‘Genetic doppelgangers:’ Emory research provides insight into two neurological puzzles

An international team led by Emory scientists has gained insight into the pathological mechanisms behind two devastating neurodegenerative diseases. The scientists compared the most common inherited form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia (ALS/FTD) with a rarer disease called spinocerebellar ataxia type 36 (SCA 36). Both of the diseases are caused by abnormally expanded and strikingly similar DNA repeats. However, ALS progresses quickly, typically killing patients within a year or two, while the disease Read more

Emory launches study on COVID-19 immune responses

Emory University researchers are taking part in a multi-site study across the United States to track the immune responses of people hospitalized with COVID-19 that will help inform how the disease progresses and potentially identify new ways to treat it.  The study is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study – called Immunophenotyping Assessment in a COVID-19 Cohort (IMPACC) – launched Friday. Read more

Marcus Lab researchers make key cancer discovery

A new discovery by Emory researchers in certain lung cancer patients could help improve patient outcomes before the cancer metastasizes. The researchers in the renowned Marcus Laboratory identified that highly invasive leader cells have a specific cluster of mutations that are also found in non-small cell lung cancer patients. Leader cells play a dominant role in tumor progression, and the researchers discovered that patients with the mutations experienced poorer survival rates. The findings mark the first Read more

cardiology

Heart disease pioneer named ‘Georgia Woman of the Year’

Many people know that heart disease is currently the number one killer of women in the United States. But a little more than a half a century ago it was widely believed that cardiovascular disease only affected men. Renowned cardiologist, Nanette K. Wenger, MD, challenged this theory and thanks to her pioneering efforts over the last 50 years women today know better.

2010 Georgia Woman of the Year, Nanette K. Wenger, MD

Wenger, a professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine and former chief of cardiology at Grady Memorial Hospital, is being honored as the 2010 Georgia Woman of the Year for her lifetime commitment to reducing women’s disability and death from cardiovascular disease.

She joins the ranks of other distinguished Georgia women including First Lady Rosalynn Carter who was named the first Georgia Woman of the Year in 1996 by the Georgia Commission on Women. In addition to this prestigious accolade, Wenger has accumulated dozens of awards throughout her celebrated career including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American College of Cardiology in 2009. She is a sought after lecturer for issues related to heart disease in women, heart disease in the elderly, cardiac rehabilitation, coronary prevention and contemporary cardiac care.

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Targeting antioxidants to mitochondria

Why aren’t antioxidants magic cure-alls?

It’s not a silly question, when one sees how oxidative stress and reactive oxygen species have been implicated in so many diseases, ranging from hypertension and atherosclerosis to neurodegenerative disorders. Yet large-scale clinical trials supplementing participants’ diets with antioxidants have showed little benefit.

Emory University School of Medicine scientists have arrived at an essential insight: the cell isn’t a tiny bucket with all the constituent chemicals sloshing around. To modulate reactive oxygen species effectively, an antioxidant needs to be targeted to the right place in the cell.

Sergei Dikalov and colleagues in the Division of Cardiology have a paper in the July 9 issue of Circulation Research, describing how targeting antioxidant molecules to mitochondria dramatically increases their effectiveness in tamping down hypertension.

Mitochondria are usually described as miniature power plants, but in the cells that line blood vessels, they have the potential to act as amplifiers. The authors describe a “vicious cycle” of feedback between the cellular enzyme NADPH oxidase, which produces the reactive form of oxygen called superoxide, and the mitochondria, which can also make superoxide as a byproduct of their energy-producing function.

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How to build a distinguished career studying vascular biology

Kathy Griendling, PhD (in green), surrounded by members of her lab

On June 15, 2010, vascular biologist Kathy Griendling delivered the 2010 Dean’s Distinguished Faculty lecture at Emory University School of Medicine.

Some of Griendling’s publications have been cited thousands of times by fellow scientists around the world, making her the lead member of a small group of researchers at Emory called the “Millipub Club.”

With her five children and one grandson watching in the back row, Griendling explained how she and her colleagues, over the course of more than two decades at Emory, have gradually revealed the functions of a family of enzymes called NADPH oxidases in vascular smooth muscle cells. Read more

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Health Care Heroes honored by Atlanta Business Chronicle

Emory faculty-physicians were honored May 20 at the annual Health Care Heroes Awards celebration sponsored by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. All three are featured in this week’s edition of the newspaper.

Sheryl Gabram-Mendola, MD

Sheryl Gabram-Mendola, MD, professor of surgery at Emory School of Medicine and the Winship Cancer Institute, was the Community Outreach winner. Gabram-Mendola is director of the Avon Foundation Comprehensive Breast Center at the Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady Memorial Hospital.

She was nominated by the Georgia Cancer Coalition and honored for her work in reducing breast cancer mortality by increasing breast cancer awareness and leading the effort to diagnose the disease earlier in a high-risk population of minority women.

Last September the Avon Foundation awarded $750,000 to the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory and the Avon Comprehensive Breast Center. The grant is being used to continue community outreach, education, clinical access, and four research studies that directly affect care for the underserved populations in Atlanta. Since 2000, the Avon Foundation has awarded nearly $11 million to Winship and Grady to support leading-edge breast cancer research projects and improve outcomes for underserved women diagnosed with breast cancer in Atlanta.

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Conference inspires medical volunteerism

Allen Dollar, MD, assistant professor of medicine (Division of Cardiology), Emory School of Medicine, and  Grady Chief of Cardiology, wanted to help those in developing countries long before he went to medical school. He’s donated his time and expertise in places like Cambodia, Vietnam, El Salvador and Sri Lanka, using his vacations to teach and heal. For the last decade, through Children’s Cross Connections, he’s held clinics and taught medical students in Ethiopia.

International Conference on Medical Volunteerism met at Emory in April

Dollar and nearly 200 others shared their experiences at a conference at Emory in April. The inaugural International Conference on Medical Volunteerism was hosted by the Emory School of Medicine and co-hosted by Morehouse School of Medicine, Mercer University School of Medicine, Medical College of Georgia, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Medical University of South Carolina.

The conference aimed at inspiring and enabling volunteers, including how to establish a community clinic, how to advocate for disabled and homeless, cultural sensitivity and media relations.

Organizations from around the world were represented, among them Mercy Ships, Flying Doctors of America, Operation Safety Net, the Mayo and Cleveland clinics, Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, Nurses for the Nations, Global HEED and Jewish Healthcare International.

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NIH at Emory to advance women’s heart health

NIH meets at Emory to discuss women's cardiovascular health and research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has convened a key meeting at Emory on women’s cardiovascular health and research. The meeting, co-hosted by the Office of Research on Women’s Health and Emory School of Medicine, is focused today and tomorrow on NIH planning of the women’s health research agenda for the next decade.

Vivian Pinn, MD, associate director for research on women’s health, and director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at NIH, opened the meeting with Emory’s conference chair, Nanette Wenger, MD, professor of medicine (cardiology), Emory School of Medicine, and chief of cardiology at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Nanette K. Wenger, MD

In a career that spans more than 50 years, Wenger’s dedication to reducing women’s disability and death from cardiovascular disease has made her one of the country’s most-respected experts on coronary heart disease in women. In 2009, Wenger received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American College of Cardiology.

Although Wenger has earned dozens of awards in her celebrated career, she says her greatest professional achievement has been to help change a major paradigm in cardiology: the assumption that heart disease affects only men. A half a century ago heart disease was thought of as a “man’s disease.”

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Heart Month: Helping narrowed aortic valves

Celebrating February’s American Heart Month at Emory Heart & Vascular Center

Emory cardiologists are using a promising new non-surgical treatment option for patients with severe aortic stenosis.

Emory University Hospital is one of about 20 hospitals nationwide, and the only site in Georgia, to study this new technology – with 75 patients receiving new valves at Emory since the clinical trial started in October 2007. Researchers hope to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in late 2011.

The life threatening heart condition affects tens of thousands of Americans each year when the aortic valve tightens or narrows, preventing blood from flowing through normally.

Peter Block, MD

Peter Block, MD, professor of medicine, Emory School of Medicine, and colleagues are performing percutaneous aortic valve replacement as part of a Phase II clinical trial, comparing this procedure with traditional, open-heart surgery or medical therapy in high-risk patients with aortic stenosis.

The procedure provides a new way for doctors to treat patients who are too ill or frail to endure the traditional surgical approach.

During the procedure, doctors create a small incision in the groin or chest wall and then feed the new valve, mounted on a wire mesh on a catheter, and place it where the new valve is needed.

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Peripheral artery disease: can help come from the bone marrow?

Peripheral artery disease affects millions of people in the United States. It’s basically hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) leading to problems with getting enough blood to the limbs. Symptoms of severe PAD include leg pain that doesn’t go away once exertion stops and wounds that heal slowly or not at all.

Lifestyle changes, medication and surgery can address some cases of PAD, but often the disease is not recognized until it has advanced considerably. At Emory, cardiologist Arshed Quyyumi has been exploring whether a patient’s own bone marrow cells can repair the arteries in his or her limbs.

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Encouraging news on women and heart disease

A new study reported this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine delivers encouraging news that Americans are on the right track in the fight against heart disease among women.

The study reports that all women, especially those younger than 55, have recently experienced a greater increase than men in their chances of survival following a heart attack.

Study leader, Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, professor of medicine (cardiology), and director of the Emory Program in Cardiovascular Outcomes Research and Epidemiology, researched trends in the rate of in-hospital deaths following heart attack from June 1994, through Dec. 2006. Data were collected from 916,380 patients through the National Registry of Myocardial Infarction.

Between 1994 and 2006, in-hospital death rates decreased among all patients, but decreased more strikingly in women than in men. The decreased risk of death was largest in women younger than 55 years (a 52.9 percent reduction) and lowest in men of the same age (33.3 percent). The absolute reduction in the risk of death among patients younger than 55 was three times larger in women (2.7 percent) than men (0.9 percent).

Vaccarino and her colleagues say a large part (93 percent) of this sharper decrease in mortality of younger women compared with men in recent years is due to the improved risk profile of women compared with men at the time of the heart attack hospitalization, perhaps the result of better recognition and management of coronary heart disease and its risk factors in women before the acute heart event.

Whatever the reason, the improvement indicates that we are headed in the right direction, says Vaccarino. Increased and ongoing awareness to the prevention of cardiovascular risk factors—by healthy diet, regular physical activity and avoidance of smoke and smoking—is saving lives, she notes.

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Heart and depression: learning from twins

Just like diabetes and hypertension, depression is a prevalent medical condition that is highly treatable. However, if ignored, it appears to increase the risk for heart disease. Researchers at Emory are continuing studies related to the link between depression and heart disease as a result of a 2-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Lead investigator, Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, professor of cardiology at Emory School of Medicine, is looking at the relationship between depression and heart disease, specifically researching the potential mechanisms.

Vaccarino says although depression has been implicated as a risk factor for heart disease for many years, there is still question whether this is a causal association or whether there are other reasons why people who are depressed may be more likely to get heart disease. Clarification of these mechanisms will improve our understanding of the disease and ultimately point to more effective primary prevention strategies for the identification and treatment of high-risk individuals.

Vaccarino and her team will study twin males born between 1946 and 1956 from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry comparing one twin who has depression and one who does not. She says this is almost a natural experiment, allowing researchers to separate out genetics and influences from the environment or behavior.

Vaccarino will be looking at myocardial blood flow measured with PET, a common imaging technique of the heart. It can quantify exactly how much blood is going to the coronary arteries in the heart and carefully determine if depression is associated with decreased blood flow to the heart.

This grant builds on a previous project looking at the same population of twins and allows researchers to bring these twins back and compare two time points. Researchers measured myocardial blood flow with PET a few years ago and will now be able to monitor progression of heart disease over time

Learn more about Emory’s stimulus grant funding.

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