Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one of the most common liver conditions in the United States, affecting 30 percent of the population, and increasing — and likely to catch up in prevalence with obesity and diabetes. In NAFLD, fat content of the liver is elevated to 6 percent or more in people who drink in moderation or not at all. Patients will first present with elevated liver enzyme values in blood tests, but then an imaging test or tissue biopsy may be ordered to evaluate the extent of the damage. NAFLD is mostly asymptomatic and is variable in severity; a majority of those afflicted do not need drug treatments. However, NAFLD is thought to be a preliminary condition that can eventually progress to severe manifestations, such as cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and end stage liver failure.
Progression of liver disease, from NIDDK.
This is a guest post from Kristina Bargeron Clark, a MMG graduate student at Emory and communications chair for Women in Bio-Atlanta. Her website is www.inkcetera.org.
At Emory, Frank Anania, director of the Department of Medicineâ€™s Division of Digestive Diseases, and his colleagues are developing a tool to treat liver disease. A recent publication in the FASEB Journal describes their investigation into the potential for the hormone adiponectin to modulate liver fibrosis.
Adiponectin is produced by adipose tissue, but is known to decrease in overweight people with metabolic disease. Research by others indicates that it may prevent heart and kidney fibrosis. The Emory teamâ€™s studies were conducted to determine if adiponectin could also reduce liver fibrosis.
Neale Weitzmann and George Beck have been publishing a series of papers describingÂ how silica nanoparticles can increase bone mineral density in animals. Their findings could someday form the basis for a treatment for osteoporosis.
In 2012, we posted an article and video on this topic. We wanted to call attention to a few of theÂ team’sÂ recent papers, one of which probes the mechanism for aÂ remarkable phenomenon: how can very fine silica particles stimulate bone formation?
The particlesâ€™ properties seem to depend on their size: 50 nanometers wide â€“ smaller than a HIV or influenza vision.Â In a 2014 ACS Nano paper, Beck, Weitzmann and postdoc Shin-Woo Ha show that the particles interact with particular proteins involved in the process of autophagy, a process of â€œself digestionâ€ induced by stress.
â€œThese studies suggest that it is not the material per se that stimulates autophagy but rather size or shape,â€ they write. Read more
SeveralÂ well-known authors, scientists and bioethicists are in downtown Atlanta’s Tabernacle for the #BEINGS2015 conference. Paul Wolpe and the Center for Ethics have been central to organizing the event, and several Emory biomedical and genetics researchers will be involved in shaping the consensus documents that will emerge.
I won’t attempt to summarize the ongoing discussion at this point; with biotechnology, it is difficult to draw a circle around certain topics and say “we’re going toÂ focus on this, but not this” and today was a good example. TheÂ border between existing agricultural biotechnology and new organisms seems hard to define.
Three interesting relevant links:
The National Academy of Sciences is launching an effort to guide decision making on human gene editing technologies such as Cas9/CRISPR
Collection of scientists’ comments on human gene editing and Cas9/CRISPR in Nature Biotechnology
Nature Chem Bio paper on engineered yeast that “paves way for home brew heroin”. Interesting role of FBI in overseeing this emerging area, and note that full production of opiates in yeast may look close, but is still not yet possible.
Matthew Woodruff — Bali Pulendran lab
Kenneth Myers — James Zheng lab
Joshua Strauss — Elizabeth Wright lab
JoAnna Anderson — Francisco Alvarez lab
Alexey Tamas — Charles Searles lab
Emory’s Office of Postdoctoral Education is holding a Best Image contest. The deadline to vote is this Thursday, April 30. You can look at these beautiful images (and guess exactly what they are, based on what lab they come from), but to VOTE, you need to go to the OPE site.
This is part of the run up to their Postdoctoral Research Symposium at the end of May.
(Hat tip to Ashley Freeman in Dept of Medicine!)
Two Emory graduate students, Anzar Abbas and Katie Strong, will be spending the summer testingÂ their communication skills as part of the AAAS Mass Media fellowship program. The program is supposed to promote science communication by giving young scientists a taste of what life is like at media organizations around the country. Both of Emory’s fellowsÂ have already gained some experience in this realm.
Abbas, a Neuroscience student who recently joined brainÂ imaging number cruncherÂ Shella Keilholz‘s lab, will be at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is part of the group that recently revived the Science Writers at Emory publication In Scripto.
Strong, a Chemistry student working with Dennis Liotta on selective NMDA receptor drugs, will be at the Sacramento Bee. She has been quite prolific at the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience and its Neuroethics Blog.
(Thanks to Ian Campbell, a previous AAAS Mass Media fellow from Emory who worked at the Oregonian, for notifying me on this!)
The increasing clinical use of next generation sequencing, especially whole exome and whole genome, continues to be a hot topic. The ability to contribute to diagnosis, clinical utility, incidental findings and whether insurance will cover next-gen sequencing are all changing.
A Nature Medicine article lays out a lot of the emerging business issues on next-gen sequencing. On the topic of incidental findings, Buzzfeed science editor Virginia Hughes last week reported stories of women who receive a cancer diagnosis as a result of having a prenatal genetic test.
â€œThese cases, though extremely rare, are raising ethical questions about the unregulated â€“ and rapidly evolving â€“ genetic-testing industry,â€ Buzzfeed says.
At a recent Department of Pediatrics seminar, Emory geneticist Michael Gambello described examples of how whole exome sequencing, performed to diagnose intellectual disability or developmental problems in a child, can uncover cancer or neurodegenerative disease risk mutations in a parent. The question becomes, whether to notify the parent for something that may or may not be actionable. This is why Emory Genetics Laboratoryâ€™s whole exome sequencing service has an extensive â€œopt-in/opt-outâ€ consent process.
Emory Genetics Laboratory executive director Madhuri Hegde, working with the Association of Molecular Pathology, has been a leader in pushing genetic testing laboratories to adopt best practices. Read more
Intuition may suggest that smoke is bad for the lungs, whether it comes from a campfire or from tobacco or marijuana. AÂ practical question is: how bad is an occasional joint, compared with some background level of air pollution and the lungsâ€™ ability to cope?
Since a few states have been loosening restrictions on marijuana, a group ofÂ Emory pulmonologists â€“ Jordan Kempker, Eric Honig, and Greg Martin — decided to look at the long-term effects of marijuana smoking on lung function. Their findings, published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society (PDF), have already attracted some attention. Read more
The idea that particular lipid components, such as omega-3 fatty acids, promote health is quite familiar, so the finding that the lipid oleoylethanolamide or OEA extends longevity in the worm C. elegans is perhaps not so surprising. However, a recent paper in Science is remarkable for what it reveals about how OEA exerts its effects.
Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine led by Meng Wang, with some help from biochemists Eric Ortlund and Eric Armstrong at Emory, discovered that OEA is a way one part of the cell, the lysosome, talks to another part, the nucleus. Lysosomes are sort of recycling centers/trash digestersÂ (important for autophagy) and the nucleus is the control tower for the cell. The authors show that starting in lysosomes, OEA travels to the nucleus and activates nuclear hormone receptors (the Ortlund labâ€™s specialty). Read more
It is a privilege to work at Emory and learn about and report on so much quality biomedical research. I started to make a top 10 for 2014 and had too many favorites. After divertingÂ some of these topics into the 2015 crystal ball
,Â I corralledÂ them into themes.
1. Cardiac cell therapy
2. Mobilizing the body’s own regenerative potential
4. Parkinson’s disease therapeutic strategies
(Gary Miller, better packaging for dopamine could avoidÂ stress to neurons).
5. Personal genomics/exome sequencing
, likeÂ Emory’s Robert Gross
and Costas Hadjpanayis, do amazing things
7. Fun vsÂ no fun
Our Web expert
tells me this was Lab Land’s most widely read post last year.
9. Fine-tuning approaches to cancer
Alzheimer’s protein pathology
While a wise Dane once proposed that predictions are dangerous, especially concerningÂ the future, it’s usuallyÂ helpful to plan ahead. Here are five biomedical research topicsÂ we think will occupy our attention in 2015.
1. Alzheimer’s Weâ€™re hearing discordant music coming from Alzheimerâ€™s researchers. Large pharmaceutical companies are shutting down clinical trials in frustration, but researchers keep coming forward with biomarkers that mightÂ predict future disease. This confusing situation calls for some new thinking. Allan Levey, Jim Lah and colleagues have been preparing the way for a â€œbeyond the usual suspectsâ€ look at Alzheimerâ€™s disease. We are looking forward to Leveyâ€™s appearance at the 2015 AAAS meeting and to drug discovery wizard Keqiang Yeâ€™s continuing work on new therapeutic targets.
2. Ebola While the scare over Ebola in the United States may be over (we hope so!), the outbreak continues to devastate countriesÂ in West Africa. Clinical trials testingÂ vaccines and experimental drugs are underway or will be soon. Read more