Tracing the start of COVID-19 in GA

At a time when COVID-19 appears to be receding in much of Georgia, it’s worth revisiting the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Emory virologist Anne Piantadosi and colleagues have a paper in Viral Evolution on the earliest SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequences detected in Georgia. Analyzing relationships between those virus sequences and samples from other states and countries can give us an idea about where the first COVID-19 infections in Georgia came from. We can draw Read more

Reddit as window into opioid withdrawal strategies

Drug abuse researchers are using the social media site Reddit as a window into the experiences of people living with opioid addiction. Abeed Sarker in Emory's Department of Biomedical Informatics has a paper in Clinical Toxicology focusing on the phenomenon of “precipitated withdrawal,” in collaboration with emergency medicine specialists from Penn, Rutgers and Mt Sinai. Precipitated withdrawal is a more intense form of withdrawal that can occur when someone who was using opioids starts medication-assisted treatment Read more

CROI: HIV cure report and ongoing research

The big news out of CROI (Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections) was a report of a third person being cured of HIV infection, this time using umbilical cord blood for a hematopoetic stem cell transplant. Emory’s Carlos del Rio gave a nice overview of the achievement for NPR this morning. As del Rio explains, the field of HIV cure research took off over the last decade after Timothy Brown, known as “the Berlin patient,” Read more

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

A model for fetal hemolytic disease

Part of standard prenatal care for a pregnant woman is to test her blood for antibodies against the red blood cells of her baby, such as anti-Rhesus D antibodies. An incompatibility can result in hemolytic disease, where the mother’s antibodies attack fetal red blood cells. The development of a therapy for Rhesus D incompatibility was one of the major success stories of medical research in the 1960s.

Jeanne Hendrickson, MD

Although Rhesus D is the most common troublemaker, other anti-red blood cell antibodies such as those against the Kell protein can also cause hemolytic disease of the fetus. The origin is often from sensitization related to previous blood transfusions. At a recent seminar, pediatric hematologist Jeanne Hendrickson described a recent case that illustrates how serious this condition can be. Hendrickson is associate medical director of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Blood and Tissue Bank, and an assistant professor in pediatrics and pathology at Emory.

Early in her second pregnancy, a woman had developed anti-Kell antibodies, causing the baby to develop anemia and the early stages of fetal heart failure. Several intrauterine transfusions, which carry a risk of miscarriage, were required. At one point, Hendrickson says, the mother was in the http://www.raybani.com/ hospital for a week while doctors looked for compatible blood. When the baby was born, he was very pale and continues to need medical care, because anti-Kell antibodies interfere with red blood cell development.

Unfortunately, there is nothing analogous to RhoGam (the standard therapy for Rhesus D) for this situation. Today, 6 out of 1000 pregnancies are affected by red blood cell immunization. And despite its success, Hendrickson says some mystery remains about exactly how RhoGam works.

First author Sean Stowell, MD, PhD

First author Sean Stowell, MD, PhD

She and her colleagues have a new paper in the journal Blood describing an animal model for hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn involving anti-Kell antibodies. Postdoc Sean Stowell is the first author Ray Ban outlet of the paper. This is the first animal model of anti-red blood cell antibodies generated through pregnancy – previous rabbit experiments dating back to the 1950s involved transfusions and/or immunizations.

The model uses mice that have been engineered to produce a human form of Kell protein on their red blood cells. When male mice positive for this extra gene mate with females who don’t have it, the litters are smaller and some of the pups are anemic or stillborn. The authors say that the model could provide a platform for studying how anti-red blood cell antibodies develop, as well as potential therapies.

Another recent paper from Stowell and Hendrickson describes a similar mouse model involving anti-red blood cell antibodies that develop because of transfusions rather than pregnancy. Between 3 and 5 percent of patients who get a blood transfusion will develop antibodies against Ray Ban online something on the red blood cells they received, making future transfusions possibly more problematic.

At the seminar, we learned that Hendrickson will be moving to Yale University later this summer. We wish her good luck at her new job.

 

 

 

 

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Americans cutting sugar – but it’s still not enough

In America’s battle against obesity, there is some good news. According to a study conducted by Emory researchers, Americans consumed nearly a quarter less added sugars in 2008 than they did 10 years earlier.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July 2011, found that the consumption of added sugars, such as those found in sodas, sports drinks, juices and sweetened dairy products, decreased among all age groups over a decade. The largest decrease came in the consumption of sodas, traditionally the largest contributor to added sugar consumption, according to Jean Welsh, MPH, PhD, RN, study author and post-doctoral fellow in pediatric nutrition at Emory University School of Medicine.

“While we were hopeful this would be the case, we were surprised when our research showed such a substantial reduction in the amount of added sugar Americans are consuming,” said Welsh. “We’re hopeful this trend will continue.”

So, why the change? One of Welsh’s partners in the study, Miriam Vos, MD, MSPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Emory University School of Medicine, and a physician on staff at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, attributes much of the shift to public education.

“Over the past decade, there has been a lot of public health awareness about obesity and nutrition, and I think people are starting to get the message about sugar,” says Vos. “We’re not trying to send a message that sugar is inherently bad. It’s more that the large amounts of sugar we consume are having negative effects on our health, including increasing our risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

The study interpreted data of 40,000 people’s diets collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over 10 years.  From the surveys, researchers were able to calculate how much added sugar – that is sugar that is not originally part of a food – that Americans are consuming. In 1999-2000, the typical person’s daily diet included approximately 100 grams of added sugar, a number that had dropped to 77 grams by 2007 and 2008.

While the study shows that the amount of added sugar Americans are consuming is lower, it doesn’t mean the amount is low enough.

“The American Heart Association recommends that we get about five percent of our calories from added sugars,” says Vos. “In 1999 to 2000, people were consuming about 18 percent of their calories from added sugars. Over 10 years, that amount decreased to 14.5 percent of our daily calories, which is much better. But, clearly, 14.5 percent is still three times more than what is considered a healthy amount. We’re on the right track, but we still have room for improvement.”

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Emory experts weigh in on obesity at AACC Annual Meeting

The obesity epidemic took center stage at this year’s American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC) Annual Meeting. Several Emory experts took the podium to further explore obesity not only as a public health problem, but also as an issue that is changing the way we diagnose diseases and treat health issues in children.

Jeffrey Koplan, MD, MPH

Jeffrey Koplan, MD, MPH, director of the Emory Global Health Institute, led one of the meeting’s plenary sessions, emphasizing that obesity must be fought with changes in both public policy and personal decision-making. Koplan also noted that strategies to address obesity must be localized to fit each community because eating and exercise habits are often culturally specific.

Rising rates of obesity also are changing the way physicians and researchers define and diagnose certain diseases, including metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors including insulin resistance, high blood pressure, cholesterol abnormalities and an increased risk for clotting. The common thread among patients with metabolic syndrome is that they are often overweight or obese.

Ross Molinaro, PhD

Pathologist Ross Molinaro, PhD, medical director of the Core Laboratory at Emory University Hospital Midtown and co-director of the Emory Clinical Translational Research Laboratory, presented insights into the important role of lab testing in the definition and diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.  In addition to new markers, Molinaro addressed the global prevalence of metabolic syndrome and the evolving criteria for diagnosis.

Miriam Vos, MD, MSPH

Responding to their members’ demand for more information on how obesity affects children, the AACC hosted a full-day symposium on pediatric obesity and related health complications such as diabetes and high blood pressure.  Miriam Vos, MD, MSPH, assistant professor of pediatrics in  Emory School of Medicine and a physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta described non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as an increasingly common complication of childhood obesity that can cause inflammation and scarring of the liver.

Stephanie Walsh, MD

Stephanie Walsh, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics in Emory School of Medicine and medical director of child wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, leads Children’s efforts in preventing and treating childhood obesity in Georgia, which currently has the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the country. Walsh addressed the effect of Children’s wellness initiative, called Strong4Life, on childhood obesity prevention in Georgia.

“From those in the lab, to those in clinic, to those who strategize and implement public health campaigns, we’re all going to need to work together to protect our children’s future,” says Walsh.

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Emory University Hospital Set to Be Launch Site for EPIC

Can it really be possible to transform a person’s own cells into a weapon against various forms of disease? And what if those very cells could be retrained to attack cancer cells or to prevent autoimmune diseases?

Answers to these questions and many more are about to soon be realized, as Emory University Hospital will serve as the launch site for the very appropriately-named EPIC (Emory Personalized Immunotherapy Center).

The new Center, which is the creation of Dr. Jacques Galipeau, MD, professor of hematology and medical oncology & pediatrics of Emory University, will soon be operational after final touches have been put on construction of the lab. This cell processing facility will foster development of novel personalized cellular therapies for Emory patients facing catastrophic ailments and unmet medical needs.

According to Galipeau, the premise of EPIC and its overlying mission will focus on cellular and biological therapies that use a patient’s own cells as a weapon to seek and destroy cells that actually make a person sick. In partnership with the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center and the Emory School of Medicine, EPIC seeks to improve the health of children and adults afflicted with cancer and immune disease.

“First and foremost, we seek to bring a level of care and discovery that is first in Georgia, first in human and first in child. Blood and marrow derived cells have been used for more than a quarter century to treat life threatening hematological conditions and are now established therapies worldwide. More recently, the use of specific adult somatic cells from marrow, blood and other tissues are being studied in cellular medicine of a wide array of ailments including heart, lung, neurological and immune diseases,” says Galipeau. “The use of blood borne immune cells can also be exploited for treatment of cancer, autoimmune disease, organ transplantation and chronic viral illnesses such as HIV.”

Galipeau said that once operational, EPIC will begin by working with Crohn’s disease in pediatric and adult patients, an inflammatory bowel disease. Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, weight loss, and the inability for a child to properly grow. Resulting bouts of inflammation may also affect the entire digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus and stomach.  In some cases, a radical surgery involving the removal of part of the lower intestinal tract is required.

“There is no current answer for what specifically causes Crohn’s disease, nor is there a cure. But we hope that through our research and efforts, we will be able to first target the inflammatory mechanisms in these patients through immunotherapy, and in turn reduce the amount of flare-ups and limit  the damage that occurs from this disease,” says Galipeau.

Galipeau says the EPIC program could represent a powerful cornerstone to the launch and the development of an entirely new, Emory-based initiative which bundles the strengths of the School of Medicine, Emory University Hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and many Woodruff Health Sciences Center centers of excellence,” says Galipeau.

“My ultimate goal is to elevate the biomedical scientific and scholarly enterprise to a higher level – making a difference in the lives of people. The EPIC program and multi-levels of support could be a fundamental underpinning to our success.”

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Emory researchers receive grants to further work in pediatric brain tumor research

Dr. Castellino explains his research on medulloblastomas to participants attending the SBTF’s Grant Award Ceremony.

Two Emory researchers are being recognized by the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation (SBTF) for their work in pediatric brain tumor research.

Tracey-Ann Read, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Laboratory at Emory was awarded a $75,000 grant for her work. She is studying the cell of origin that is responsible for the highly malignant pediatric brain tumor known as an Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor (AT/RT). She is also developing a mouse model to study this very lethal brain cancer that occurs in early childhood.

Robert Craig Castellino, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory and pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston received $50,000 to support his research efforts. He is studying how the childhood brain cancer, known as medulloblastoma, can metastasize from the brain to other sites in the body, specifically the spine. Medulloblastoma is the most common pediatric malignant brain tumor.

SBTF board members and researchers who were awarded grants pose following the April ceremony.

Read and Castellino received the awards at the SBTF’s Grant Awards Ceremony in April at Emory University Hospital Midtown. Two other researchers from Duke University were also presented with grant money for their contributions in brain tumor research in adults.

Emory neurosurgeon Costas Hadjipanayis, MD, PhD, is the president of the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation. He says research, from young investigators such as these, is crucial in the race to find a cure for brain tumors. As federal research funding becomes even more difficult to obtain with cuts in funding, private foundation grants, such as from the SBTF, can permit researchers to start important research projects that can provide preliminary data for bigger grant proposals.

The SBTF awards $200,000-300,000 each year to major medical centers throughout the Southeast in support of cutting-edge brain and spinal tumor research.

 

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Kidney donation kicks off life-saving chain reaction


In this video, players in this extraordinary transplant exchange tell their story.
You can also watch “The Mother of All Swaps,” a news report from 11 Alive Atlanta

When Jon Pomenville of Anderson, SC, decided to donate a kidney altruistically to someone – anyone in need, anywhere in the country – little did he know his selfless sacrifice would in turn change the lives of not one, but numerous individuals and their families, including one little boy from Atlanta.

And little did he know that the selfless, anonymous act would quickly become not so anonymous. During a recent post-surgical clinic visit to Emory University Hospital, Pomenville met by accident – right in the transplant clinic waiting room – many of the individuals whose lives were changed. Soon the patients – recipients and donors – two father and son combinations and Pomenville, the man who would give to anyone – were hugging, shaking hands, and recounting their backgrounds and experiences.

Pomenville and the others, who were all part of what is called a paired kidney exchange, were unwittingly scheduled for appointments within a short period of one another. As one person began recounting the experience, eyes and ears began to focus on the tale being told from across a crowded room.

People involved in the six-person kidney exchange

A chance meeting in a doctors’ waiting room led to a meeting between most of the people involved in the paired kidney exchange.

The Emory Transplant Center created and opened its innovative Paired Donor Kidney Exchange Program in 2009, providing greater hope for patients in need of kidney transplants. According to Kenneth Newell, MD, director of Emory’s living donor program, a paired exchange donation allows healthy individuals to donate a kidney to either a friend, loved one, or even altruistically to a stranger, despite incompatible blood matches. In paired donation, a donor and recipient are matched with another incompatible donor and recipient and the kidneys are exchanged between the pairs.

The procedure is another form of living donor transplantation. Donated kidneys also come from recently deceased donors. While most kidneys from deceased donors function well, studies have shown that a kidney from a living donor, either a blood relative or an unrelated person, provides the greatest chance for long-term success.

“Paired donor exchanges allow us to cast a much wider net to find compatible donors and recipients,” says Newell. “With a paired kidney transplant, one incompatible donor-pair is able to give a healthy kidney to a compatible recipient. In exchange, the second donor-recipient pair will give a compatible kidney to the first donor-recipient pair, making two compatible living donor transplants possible and increasing the potential number of available donor kidneys. This option can help those patients waiting for kidney transplants who have family members or friends willing to be donors and who are medically suitable, but who have an ABO blood type that is incompatible with the recipient’s blood type.”

Because of Pomenville’s donation, a 7-year-old boy named Zion was able to receive a lifesaving kidney from an unrelated donor because his dad, Mike, was able to donate. His surgery took place at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

And Gerald Smith of Five Points, Ala., would receive his life-saving kidney because his son, Matt, a recent University of Alabama graduate, would donate his to Zion. And finally, 20 year-old Edward Hill of Macon, a young man with a history of health challenges, would also receive his transplant at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – completing the six-person cycle, although the donor of Edward’s kidney is still unknown.

And Zion and Matt Smith will not only share a common bond and connection throughout life in the form of a kidney, but something even sweeter that that … blue Powerade.

“I’ve always really enjoyed drinking Powerade, particularly the blue flavor,” says Smith. Shortly after Zion awoke from his surgery, he inexplicably began requesting the blue-tinted soft drink too.

Other powerful kidney transplant stories out of Emory:

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Children with Food Allergies Offered Better Diagnosis and Treatment with New Guidelines

Twenty years ago, food allergies had barely been heard of. Now, they are a $500 million health problem that affects more than 12 million Americans, including three million children. New federal guidelines issued by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) will help physicians better diagnose and treat food allergies, according to Karen Demuth, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Emory University School of Medicine, and a physician on staff at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Dr. Demuth was a key player in advancing legislation to call attention to the challenges of food allergies in children. She and several of her patients were on hand to witness Governor Nathan Deal signing a proclamation declaring May 8 to 14 Food Allergy Awareness Week in Georgia.

Dr. Demuth (pictured far right) was a key player in advancing legislation to call attention to the challenges of food allergies in children. She and several of her patients were on hand to witness Governor Nathan Deal signing a proclamation declaring May 8 to 14 Food Allergy Awareness Week in Georgia.

“The new NIAID guidelines help providers understand food allergies,” Demuth says. “They address when we should consider a food allergy and the utility of testing for food allergy. In addition, they address the management of food allergies, including acute reactions and follow-up of individuals with food allergy.”

The guidelines are comprised of input from a panel of 25 experts and draw the important distinction between food allergies and food intolerances. Food allergies are defined as “an adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response hat occurs reproducibly on exposure to a given food.” Food intolerances produce an adverse reaction but are likely not related to an immune response.

The most common food allergies are to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish and soy. Fortunately, the understanding of food allergies and the best ways to manage them is expanding.

“The gold standard of treatment of food allergies – avoidance – has remained constant throughout the years,” Demuth says. “There are new therapies on the horizon such as oral immunotherapy, vaccines and a Chinese herbal extract; however, these therapies are still considered experimental. At the Emory-Children’s Center, we are active in research and advocacy in pediatric allergies so that we can bring new treatments to our patients when they are ready for widespread use. We are dedicated solely to the care of children with allergic and immunologic disorders and offer multidisciplinary clinics to offer a specialized level of care.”

Video

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HIV vaccine design: always a moving target

HIV presents a challenge to vaccine design because it is always changing. If doctors vaccinate people against one variety of virus, will the antibodies they produce stop the virus that they later encounter?

A recently published report on an experimental HIV vaccine’s limited effectiveness in human volunteers illustrates this ongoing puzzle in the HIV vaccine field.

Paul Spearman, now chief research officer for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and vice chair for research for Emory’s Department of Pediatrics, began overseeing the study when he was at Vanderbilt. The report is in the April 15 issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Paul Spearman, MD

The vaccine was designed to elicit both antibody and T cell responses against HIV and in particular, to generate broadly neutralizing antibodies. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Volunteers who received the vaccine made antibodies that could neutralize the virus in the vaccine, but not related viruses thought to be like what participants in a larger study might encounter.

“High levels of neutralizing antibodies can be raised against HIV, while at the same time, breadth of neutralization has never yet been achieved in a vaccine,” Spearman says. “The essential problem is that the antibodies raised have a narrow specificity, while the virus is extremely variable. In contrast, about 20% of HIV-infected individuals will demonstrate neutralization breadth.”

Last year, scientists demonstrated a method for identifying these broadly neutralizing antibodies in HIV-infected individuals. However, having a vaccine hit that target reliably is still elusive.

Spearman reports that he is in charge of a new trial that will be boosting the same individuals that participated in the previous trial with HIV protein from a clade C virus, starting later this year. Clade C is the predominant HIV subtype in southern Africa, while clade B, used in the published trial, is the predominant subtype in North America and Western Europe.

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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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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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