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Unlocking schizophrenia biology via genetics

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Brain circuitry linked to social connection and desire to cuddle

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ACTSI

Microbiome enthusiasm at Emory

At what point did the human microbiome become such a hot topic?

When it was shown that babies born by Cesarean section are colonized with different bacteria than those born vaginally? With the cardiovascular studies of microbial byproducts of meat digestion? With the advent of fecal transplant as a proposed treatment for Clostricium difficile infection?

The bacteria and other microbes that live within the human body are thought to influence not only digestive health, but metabolic and autoimmune diseases as well, possibly even psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. The field is being propelled by next-generation sequencing technology, and Nature had to publish an editorial guarding against hype (a major theme: correlation is not causation).

At Emory, investigators from several departments are involved in microbiome-related work, and the number is expanding, and assembling a comprehensive list is becoming more difficult. Researchers interested in the topic are planning Emory’s first microbiome symposium in November, organized by Jennifer Mulle (read her intriguing review on autism spectrum disorders and the microbiome).

Microbial genomics expert Tim Read, infectious diseases specialist Colleen Kraft and intestinal pathologist Andrew Neish have formed an Emory microbiome interest group with a listserv and seminars.

Microbiome symposium sponsors: ACTSI, Hercules Exposome Center, Emory University School of Medicine, Omega Biotek, CFDE, Ubiome. Read more

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Immunology, Neuro Leave a comment

Personalized Medicine Day in Georgia

Governor Nathan Deal was joined by Ambassador Andrew Young, Georgia State Representative Calvin Smyre and Leroy Hood, founder of the Institute of Systems Biology, in formally proclaiming September 1, 2011 Personalized Medicine Awareness Day in the State of Georgia.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal presents Morehouse School of Medicine’s Dean and Executive Vice President, Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, with a state proclamation declaring Sept. 1, 2011 Personalized Medicine Awareness Day in Georgia.

The event at Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) was sponsored by Georgia Bio; the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute (ACTSI, which is funded by the NIH and led by Emory University with partners MSM and Georgia Tech); and Iverson Genetics, Inc.

“The collaboration within the ACTSI between these three research universities is an important undertaking and an example of how it should be done,” remarked Governor Deal as he kicked off the day’s program.

A visionary in the personalized medicine field, Dr. Hood developed the DNA gene sequencer and synthesizer and the protein synthesizer and sequencer – four instruments that paved the way for the successful mapping of the human genome.

During his keynote address he proposed a revolution in medicine.  P4 Medicine – Predictive, Preventive, Personalized and Participatory – is a proactive (instead of a reactive) approach to medicine. The paradigm change will drive radical changes in science.

For P4 medicine to succeed, a cross-disciplinary culture with team science and new approaches to educating scientists, as is done through the ACTSI, has to take place. Dr. Hood predicts the human genome will be part of individual medical records in 10 years.

Leroy Hood, MD, PhD

“The vision of P4 medicine is that each patient will be surrounded by a virtual cloud of billions of data points. Advances in science and technology will reduce this enormous data dimensionality to simple hypotheses about human health and disease,” says Hood.

“The ultimate outcome is to create individualized patient disease models that are predictive and actionable. The shift to P4 Medicine will also require societal changes.”

Personalized Medicine Awareness Day celebrated the first-of-its-kind personalized medicine study, approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The study will determine the utility of genetic testing in calculating doses and reducing the incidence of adverse events associated with the initiation of Warfarin therapy. Warfarin is the world’s leading anti-blood clotting drug.

Researchers hope the study will provide data to demonstrate that individualizing treatment can improve patient safety and reduce healthcare costs, says Dean Sproles, CEO of Iverson Genetics, Inc., which is collaborating in the study with MSM and the ACTSI.

Governor Deal congratulated the ACTSI for leading the landmark Warfarin study with Iverson and is “proud that Georgia will be leading the effort.”

The Warfarin Study is led by ACTSI Senior Co-Principal Investigator Elizabeth Ofili, MD, MPH, director of the Clinical Research Center, chief of cardiology and associate dean for clinical research at MSM, and will engage 50 sites across the country and 7,000 participants. The first participant was recently enrolled at Grady Memorial Hospital.

“This study should help us understand how to use each patient’s genetic information to deliver a safer and more effective dose,” says Ofili.

Sproles noted, “The study is evidence of the growing role of genetics in helping doctors to develop optimal individual treatments for their patients.”

A panel including Emory medical leaders David Stephens, Fred Sanfilippo and Kenneth Brigham discussed and addressed questions like how to communicate ‘big science’ to the individual, how to move genetic testing to medical outcomes and who owns genome data.

“Personalized Medicine is the future,” stated Governor Deal. The presence of Governor Deal, Ambassador Young and Representative Smyre is a sign that policymakers are beginning to recognize that personalized medicine is not just a vision for better healthcare; it has the power to improve health and reduce healthcare costs.

Posted on by Holly Korschun in Uncategorized 1 Comment

Dr. Kutner Receives Award for Excellence in Public Health

Michael Kutner

Michael Kutner, PhD, the recipient of the 2011 Charles R. Hatcher, Jr, MD Award

The Rollins School of Public Health is on a 35-year trajectory that dreams are only made of. What began as a small working group tasked with formulating a strategic plan for Emory’s school of public health, evolved into a Masters of Community Health program (MCH) and degree in 1975. Finally, in 1990, Emory approved the public health school, the university’s first new school in 71 years. Michael Kutner, PhD has been there every step of the way, and as a result is the recipient of the 2011 Charles R. Hatcher, Jr, MD Award. The award honors faculty members from Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center who, through their lifetime of work, exemplify excellence in public health.

For 40 years, Dr. Kutner has played a key role in building the school of public health and advancing programs of research across the Woodruff Health Sciences Center.  He joined Emory’s School of Medicine in 1971, was a key figure on that small planning group for a school of public health, and served as Interim Chair of the medical school’s Department of Statistics and Biometry in 1986.

When Dr. Hatcher and the Board of Trustees approved the creation of the Emory University School of Public Health in 1990, Dr. Kutner was appointed the inaugural Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.  As he has stated on numerous occasions that subsequent events after this appointment “went way beyond our wildest dreams.”

He played a major role in creating the organizational structure of the school—curriculum, strategic faculty and chair recruitments, committees, policies and procedures—and for securing its initial accreditation.

Dr. Kutner always carried public health with him. In 1994, he served as Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and returned to the Rollins School of Public Health in 2000.  In 2004, he was named Rollins Professor and Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, where he served until 2009.

Throughout his Emory career, Dr. Kutner has provided critical support for biomedical research.  He developed the Biostatistics Consulting Center, collaborated with scores of investigators, and has co-authored over 150 articles in leading health and medical journals.   He is former Director for Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design for the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute and is currently the Biostatistics Core Director for the Center for AIDS Research.  He is known around the world for his widely adopted textbooks, Applied Linear Regression Models and Applied Linear Statistical Models.

Dr. Kutner’s lifetime contributions to research, teaching and mentoring are not only legendary, but they give integrity and energy to public health and to Emory. On April 5th, the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and the Rollins School of Public Health will celebrate Dr. Kutner’s distinguished career with a reception in the RSPH Klamon Room at 4 p.m.

RSVP to Nancy Sterk at nsterk@emory.edu.

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Emory/Georgia Tech: partners in creating heart valve repair devices

Vinod Thourani, associate professor of cardiac surgery at Emory School of Medicine, along with Jorge Jimenez and Ajit Yoganathan, biomedical engineers at Georgia Tech and Emory, have been teaming up to invent new devices for making heart valve repair easier.

At the Georgia Bio and Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s second annual conference on academic/industry partnerships, Thourani described how he and his colleagues developed technology that is now being commercialized.

Apica Cardiovascular co-founders (l-r) James Greene, Vinod Thourani, Jorge Jimenez and Ajit Yoganathan

Apica Cardiovascular was founded based on technology invented by Jimenez, Thourani, Yoganathan and Thomas Vassiliades, a former Emory surgeon.

Thourani is associate director of the Structural Heart Program at Emory.

Yoganathan is director of the Cardiovascular Fluid Mechanics Laboratory at Georgia Tech and the Center for Innovative Cardiovascular Technologies.

The technology simplifies and standardizes a technique for accessing the heart via the apex, the tip of the heart’s cone pointing down and to the left. This allows a surgeon to enter the heart, deliver devices such as heart valves or left ventricular assist devices, and get out again, all without loss of blood or sutures.

Schematic of transapical aortic valve implantation. The prosthesis is implanted within the native annulus by balloon inflation.

At the conference, Thourani recalled that the idea for the device came when he described a particularly difficult surgical case to Jimenez.  Thourani said that a principal motivation for the device came for the need to prevent bleeding after the valve repair procedure is completed.

With research and development support from the Coulter Foundation Translational Research Program and the Georgia Research Alliance VentureLab program, the company has already completed a series of pre-clinical studies to test the functionality of their device and its biocompatibility.

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Heart Leave a comment

University-industry partnerships: a matter for cautious aggressiveness

Emory President James Wagner was keynote speaker last week at the 2011 Academic & Industry Intersection Conference sponsored by Georgia Bio and the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute (ACTSI). The conference focused on ethical issues in translating academic research into commercial drugs and medical devices.

Wagner pointed out the great power these relationships hold for the service of humanity, provided they are properly structured and managed. He recommended “cautious aggressiveness” by both universities and industry.

We should incorporate ethical considerations into our partnerships so that the practice of ethics is not “restrictive and paralyzing, but instead becomes part of the design criteria motivating our success, not restricting it.

Wagner is co-chair of President Obama’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. The commission lists five principles with broad application for biomedical translational research: public beneficence; responsible stewardship; intellectual freedom and responsibility; democratic deliberation; and justice and fairness.

He emphasized that researchers should guard against personal conflicts of interest and ensure against any compromise of research objectivity. But he cautioned against the temptation to value the process of ethics more highly than the ethical principles themselves, and the temptation to substitute compliance for true ethical practice.

Is it possible that we and our partners have come to place too much faith in documented protocols, and that excessive regulatory burden may give investigators a false sense of absolution of their own responsibility to exercise judgment and ethical practice? he asks.

“How does that square with the moral imperative to bring new knowledge that can benefit individuals and society to practice as soon as possible? Wouldn’t it be unethical to withhold the application of such knowledge if it is known to be able to do good?”

Ethical practice should not be an afterthought, Wagner emphasized, but instead a deeply understood and critical part of design and protocol and procedure — where the exercise of expert judgment goes beyond regulatory compliance.

“A challenge to all of our universities is to advance an ethics education that will bring heightened abilities to our investigators and their partners with the goal…of establishing even more trusting partnerships that can bring technology more safely and swiftly…from the minds of creative investigators, to the laboratory bench, to the manufacturing assembly line, to the vendor’s shelves, and to the bedside.”

Posted on by Holly Korschun in Uncategorized 1 Comment

Microsoft Life Sciences Award recognizes ACTSI innovation

Microsoft Corp. recently selected the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute (ACTSI) for a 2010 Life Sciences Innovation Award. The award recognized the ACTSI’s Biomedical Informatics Program for implementing the Thermo Scientific Nautilus Laboratory Information System (LIMS) across ACTSI laboratories.

The ACTSI is a partnership of Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine and Georgia Institute of Technology, along with other community partners and collaborators. It is one of 46 medical research institutes working to enhance translational research in the United States and is supported by the Clinical and Translational Science Award program, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Research Resources.
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Med into grad program bridges gap between basic and clinical research

Former National Institutes of Health director Elias Zerhouni created a vivid label for a persistent problem. He noted there was a widening gap between basic and clinical research. The “valley of death” describes the gap between basic research, where the majority of NIH funding is directed and many insights into fundamental biology are gained, and patients who need these discoveries translated to the bedside and into the community in order to benefit human health. Thus, a chasm has opened up between biomedical researchers and the patients who would benefit from their discoveries.

Translational research seeks to move ideas from the laboratory into clinical practice

Translational research seeks to move ideas from the laboratory into clinical practice in order to improve human health.

A new certificate program in translational research is designed to empower PhD graduate students to bridge that gap. Participants (PhD graduate students) from Emory, Georgia Tech and Morehouse School of Medicine can take courses in epidemiology, biostatistics, bioethics, designing clinical trials and grant writing, and will have rotations with clinicians and clinical interaction network sites where clinical research studies are carried out to get a better sense of the impact and potential benefit of the research they are conducting.

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Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Uncategorized 2 Comments

NIH director visits Emory, Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute

David Stephens, MD, Jim Wagner, PhD, Earl Lewis, PhD, Francis Collins, MD, PhD

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and chief of staff Dr. Kathy Hudson, paid a daylong visit to Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center, including Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and Morehouse School of Medicine on April 14.

The purpose of Collins’ visit was to view the activities of the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute, one of 46 national CTSAs funded by the NIH through the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR).  Collins also will visit CTSAs at Duke, UNC, and Vanderbilt in the future.

Collins asked that his visit focus on “how CTSAs are enabling science.” It was an opportunity for the ACTSI, a partnership among Emory, Morehouse School of Medicine, Georgia Institute of Technology and others, including Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia Research Alliance, Georgia BIO, Kaiser Permanente, CDC, the Atlanta VA Medical Center and the Grady Health System, to showcase the unique contributions the ACTSI makes to enabling clinical and translational research.

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Combined MR/PET imaging

On Thursday, April 8, Emory’s Center for Systems Imaging, directed by Department of Radiology Chair Carolyn Meltzer, MD, and the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute celebrated the launch of the CSI’s prototype MR/PET imaging scanner.

View of MR/PET

View of MR/PET scanner from front, with Ciprian Catana of MGH and Larry Byars of Siemens

The scanner is one of four world-wide and one of two in the United States, and permits simultaneous MR (magnetic resonance) and PET (positron emission tomography) imaging in human subjects. This provides the advantage of being able to combine the anatomical information from MR with the biochemical/metabolic information from PET. Potential applications include functional brain mapping and the study of neurodegenerative diseases, drug addiction and brain cancer.

Thursday’s event brought together leaders of the three other MR/PET programs in Boston, Jülich and Tübingen, the Siemens engineers who designed the device, and the Atlanta research community to explore the possibilities of the technology.

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Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Neuro Leave a comment

Research match eases clinical trials participation

Research Match LogoIf you’d like to consider joining a clinical trial, a new secure website will make it easier. ResearchMatch.org will match any interested person living in the U.S. with researchers who are approved to recruit potential study volunteers.

Emory is one of 51 institutions participating in this first national, secure, volunteer recruitment registry. After registering at the website, potential volunteers can check out available trials. If a person indicates interest in a study, they are notified electronically about a possible match. Then they can decide whether to provide their contact information to a researcher.

The new website is sponsored by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). ResearchMatch is the product of the NCRR’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Consortium. The CTSA is a national network of 46 medical research institutions working together to improve the way biomedical research is conducted across the country.

Emory leads the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute (ACTSI), a CTSA partnership including Morehouse School of Medicine, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

ResearchMatch.org is a wonderful opportunity for those interested in participating in clinical research, says Arlene Chapman, MD, Emory professor of medicine and director of the ACTSI Clinical Interaction Network Program. It’s available to young and old, healthy or ill. And people with a rare disease can find out more about available research studies throughout the country.

The registry strictly protects anonymity. It also increases the chance to participate in local studies and saves much of the time typically spent finding out about eligibility for a particular study.

ResearchMatch is available at: www.researchmatch.org/route=emory

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