Gene editing reverses Huntington's in mouse model

This is a concrete example, not yet clinical, of what can be done with CRISPR/Cas9 gene Read more

Urine tests for prostate cancer could reduce biopsies

Urine RNA tests could reduce the number of biopsies by giving a preview of a cancer's aggressiveness. Featuring Martin Sanda and Carlos Read more

Mitochondrial blindness -- Newman's Emory story

Neuro-ophthalmologist Nancy Newman’s 2017 Dean’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture and Award were unexpectedly timely. Her talk on Tuesday was a tour of her career and mitochondrial disorders affecting vision, culminating in a description of gene therapy clinical trials for the treatment of Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy. The sponsor of those studies, Gensight Biologics, recently presented preliminary data on a previous study of their gene therapy at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in April. Two larger trials Read more

Remembering Grace Crum Rollins

Grace Crum Rollins

Grace Crum Rollins

She was quiet and small in stature but firm in her beliefs. Grace Crum Rollins made good on her late husband’s promise of helping construct a building to house Emory’s School of Public Health. In 1994, the Grace Crum Rollins Building became the permanent home for the school that Emory named for her extraordinary family.

Mrs. Rollins, whose generosity led the Rollins School of Public Health to become one of the nation’s premier schools in its field, died on August 8 at age 98.

Dean James Curran says, “Essentially, the school would not be what it is today without her family. Our faculty, students, and alumni are part of her legacy.”

Grace Crum married O. Wayne Rollins during the Depression. They worked hard, lived simply, and never bought anything on credit. When Wayne was hospitalized for an appendectomy, Grace knitted to pay his bill.

Years later, Forbes magazine would count him among the nation’s greatest business leaders. In what is considered one of the first leveraged buyouts, Wayne bought Orkin Exterminating in 1964. The family’s business grew to encompass oil and gas services, security systems, and real estate.

Also in 1964, Wayne and Grace moved to Atlanta with their sons Randall and Gary. The couple became involved at Emory through the Candler School of Theology and Wayne’s role as a university trustee. With a lead gift to the School of Medicine, they enabled construction of the O. Wayne Rollins Research Center, doubling Emory’s laboratory space. Upon learning that the School of Public Health needed a building, Wayne volunteered his support but died unexpectedly in 1991. Less than a year after his death, Grace and her sons fulfilled his promise by contributing $10 million for construction.

The Rollins attend an Emory event

Wayne and Grace Rollins attend an Emory event

Other gifts followed, including a $50 million lead gift through the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation for a second public health building. The Claudia Nance Rollins Building, which is named for Wayne’s mother, will open in 2010 and more than double the physical size of the school.

The idea of creating the first public health building appealed to Wayne Rollins’ entrepreneurial spirit. With just 20 faculty and 500 graduates, it was a risky endeavor, Curran says.

“Mrs. Rollins kept that commitment” notes Curran. “Today the school has 200 faculty and more than 5,000 alumni in 90 countries.”

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Relocating central vision

Susan Primo, MD

Susan Primo, MD

The patients seen by Emory low vision specialist Susan Primo, OD, MPH, have already exhausted most of their treatment options. They’ve completed medication regimens or had surgery to slow advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the elderly. But still they don’t see well.

That’s where Primo comes in. At the Emory Eye Center, she’s studying whether behavioral modifications can lead to a change in brain activity to maximize use of remaining vision.

In macular degeneration, the macula—a layer of tissue on the inside back wall of the eyeball—gradually deteriorates. That delicate tissue is responsible for visual acuity, particularly in the center of the retina. Central vision is needed for seeing small and vivid details such as words on a page or the color of a traffic light, which means it is vital for common daily tasks such as reading or driving.

In more than two decades of working with patients who are visually impaired, Primo realized that people typically use their peripheral vision to compensate for loss in central vision. Studies have shown that people with progressive central vision loss compensate by spontaneously adopting a preferred retinal location (PRL) that takes over responsibility for visual clarity.

Normal vision

Normal vision

Vision with macular degeneration

But Primo and Georgia Tech psychologist Eric Schumacher wanted to know whether using these peripheral regions causes a change in how the brain is organized. Armed with Schumacher’s expertise in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and Primo’s clinical experience, the researchers did indeed discover continued activity in the part of the brain that maps to the macula. The brain scans of people with AMD who had developed their peripheral vision showed substantially more activity than those of people who had not developed a PRL. Their study appeared in the December 2008 edition of Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience.

In a current study, Primo and Schumacher are exploring whether occupational training and biofeedback can help people with AMD focus on using good retinal cells and in turn speed up the brain’s reorganization.

“Although others have tried to study this reorganization of macular degeneration before, no one, to our knowledge, has tried to influence it,” says Primo. “Yet it’s important to begin to come up with therapies, treatments, and technology to help patients begin to use their residual vision faster and better than they could before.”

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Aspirin may aid colorectal cancer survival

This week’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports on the potential benefits of aspirin following a colorectal cancer diagnosis.

Dr. Vincent Yang

Vincent Yang, MD, PhD

Emory digestive disease expert Vincent W. Yang, MD, PhD, professor and director of the Division of Digestive Diseases, Emory School of Medicine, comments on the new study:

A large body of evidence shows that regular aspirin use can reduce the formation of colorectal cancer. Aspirin inhibits the activity of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2, or COX-2, that is often over-expressed in colorectal cancer.

In the Aug. 12 issue of JAMA, a study led by Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, of the Harvard Medical School, shows that regular aspirin use reduces deaths in patients who had been diagnosed with colon cancer. The study includes two large, diverse groups of individuals who were followed for more than 20 years for various health-related issues.

The individuals who developed colorectal cancer during the follow–up period and had used aspirin regularly had a lower death rate than those patients who developed colon cancers and did not take aspirin. More importantly, the benefit patients received from regularly using aspirin was more apparent if their cancers were positive for COX-2.

The results of this new study are consistent with the earlier finding reported in medical journals about aspirin’s chemopreventive effect on colorectal cancer. However, it should be noted that this study is observational by nature and that regular aspirin use can result in significant toxicities.

To learn more about the routine use of aspirin as an adjunct treatment for colorectal cancer, studies that are blinded and randomized placebo-controlled are necessary. Such clinical trials have been conducted which proved that aspirin taken at 81 mg or 325 mg per day is effective in preventing the recurrence of colorectal adenomas (polyps) after they are removed during screening colonoscopy.

A similar clinical trial could be conducted to test the ability of aspirin to prevent colorectal cancer recurrence. Perhaps patients could first be classified based on the COX-2 levels in their tumors before being randomized into the trial. A potential outcome would be that patients with COX-2-positive tumors would receive more benefit from aspirin use than those with tumors that are COX-2-negative. Chan’s JAMA findings are a catalyst for further study.

Yang is also professor of hematology and oncology at Emory Winship Cancer Institute.

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Dog days of summer bring ozone challenges

Surviving the heat isn’t the only concern for people in Atlanta during the dog days of summer, the hottest time of the year in the northern hemisphere from early July to mid-August. During this time, ozone levels peak in most industrialized cities, and heavily populated areas tend to be more at risk for pollution, in part, because of increased emissions from cars, trucks and factories.

Cars on the road

Cars on the road

Cherry Wongtrakool, MD, specialist in pulmonary medicine, says pollution is generally broken down into ozone and particulate matter, but can also include carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Particulate matter is complex and includes organic chemicals including acid, metals, dust, smoke and soil. It is often classified by size and particles less than 10 micrometers are included in the air quality index, a common measure of the air pollution level.

In addition to increasing symptoms of asthma and causing respiratory symptoms like cough and shortness of breath, Wongtrakool says pollution has been associated with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses.

She notes that studies to date suggest long-term exposure may accelerate atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Larger population studies have also suggested there are associations between air pollution and increased risk for cancer, and air pollution and increased risk of death secondary to cardiopulmonary causes.

Wongtrakool, who is sssistant professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, Emory School of  Medicine, says if you live in a big city like Atlanta, you can reduce your exposure to air pollution by limiting your time in the car, remaining indoors during the hottest part of the day – typically afternoon and early evening – and reducing time spent doing outdoor activity, particularly activity requiring heavy exertion. People with underlying lung disease should avoid going out when the air quality index is poor, she advises.

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H1N1 flu clinical studies start at Emory today

Emory doctors discuss H1N1 studies

Emory doctors discuss H1N1 studies

Today Emory researchers began vaccinating volunteer participants in the first of several planned clinical trials of a new H1N1 vaccine. A morning press briefing attended by Atlanta and national media provided Emory a platform to inform the public.

The clinical trials are expected to gather critical information that will allow the National Institutes of Health to quickly evaluate the new vaccines to determine whether they are safe and effective in inducing protective immune responses. The results will help determine how to begin a fall 2009 pandemic flu vaccination program.

Emory began signing up several hundred interested volunteers about two weeks ago and has been screening the volunteers to make sure they fit certain criteria. Volunteers will receive their first vaccinations over the first week of the trial and will return several times over the course of nine weeks to receive additional vaccinations and blood tests.

H1N1 clinical trial volunteer

H1N1 clinical trial volunteer

The clinical trials are in a compressed timeframe because of the possible fall resurgence of pandemic H1N1 flu infections that may coincide with the circulation of seasonal flu strains.

The clinical trials are being conducted by the eight Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEUs), supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

For more information about the Emory flu clinical trials, call 877-424-HOPE (4673) for the adult and senior studies, or 404-727-4044 for the pediatric studies.

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Discerning a prelude to Alzheimer’s

Imagine that an elderly relative has been having difficulty remembering appointments and acquaintances’ names, or even what happened yesterday. Memory problems can be signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a prelude to Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists believe that the outward effects of the slow damage that comes from Alzheimer’s only show up after the damage has been accumulating for years. However, memory difficulties can also be the result of stress or another health problem. Patients thought to have MCI at an initial doctor’s visit sometimes improve later.

That’s why researchers at Emory’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center have been testing noninvasive imaging approaches to distinguishing MCI from healthy aging and Alzheimer’s. Their goal is to identify individuals at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, at a time when intervention can make a difference in how the disease progresses.

“We believe that imaging technology may help us find the signature changes in brain structure that are specific to MCI,” says Felicia Goldstein, PhD, associate professor of neurology.

Color coded diffusion tensor image (DTI) of a brain section from a healthy individual (A) showed a thick and intact corpus callosum (orange color), a white matter fiber bundle connecting left and right hemisphere as illustrated in the 3D rendering of the tractograph derived from DTI (B). However, a thin and narrow corpus callosum is seen in an AD patient (C) due to the degeneration of this white matter structure

Color coded diffusion tensor image (DTI) of a brain section from a healthy individual (A) showed a thick and intact corpus callosum (orange color). However, a thin and narrow corpus callosum is seen in an AD patient (C) due to the degeneration of this white matter structure. Courtesy of Hui Mao.

Two recent papers highlight the use of diffusion tensor imaging, an advanced form of magnetic resonance imaging.

The first paper was published by Brain Imaging and Behavior with Goldstein as first author, in collaboration with Hui Mao, PhD, associate professor of radiology, and ADRC colleagues.

It examines diffusion tensor imaging as a way to probe the integrity of the brain’s white matter, and compares it with tests of memory and behavior traditionally used to diagnose MCI and Alzheimer’s.

White matter appears white because of the density of axons, the signal-carrying cables allowing communication between different brain regions responsible for complicated tasks such as language and memory.

Diffusion tensor imaging allows researchers to see white matter by gauging the ability of water to diffuse in different directions, because a bundle of axons tends to restrict the movement of water in the brain.

Goldstein and her colleagues found that patients diagnosed with “amnestic” MCI showed greater loss of white matter integrity in a certain part of the brain — the medial temporal lobe – than cognitively normal controls of similar age. This loss of white matter was linked with poor recall of words and stories.

The second paper, with Liya Wang, PhD, a senior research associate in Mao’s laboratory as first author, was published by the American Journal of Neuroradiology in April. Here the authors try combining probing white matter integrity with a MRI measure of whether the brain has shrunk as a result of disease.

Combining the two methods improves the accuracy of MCI diagnosis with respect to either alone, the authors found.

Mao notes that Emory has been participating in a multi-center study called ADNI (Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative). Diffusion tensor imaging is a relatively new technique and could add information to future large-scale Alzheimer’s imaging studies, he says.

The Dana Foundation’s BrainWorks newsletter had an article recently on Alzheimer’s and brain imaging.

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Making a joyful noise: Joey finds his ‘real voice’

Emory Voice Center patient Joey Finley

Emory Voice Center patient Joey Finley

Last year, seven-year-old Joey Finley sang Christmas carols for the first time in his life. For most parents, this would be uneventful, but for Joey’s mom, Melanie, it was a breakthrough.

Joey was literally silenced all these years because of a rare disease called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP). The disease allows tumors to grow in the respiratory tract, and is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Currently there are 20,000 active cases in the United States.

Although the tumors mostly occur in the larynx on and around the vocal cords, these growths may spread downward and affect the trachea, bronchi and sometimes the lungs, obstructing breathing. RRP papillomas are the same tumors that cause cervical cancer. There is no cure for RRP. And left untreated, the lesions may grow and cause suffocation and death.

Initially, doctors confused Joey’s RRP symptoms with pediatric GERD or acid reflux disease. Since Joey was two months old, he’s been in and out of hospitals, OR’s and doctor’s offices, and had more than 60 surgeries to remove the tumors on his vocal chords.

RRP adversely affected Joey’s speech. He began compensating for the “frogs” as he called them, by using other vocal muscles to talk.

When Joey met Edie Hapner, PhD, a speech pathologist at the Emory Voice Center, she says he sounded “like a little old man.” His voice was very raspy like that of a 60-year-old smoker.

After several speech therapy sessions at the Emory Voice Center with Dr. Hapner, Joey is a normal sounding child. Joey now sings in the school chorus and takes gymnastics and swimming lessons. It’s hard to imagine these activities for a child that not so long ago had trouble breathing because of HPV tumors blocking his airways.

Read more about Joey’s journey to ‘find his voice’ and hear him speak in the new issue of Emory Health magazine.

Listen to Emory patient Karon Schindler recount her experience at the Voice Center.

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Dialing 911 saves time and lives

In the time it takes to write this short piece, more than 90 people across the United States will have suffered a heart attack – and almost 40 of them will have died. In the same time frame, a call to 911 could have a patient in an ambulance and on the way to a nearby hospital where lifesaving treatment is ready on a moment’s notice. More often that not, the difference between surviving a heart attack and becoming another statistic is a matter of a few minutes. Precious time.

EMS representative prepares

EMS representative prepares

The very best way someone suffering a heart attack can save time and have a fighting chance for survival is to call 911 instead of driving to the hospital. Here in the Atlanta area, a one-of-a-kind initiative, appropriately named TIME, makes it possible for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to quickly respond to a patient and transmit life-saving data to local Atlanta hospitals in order to shorten the time to treatment and increase a heart attack victim’s chance of survival. Two Emory hospitals – Emory University Hospital and Emory University Hospital Midtown – are partners with three other local hospitals in this effort to make Atlanta one of the safest cities in America in which to have a heart attack.

Bryan McNally, MD, emergency medicine physician at Emory University Hospital and co-director of the TIME program, says the collaboration is the first cooperative urban program in the United States. It was developed to provide the most rapid response to a cardiac emergency by improving every step of care from the onset of symptoms to treatment at the hospital. The time from the onset of the heart attack to the opening of the artery is critical in reducing heart damage and improving survival.

An EMS call results in quick evaluation, treatment and vital information transmitted to the nearest hospital where a team will stand ready to meet the patient at the door and begin opening a blocked artery within minutes. Kate Heilpern, MD, chair of the Emory Department of Emergency, says the chain of survival from pre-hospital 911 to the emergency room to the catheter lab is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at our institutions. In these instances, when EMS suspects a heart attack, getting the patient to the right place at the right time with the right providers to do the right thing definitely optimizes patient care and enhances quality and outcome.

Read more about chest pain center accreditation.

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Heart care in women is key to long life

Heart care for women

Heart care for women

Many women do not realize the seriousness of heart disease – in women. Many more do not realize that some of the symptoms of heart attack for women may be different than symptoms experienced by men. Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease (CVD), is the number one cause of death in women in the United States.

Enter Emory Heart & Vascular Center’s Michele Voeltz, MD. Her work in both the clinical setting and in research focuses on women and heart disease.

Voeltz, who practices at Emory University Hospital Midtown, says the number of women developing CVD is on the rise, with nearly 37 percent of all female deaths in the United States caused by heart disease. She is working to raise awareness about heart disease in women, and she wants to let women know about the resources available to them to take care of themselves.

With women making up 60 to 70 percent of her practice, Voeltz’s mission is to help women and men gain a greater understanding of the differences in risk factors, symptoms and treatment of heart disease in women as compared to men. She has found that women represent an underserved population with regard to cardiovascular care and hopes that her work can help bridge these gaps for women.

Voeltz conducts research in women with heart disease using percutaneous coronary intervention (angioplasty and stenting). With clinical trials to compare stents, medical devices and medications, all of which enroll both men and women, Voeltz analyzes female patients’ outcomes.

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Rapid radiation delivery increases accuracy

RapidArc for prostate cancer

RapidArc for prostate cancer

Doctors in Emory’s Department of Radiation Oncology are the first in Georgia to use a new radiation delivery system that speeds up treatment and increases accuracy.

The first patients treated have been men with prostate cancer, but the treatment can also be used for patients with head and neck cancers or brain tumors, says Walter Curran, MD, chair of the department and chief medical officer of the Emory Winship Cancer Institute.

Curran says the main advantage to the new system, called RapidArc, is faster treatment so a patient is not lying on a treatment table for a long period of time. Limiting the time it takes can help with patient comfort as well as minimizing the chance of movement, which affects accuracy during treatment.

Treatments that once took five to 10 minutes can be performed in less than two minutes. For patients getting radiation daily over several weeks, that can make a significant difference, Curran says.

Emory University Hospital and Emory University Hospital Midtown both have the RapidArc system. Emory Health magazine features RaapidArc this month.

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