Antibody production: an endurance sport

To understand recent research from immunologist Jerry Boss’s lab on antibody production, think about the distinction between sprinting and long-distance Read more

Less mucus, more neutrophils: alternative view of CF

A conventional view of cystic fibrosis (CF) and its effects on the lungs is that it’s all about mucus. Rabin Tirouvanziam has an alternative view, centered on Read more

Mapping mRNAs in the brain

If the brain acts like a computer, which of the brain’s physical features store the information? Flashes of electricity may keep memories and sensations alive for the moment, but what plays the role that hard drives and CDs do for computers?

A simple answer could be: genes turning on and off, and eventually, neurons growing and changing their shapes. But it gets more complicated pretty quickly. Genes can be regulated at several levels:

  • at the level of transcription — whether messenger RNA gets made from a stretch of DNA in the cell’s nucleus
  • at the level of translation — whether the messenger RNA is allowed to make a protein
  • at the level of RNA localization — where the mRNAs travel within the cell

Each neuron has only two copies of a given gene but will have many dendrites that can have more or less RNA in them. That means the last two modes of regulation offer neurons much more capacity for storing information.

Gary Bassell, a cell biologist at Emory, and his colleagues have been exploring how RNA regulation works in neurons. They have developed special tools for mapping RNA, and especially, microRNA — a form of RNA that regulates other RNAs.

In the dendrites of neurons, FMRP seems to control where RNAs end up

In the dendrites of neurons, FMRP seems to control where RNAs end up

Fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP), linked to the most common inherited form of mental retardation, appears to orchestrate RNA traffic in neurons. Bassell and pharmacologist Yue Feng recently received a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Development to study FMRP’s regulation of RNA in greater detail. The grant was one of several at Emory funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s support for the NIH.

In the video interview above, Bassell explains his work on microRNAs in neurons. Below is a microscope image, provided by Bassell, showing the pattern of FMRP’s localization in neurons.

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Neuro Leave a comment

Inflammatory bowel disease gene regions identified

In the largest, most comprehensive genetic analysis of childhood-onset inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Emory and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta gastroenterologist Subra Kugathasan, MD, and colleagues identified five new gene regions, including one involved in a biological pathway that helps drive the painful inflammation of the digestive tract that characterizes the disease.

Subra Kugathasan, MD

Subra Kugathasan, MD

IBD is a painful, chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, affecting about 2 million children and adults in the United States. Of that number, about half suffer from Crohn’s disease, which can affect any part of the GI tract, and half have ulcerative colitis, which is limited to the large intestine.

Most gene analyses of IBD have focused on adult-onset disease, but this study concentrated on childhood-onset IBD, which tends to be more severe than adult-onset disease.

Kugathasan and a team of international researchers performed a genome-wide association study on DNA from over 3,400 children and adolescents with IBD, plus nearly 12,000 genetically matched control subjects, all recruited through international collaborations in North America and Europe.

In a genome-wide association study, automated genotyping tools scan the entire human genome seeking gene variants that contribute to disease risk.

The study team identified five new gene regions that raise the risk of early-onset IBD, on chromosomes 16, 22, 10, 2 and 19. The most significant finding was at chromosome locus 16p11, which contains the IL27 gene that carries the code for a cytokine, or signaling protein, also called IL27.

Kugathasan says one strength of the current study, in addition to its large sample size, is the collaboration of many leading pediatric IBD research programs, which included Emory, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Hospital for Sick Children of the University of Toronto; the University of Edinburgh, UK; Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles; and the IRCCS-CSS Hospital, S. Giovanni Rotondo, Italy.

The study, “Common variants at five new loci associated with early-onset inflammatory bowel disease,” was published in the November 2009 online issue of Nature Genetics.

Learn more about Kugathasan’s work at Emory.

Posted on by adobbs in Uncategorized 1 Comment

Mammography can save lives by following ACS guidelines

The recent recommendation issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to revise screening mammography guidelines has generated considerable confusion and worry among women and their loved ones, says Carl D’Orsi, MD, FACR, director of the Emory Breast Imaging Center.

Carl D'Orsi, MD

Carl D'Orsi, MD

D’Orsi says he is counseling women who are concerned about mammograms and deciding what screening schedule to follow that they should use the long-established American Cancer Society guidelines: annual screening using mammography and clinical breast examination for all women beginning at age 40.

The recent recommendations by the task force advise against regular mammography screening for women between ages 40 and 49. It suggests that mammograms should be provided every other year (rather than yearly) for women between ages 50 and 74, and then breast cancer screening in women over 74 should be discontinued.

Mammography is not a perfect test, but it has unquestionably been shown to save lives, says D’Orsi, professor of radiology and of hematology and oncology in the Emory’s School of Medicine, and program director for oncologic imaging at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory. Since the onset of regular mammography screening in 1990, the mortality rate from breast cancer, which had been unchanged for the preceding 50 years, has decreased by 30 percent.

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

These new recommendations – which are based on a review that did not include experts in breast cancer detection and diagnosis – ignore valid scientific data and place a great many women at risk, continues D’Orsi.

Ignoring direct scientific evidence from large clinical trials, notes D’Orsi, the task force based its recommendations to reduce breast cancer screening on conflicting computer models and the unsupported and discredited idea that the parameters of mammography screening change abruptly at age 50.

The task force commissioned their own modeling study and made recommendations in reliance on this study before the study had ever been published, made public or held to critical peer review, and did not use both randomized, controlled trials and already-existing modeling studies, explains D’Orsi.

If Medicare and private insurers adopt these flawed recommendations as a rationale for refusing women coverage of these life-saving exams, it could have deadly effects for American women, says D’Orsi.

Posted on by Vince Dollard in Uncategorized 4 Comments

Lupus expert hosts live chat on medications Nov. 23

Today, S. Sam Lim, MD, assistant professor of medicine, Emory School of Medicine, and chief of rheumatology at Grady Memorial Hospital, will host a live chat on the Lupus Foundation of America website to help educate people with lupus about the need to adhere to their medications as prescribed.

Sam Lim, MD

S. Sam Lim, MD

Lim heads two lupus clinics and is involved in several federal, state and privately funded projects, including the CDC-funded Georgia Lupus Registry. He also serves on the Medical Scientific Advisory Committee of the Lupus Foundation of America and its Georgia Chapter.

Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE) is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood, and kidneys. The potentially life-threatening autoimmune disease affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans.

Medications cannot cure lupus, but they play an important role in managing the signs and symptoms of lupus and can often prevent or slow organ damage. Medication treatment for lupus often involves reaching a balance between preventing severe, possibly life-threatening organ damage, maintaining an acceptable quality of life and minimizing side effects.

Because most lupus symptoms are caused by inflammation, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and antimalarial medications are usually enough to reduce symptoms, says Lim. Medications range in strength from mild to extremely strong, and often several drugs are used in combination to control the disease.

According to a new study published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research, depression is a leading reason why patients with systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE) may not take their medication.

Good communication between people with lupus and their doctors is essential to ensure effective management of the medicines that are prescribed, says Lim. An array of drug therapies is now available, and more than 30 clinical studies are underway of potential new treatments for lupus. Lim recently received a $1 million grant from the Georgia Department of Human Resources to continue his work gathering data for the five-year-old Georgia Lupus Registry, the largest, most comprehensive population-based lupus registry in the country.

Join Lim on his live chat today.

Posted on by Juliette Merchant in Uncategorized 1 Comment

Academic medicine at the table in health care debate

As the debate on health care reform legislation continues to move forward in Congress, Association of American Medical Colleges President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, urges leaders of the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals to be the standard bearers for innovation in health care delivery.

Darrell G. Kirch, MD

Darrell G. Kirch, MD

Kirch says that a year ago he was asked if he believed that academic medicine would have any voice in the health care reform debate. He answered that academic medical centers do have a strong voice in ensuring that the special contributions of our members are recognized in any proposed changes in the current legislation.

Kirch, who recently presented at Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center Future Makers Lecture Series, says, “Just as we have a moral imperative to give people basic health insurance, we have an innovation imperative, as educators, researchers and clinicians, to finally make our health care system work well for everyone.”

In his presentation, Kirch pointed out that, by establishing new models of high-performance, high-value, integrated health systems, academic medical centers across the country are already undertaking clinical care innovations. Similar efforts are also occurring in research, where greater collaboration helps to address complex problems, and in medical education, where cutting-edge technologies are used to train physicians and promote lifelong learning, he noted.

AAMC-supported legislation, introduced by Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), to establish Healthcare Innovation Zones (HIZs), would promote the rapid expansion of successful pioneering efforts. These zones would empower centers to partner with local providers and hospitals to conduct large-scale experiments in health care delivery for specific patient populations.

Combining innovations in health care delivery, critically studying the effectiveness of these innovations and educating professionals to work in these new models play to the strengths of academic medicine, continues Kirch. The innovation imperative will allow academic medical centers to finally attain alignment of all three missions, while truly fulfilling their goal to improve the health of communities.

Listen to Kirch’s Emory presentation or read his recent address to the American Association of Medical Colleges.

Posted on by sgoodwin in Uncategorized Leave a comment

Sanjay Gupta shares stories on near-death experiences

Yesterday, Sanjay Gupta, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory School of Medicine and associate chief of neurosurgery service at Grady Memorial Hospital, joined Emory and its community in a book-signing event to celebrate his newest book Cheating Death: The Doctors and Medical Miracles that Are Saving Lives Against All Odds.

Dr. Gupta signs his book

Dr. Gupta signs his book

It is hard to imagine having a busier schedule than the one Gupta has. On Wednesday he started his day as chief medical correspondent at CNN by discussing the new breast cancer recommendations issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. He, like other health reporters and doctors across the nation, had hundreds of questions pouring in about the controversial recommendations.

As the late afternoon approached, Gupta packed up for his visit to Emory where several hundred faculty, staff, students and neighbors awaited him for the book-signing event. After spending time presenting and answering questions, and then signing books for many people, Gupta again packed up and headed back to the CNN studio for a live show with Larry King.

Dr. Gupta presents

Dr. Gupta presents

During his presentation at Emory, Gupta talked about his experiences that led to his book. He notes one CNN story took him to Norway to meet the woman who had been skiing and slipped through a hole in the ice with her head caught under freezing water for an hour.

After an amazing rescue, Anna BÃ¥genholm was taken to the emergency room where the doctors did not give up. A doctor on the helicopter said there was a completely flat line. No signs of life whatsoever. But the team persevered and saved her life by warming her body very slowly. Even though BÃ¥genholm was alive, months of recovery lay ahead. Paralyzed for almost a year until her damaged nerves healed, she today is a radiologist at the hospital where she was saved. She has returned to skiing and other sports.

Read more about Gupta in Emory Magazine. Learn more about Gupta’s stories from on the road.

Posted on by sgoodwin in Uncategorized Leave a comment

ScienceWorksForUs highlights stimulus funding

Allan D. Kirk, MD, PhD

Allan D. Kirk, MD, PhD

A newly launched website, ScienceWorksForUS.org, highlights the scientific research made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), also known as the stimulus bill.

Representatives of research universities joined Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress in Washington, D.C. this week to announce the new site, which links to Recovery Act-sponsored research in all 50 states. The Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and The Science Coalition (TSC)spearheaded the initiative.

“ScienceWorksForUS is highlighting the way Recovery Act funds have made their way into academic laboratories, and reflects what’s possible when smart investments in the public sector are placed in the hands of our scientists, innovators, and academies of higher learning,” Speaker Pelosi said. “Through our ongoing support for researchers across the country, we will ensure that the Recovery Act was not the end of our investment in innovation, but the beginning of a sustained commitment to science.”

The stimulus contained $21.5 billion for scientific research, the purchase of capital equipment and science-related construction projects. The money represented an historic infusion of funding for research and an affirmation of the essential role scientific inquiry and discovery play in both short-term recovery and long-term economic growth.

Emory University scientists were awarded 153 grants from the National Institutes of Health for $53.6 million in the first year of two-year grants, and $417,000 for two grants from the National Science Foundation.

In addition to launching the new website, ScienceWorksForUS released a list of more than 50 ARRA-funded researchers and research projects from around the country. Allan Kirk, MD, PhD, professor of surgery and pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine, was featured for his work helping tailor post-transplant therapies to the needs of children. Kirk, who also is a transplant surgeon at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, is a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, the vice chair of research in the Department of Surgery and scientific director of the Emory Transplant Center.

Posted on by Holly Korschun in Uncategorized Leave a comment

Costs will rise as rates of obesity in the U.S. grow

Today’s news points to a study on projected obesity costs released by Kenneth E. Thorpe, PhD, Robert W. Woodruff professor and chair of health policy at Rollins School of Public Health, and colleagues from Emory. The unique study departs from looking at historical costs of obesity and uses an econometric model developed by Thorpe and team to estimate the growth of health care costs over time that are linked to changes in obesity rates.

Obesity costs rising

Obesity costs rising

Using nationally representative data on adults, the study estimates the effect of the increasing prevalence of obesity on total direct health care costs in the next decade. The report is titled “The Future Costs of Obesity: National and State Estimates of the Impact of Obesity on Direct Health Care Expenses.”

The report was commissioned by three groups – the UnitedHealth Foundation, the Partnership for Prevention and the American Public Health Association – in conjunction with their annual America’s Health Rankings report.

Major findings from the report include:

  • Obesity is growing faster than any previous public health issue our nation has faced. If current trends continue, 103 million American adults will be considered obese by 2018.
  • The United States is expected to spend $344 billion on health care costs attributable to obesity in 2018 if rates continue to increase at their current levels. Obesity‐related direct expenditures are expected to account for more than 21 percent of the nation’s direct health care spending in 2018.
  • If obesity levels were held at their current rates, the United States could save an estimated $820 per adult in health care costs by 2018 ‐ a savings of almost $200 billion dollars.

Thorpe says, “At a time when Congress is looking for savings in health care, this data confirms what we already knew: obesity is where the money is. Because obesity is related to the onset of so many other illnesses, stopping the growth of obesity in the U.S. is vital not only to our health, but also to the solvency of our health care system.”

The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, co-directed by Thorpe, says that a top priority must be addressing the obesity epidemic through meaningful, evidence-based approaches, including:

  • Removing barriers and empowering Americans to take control of their health.
  • Educating Americans to see being obese as a serious medical condition that significantly heightens their risk for other health problems
  • Ensuring that fear about the stigma of obesity does not eclipse the need to combat it
  • Redesigning our health care system to treat obesity like a preventable medical condition
  • Engaging employers and communities to get them invested in promoting wellness

Follow Thorpe on his Health Reform Blog.

Posted on by adobbs in Uncategorized 1 Comment

Biomedical informatics impact on health care outcomes

Biomedical informatics is a multi-disciplinary field, involving the collection, management, analysis and integration of data in biomedicine used for research and healthcare delivery.

DNA double helix

DNA double helix

According to Joel H. Saltz, MD, PhD, director of Emory’s Center for Comprehensive Informatics, biomedical informatics enhances medical research via technology by making it possible to collect, weed through and analyze widespread data on patient treatments and outcomes.

Saltz is a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and serves as chief medical information officer at Emory Healthcare and as a professor in the departments of pathology, biostatistics and bioinformatics, and mathematics and computer science at Emory.

Joel H. Saltz, MD, PhD

Joel H. Saltz, MD, PhD

A recent essay excerpted below, published by Knowledge@Emory, says advances in information technology are becoming increasingly critical to disease treatment and administrative efficiency at healthcare facilities.

Given the national debate over costs in the healthcare system, medical practitioners and IT experts say that the evolving field of biomedical informatics can provide large scale improvements in treatment processes, and ultimately, in the price tag for care.

Saltz notes in the article that biomedical informatics can be applied to any subset of medical research, giving clinicians access to “rich” or large pools of patient data and applying technological solutions and mathematical modeling to the process.

He says that the overarching goal of the Center is to foster collaboration between scientific and software systems researchers. However, the synthesis of medical information from disparate and numerous sources remains a key research effort at the Center and for other institutions and companies in the biomedical informatics field

The Center was selected recently as an In Silico Brain Tumor Research Center and will use advanced informatics tools and databases to discover more effective brain tumor treatments. Read here for more information about projects at the Center.

Posted on by sgoodwin in Uncategorized Leave a comment

$30M grant to Children’s Healthcare supports Emory partnership

Pediatric researchThe Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation has given $30 million to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to support pediatric research. The grant includes $25 million to help fund a new research building located on the Emory campus, and $5 million to support the Marcus Autism Center.

The grant will allow Children’s and Emory to expand their research partnership, attract top scientists, and advance research discoveries that will improve the health of children.

Some of the pediatric research conducted in a new building to be built on the Emory campus will focus on cardiology, cancer, vaccines, and new drug discovery. The grant has implications for the city of Atlanta as a growing research community, building on collaborations among Children’s Healthcare, Emory, Georgia Institute of Technology, Morehouse School of Medicine, and others.

Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory, and Donna W. Hyland, president and CEO of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, explained that the new grant, which is the largest single gift ever to Children’s, will have an enormous impact on the two institutions, building on the strong partnership between Emory and Children’s and leading them to become a major pediatric research hub in the Southeast and the nation. Most importantly, it will help in finding cures for some of the most common and devastating childhood diseases.

Posted on by Holly Korschun in Uncategorized Leave a comment