ault, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University School of Medicine and investigator at the Emory Vaccine Center conducted a post-hoc analysis of the FUTURE I and FUTURE II (Gardasil) vaccine trials.  Based on that analysis Ault, a leading expert and pioneer in the field of human papilloma virus (HPV), says a regular Pap test is not always effective in diagnosing adenocarcinoma, because it starts high up in the cervical canal and may not be sampled by the Pap smear.

“There are a number of reasons the Pap smear could lead to inaccurate results. For example, the pathologist examining the cells could make an error, the gynecologist may not sample the cervix adequately or an infection could obscure the results,” says Ault.

According to Ault, andenocarcinoma is the second most common type of cervical cancer, accounting for about 20 percent of all cervical cancer cases. While the overall incident of cervical cancer is on the decline, Ault reports the proportion of cervical cancers that are andenocarcinoma is rising.

Cervical cancer is the eighth most common type of cancer in American women. More than 12,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed each year, and more than 4,200 women in the U.S. die from of this disease annually* according to the American Cancer Society.  Scientists believe that pre-invasive cervical cancer may develop over a period of months or years after the cervix is infected with the sexually transmitted HPV.

“The take-away from this recent paper is the HPV test would be a better test for the harder to detect adenocarcinoma cervical cancer, if not all cervical cancer,” says Ault.

* 2010 data

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Emory cardiologist weighs in on issue of health literacy

Javed Butler, MD, MPH

A story in yesterday’s edition of the Washington Post claims that many Americans have poor health literacy. The Post cited a 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Education that found that 36 percent of adults have only basic or below-basic skills for dealing with health material. According to the report, this means about 90 million Americans can understand discharge instructions written only at a fifth-grade level or lower.

Emory Healthcare heart transplant cardiologist, Javed Butler, MD, MPH, was included in yesterday’s Post article citing his experience with patients who have health literacy issues. “When we say ‘diet,’ we mean ‘food,’ but patients think we mean going on a diet,” said Butler. “And when we say ‘exercise,’ we may mean ‘walking,’ but patients think we mean ‘going to the gym.’ At every step there’s a potential for misunderstanding.”

Butler, a professor of medicine at the Emory School of Medicine and director of Heart Failure Research for Emory Healthcare is studying this issue and its impact on patients with heart failure. He recently reported some of his findings Nov. 17 at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions conference in Chicago.

To read the entire Washington Post story, please click here.

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Clinical trial for patients with atrial fibrillation tests implantable device in place of blood-thinning drug

Clinical Trial for Patients with A-fib

A new clinical trial underway for patients with atrial fibrillation will test an implantable device in place of a common blood-thinning medication, according to researchers at Emory University Hospital Midtown.

Atrial fibrillation (commonly called A-fib) is a heart condition in which the upper chambers of the heart beat too fast, causing an irregular heartbeat and ineffective pumping action. This condition can cause blood to pool and form clots in the left atrial appendage (LAA). If a clot forms in this area, it can increase the chances of having a stroke.

Many patients with A-fib are prescribed blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (brand name Coumadin), to prevent blood from clotting. This medication is effective in reducing the risk of stroke, but may cause side effects such as bleeding. It also requires frequent blood draws to monitor dosage levels.

The trial, called PREVAIL (Prospective Randomized EVAluation of the Watchman LAA Closure Device In Patients with Atrial Fibrillation Versus Long Term Warfarin Therapy), involves implanting a small, umbrella-shaped mesh device called the Watchman closure device, into the heart chamber via catheter. This is a confirmatory study (and the third study testing the implant), which will also look at safety and efficacy of the device.

David De Lurgio, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology, Emory University School of Medicine, is the principal investigator of the trial. He explains that by implanting this device into the left atrial appendage of the heart, it closes that area off. That, in turn, prevents blood clots from escaping and entering the blood stream, which could lead to a stroke.

Patients are randomly selected by computer to either receive the device or remain on Coumadin without the device (control group). Those selected to receive the device will remain on Coumadin for 45 days following implant. If the heart tissue has healed after those 45 days, participants will be taken off Coumadin and placed on aspirin therapy and possibly clopidogrel (Plavix), an anti-platelet medication.

Researchers will then follow study patients with and without the device for five years, monitoring those who are no longer taking Coumadin very closely. If the FDA approves the device at the end of this clinical trial, participants in the control group will then have the option to receive the device.

De Lurgio and his colleagues have had five years of experience with this technology, thus far. Emory Healthcare is the only health system in Georgia providing access to this device through participation in this clinical trial.

For more information, please call 404-686-2504.

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Fact or Fiction when it comes to colds

Man with a coldCongested, tired, coughing, icky… It’s a rare human being who hasn’t experienced a cold.

We take our miserable selves to the pharmacy and, in our cold stupor, we stand in front of the “cold and flu” aisle trying to figure what cold remedy actually works – or do any of them work? And how did we end up with this lousy cold anyway?!

In a CNN.com Health article, Emory physician Dr. Sharon Bergquist discusses how colds are transmitted, how long a cold should last, what makes people resistant and what treatments work.

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A good reason to enjoy a little Valentine’s Day chocolate

From the Clinic to You

BY CHERYL WILLIAMS, RD, LD

If you’re looking for an excuse to indulge in the yummy chocolate you get this Valentine’s Day, research suggests it may not be so bad for you.

A number of studies, conducted over the last decade have associated cocoa and dark chocolate consumption with heart health benefits. These benefits come from cocoa, derived from the cacao plant, which is rich in flavonoids (cocoa flavanols to be exact). Flavonoids are antioxidants also found in berries, grapes, tea, and apples. As a whole, antioxidants prevent cellular damage and inflammation which are two major mechanisms involved in the development of heart disease.

So what does the research say?

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that high-flavanol dark chocolate reduced bad cholesterol (LDL) oxidation and increased good cholesterol (HDL) levels. LDL oxidation promotes the development of plaque and hardening of the coronary arteries, thus lessening oxidation could help to prevent heart disease.

A Harvard research study found that flavanol-rich cocoa induced nitric-oxide production, which causes blood vessels to relax and expand, thus improving blood flow. Improved coronary vasodilation could potentially lower the risk of a cardiovascular event.

In a double-blind randomized Circulation study flavonoid-rich dark chocolate (containing 70% cocoa) reduced serum oxidative stress and decreased platelet activity (clumping) in heart transplant recipients. This favorable impact on vascular and platelet function is relevant because vascular dysfunction and platelet activation (adhesion upon damaged cell wall) are the basis of atherothrombosis (blood clotting) and coronary artery disease.

How can you reap chocolate’s potential benefits?

Not all cocoa products and/or chocolates are created equal. Milk chocolate, for example, is not rich in flavanols (contains only 10-20% cocoa solids) and white chocolate contains none at all. In addition, some cocoa products and chocolates are processed with alkali, which can destroy flavanols.

Follow these tips for heart healthy chocolate consumption:

  • Avoid cocoa products processed with alkali (dutched) as seen in the ingredient list
  • Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa
  • Enjoy 100% unsweetened non-dutched cocoa (great for hot chocolate!)

Also, remember that chocolate is not a health food, as it is high in calories, fat and added sugar. Thus, make room for dark chocolate by cutting extra calories elsewhere in your diet. Additionally, stick to small amounts (e.g. 1 ounce) and do not eat in place of plant-based whole foods such as vegetables and fruits.

Cheryl Williams is a registered dietitian at the Emory Heart & Vascular Center. She provides nutrition therapy, wellness coaching, monthly nutrition seminars and healthy cooking demonstrations working with the Emory HeartWise Cardiac Risk Reduction Program.

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Study Finds Injection Drug Users Who Live Nearer to Syringe Exchange Programs Are Less Likely to Engage in HIV Risk Behaviors

Hannah Cooper

Hannah Cooper, ScD

Injecting drugs is one of the main ways people become infected with HIV in the United States. It is also the main way of becoming infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Injection drug users (IDUs) become infected and transmit the viruses to others through sharing contaminated syringes and through high-risk sexual behaviors. Now a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health offers evidence that proximity to legal syringe exchange programs and pharmacies selling over the counter syringe plays a role in reducing the risk of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission in the U.S.

In a longitudinal study, Hannah Cooper, ScD assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and colleagues studied the behaviors of more than 4000 drug injectors from across 42 New York City health districts beginning in 1995 to 2006. The scientists set out to determine if the relationship of spatial access to syringe exchange programs and pharmacies selling over-the-counter syringes affected the likelihood that local injectors engaged in less HIV risk behaviors.

“It is a well-established fact that syringe exchange programs reduce HIV and related risk behaviors among injection drug users. Here, what we find is that proximity to a syringe exchange program is a powerful determinant of whether injectors inject with sterile syringes,” says Cooper.

The CDC estimates an individual injection drug user injects as many as 1,000 times a year. This adds up to millions of injections across the country each year, creating an enormous need for reliable sources of sterile syringes. Syringe exchange programs provide a way for those IDUs who continue to inject, to safely dispose of used syringes and to obtain sterile syringes at no cost. Many U.S. cities have just one or two syringe exchange programs, but Cooper and her team found IDUs with access to these services in their local neighborhoods were more likely to inject with sterile syringes.

“Our findings suggest that having a syringe exchange program in your neighborhood matters. We need to dramatically scale up the number of syringe exchange programs operating in U.S. cities to increase the number of injectors who live near such a program,” says Cooper.

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HIV in metro Atlanta concentrated in four-county geographic cluster

The HIV epidemic in metropolitan Atlanta is concentrated mainly in one cluster of four metro area counties – Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, and Gwinnett that includes 60 percent of Georgia’s HIV cases, according to a study by researchers in the Emory Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).

In a paper published in the Journal of Urban Health, the researchers found that the rate of HIV in the cluster is 1.34 percent. This fits the World Health Organization’s description of a “generalized epidemic” (>1 percent). Outside the cluster, the HIV prevalence in Georgia is 0.32 percent.

The researchers matched HIV prevalence data from the Georgia Division of Public Health, as of October 2007, to census tracts. They also used data from the 2000 census to examine population characteristics such as poverty, race/ethnicity, and drug use.

The large Atlanta HIV cluster is characterized by a high prevalence of poverty along with behaviors that increase the risk of HIV exposure such as injection drug use and men having sex with men.

The investigators also found that 42 percent of HIV service providers in Atlanta are located in the concentrated cluster, which should facilitate prevention and treatment.

Paula Frew, MPH, PhD

“A major aim of our study was to improve public health practice by informing local planning efforts for HIV services,” says corresponding author Paula Frew, MPH, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and an investigator in the Emory CFAR.

With more than 50,000 new HIV infections reported yearly in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to be a major public health problem. The number of HIV/AIDS cases is increasing faster in the South compared to other areas of the country. According to Kaiser State Health Facts, Georgia ranks 9th in the nation in the number of HIV/AIDS cases with more than 3,000 new HIV infections diagnosed in 2007.

The study showed differences between Atlanta and other large cities in the distribution of HIV cases. While cases in several other large cities were concentrated in specific neighborhoods, HIV cases in metro Atlanta are more generalized within the four-county metro area. All the cities, however, were similar in the link between HIV, poverty and men having sex with men.

“Prevention efforts targeted to the populations living in this identified area, including efforts to address their specific needs, may be most beneficial in curtailing the epidemic within this cluster,” Frew says.

Other authors of the paper include Emory CFAR members Brooke Hixson, MPH; Saad B. Omer, MBBS, MPH, PhD; and Carlos del Rio, MD.

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New 3D MRI Technology Puts Young Athletes Back in Action

Emory MedicalHorizon
New technology has made it possible for surgeons to reconstruct ACL tears in young athletes without disturbing the growth plate.

John Xerogeanes, MD, chief of the Emory Sports Medicine Center and colleagues in the laboratory of Allen R. Tannenbaum, PhD, professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, have developed 3-D MRI technology that allows surgeons to pre-operatively plan and perform anatomic Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) surgery.

Link to YouTube video

The ACL is one of the four major ligaments in the knee, somewhat like a rubber band, attached at two points to keep the knee stable. In order to replace a damaged ligament, surgeons create a tunnel in the upper and lower knee bones (femur and tibia), slide the new ACL between those two tunnels and attach it both ends.

Traditional treatment for ACL injuries in children has been a combination of rehabilitation, wearing a brace and staying out of athletics until the child stops growing – usually in the mid-teens – and ACL reconstruction surgery can safely be performed.  Surgery has not been an option with children for fear of damage to the growth plate that would cause serious problems later on.

Xerogeanes explains that prior to using the 3-D MRI technology, ACL operations were conducted with extensive use of X-Rays in the operating room, and left too much to chance when working around growth plates.

Preparation with the new 3-D MRI technology allows surgery to be completed in less time than the traditional surgery using X-Rays, and with complete confidence that the growth plates in young patients will not be damaged.

Video Answers to Questions on ACL Tears

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National AIDS Strategy: Comments on a coordinated effort

In this month’s issue of the journal Future Microbiology, Emory infectious disease physician/scientists Rana Chakraborty and Wendy Armstrong from Emory School of Medicine summarize and comment on the goals and challenges of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy released July 10, 2010.

The National AIDS Strategy was the result of a directive by the Obama Administration to the Office of National AIDS Policy. The strategy’s overall goals were to reduce the number of people who become infected with HIV, to increase access to care and improve health outcomes for people living with HIV, and to reduce HIV-related health disparities.

“The National HIV/AIDS Strategy calls for a long overdue national coordinated effort to curb the rise in new HIV infections and enhance therapy in those already infected,” write the authors.

While the goals are worthy, the strategy will present many challenges, and the authors address each goal individually, and highlight challenges:

  • The initiatives are expensive, and already resources in the United States are not adequate to treat all patients currently diagnosed with HIV infection.
  • Convincing the general population that HIV is still a major problem and an incurable and often-fatal disease will remain a challenge.
  • Nontraditional testing sites outside clinics or hospitals, such as churches, while central to enhancing testing, may present problems of confidentiality.
  • Increasing the number and diversity of available providers of care is difficult given the current financial realities of the American healthcare system where medical practices with a high percentage of HIV patients often can’t break even financially.

The creation of a strategy is a positive step, say the authors, but it needs a clear financial commitment. The strategy’s strengths include a focus on specific high-risk populations, the concept of re-introducing conventional prevention methods including condom distribution and needle-exchange programs, and creating better outreach between leading HIV/AIDS centers in cities and HIV providers in rural settings.

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Renowned Scientist Recipient of Emory’s First Annual Neuroscience and Ethics Award

Michael Gazzaniga, PhD

Michael Gazzaniga, PhD, will deliver the lecture “Determinism, Consciousness and Free Will.”

Emory University Center for Ethics, Yerkes National Primate Research Center and The Neuroscience Initiative will present the First Annual Neuroscience and Ethics Award Lecture, “Determinism, Consciousness and Free Will” on January 18 at 4 pm at Emory’s Harland Cinema at the Dobbs University Center.

The guest speaker, and first to be recognized with this award, is Michael Gazzaniga, PhD, a scientist and author considered one of the pioneers in the emerging field of cognitive neuroscience.

“Dr. Gazzaniga is a world renowned scientists who, in addition to his other accomplishments, pioneered the study of split-brained patients and so revealed how the different hemispheres of our brains function,” says Paul Root Wolpe, PhD, director of the Emory University Center for Ethics.

“He has won our First Annual Emory Neuroscience and Ethics Award because, throughout his career, he has tried to apply his scientific understandings to improve the human condition, including serving on President Bush’s Bioethics Commission and publications such as his book The Ethical Brain.  I can think of no finer choice to be the first recipient of this Award.”

Gazzaniga founded and presides over the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute and is editor-in-chief emeritus of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, which he also founded.  In addition, he is the one of the co-founders of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, which was named in the late 1970’s.

In 1997, Gazzaniga was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.  He is the past-president of the Association for Psychological Science, served on the President’s Council on Bioethics and, in 2005, was elected to the National Academies Institute of Medicine. In 2009, he presented the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh.

Gazzaniga’s book The Ethical Brain describes in laymen’s language how the brain develops a value system, and the ethical dilemmas facing society as our comprehension of the brain expands.

For more information, contact Jamila Garrett-Bell.

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