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diet

Epigenetic changes in atherosclerosis

If someone living in America and eating a typical diet and leading a sedentary lifestyle lets a few years go by, we can expect plaques of cholesterol and inflammatory cells to build up in his or her arteries. We’re not talking “Super-size Me” here, we’re just talking average American. But then let’s say that same person decides: “OK, I’m going to shape up. I’m going to eat healthier and exercise more.”

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Let’s leave aside whether low-carb or low-fat is best, and let’s say that person succeeds in sticking to his or her declared goals. How “locked in” are the changes in the blood vessels when someone has healthy or unhealthy blood flow patterns?

Biomedical engineer Hanjoong Jo and his colleagues published a paper in Journal of Clinical Investigation that touches on this issue. They have an animal model where disturbed blood flow triggers the accumulation of atherosclerosis. They show that the gene expression changes in endothelial cells, which line blood vessels, have an epigenetic component. Specifically, the durable DNA modification known as methylation is involved, and blocking DNA methylation with a drug used for treating some forms of cancer can prevent atherosclerosis in their model. This suggests that blood vessels retain an epigenetic imprint reflecting the blood flow patterns they see.

Although treating atherosclerosis with the drug decitabine is not a viable option clinically, Jo’s team was able to find several genes that are silenced by disturbed blood flow and that need DNA methylation to stay shut off. A handful of those genes have a common mechanism of regulation and may be good therapeutic targets for drug discovery.

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Heart Leave a comment

Emory Cardiologist Weighs in on U.S. News Diet Ranking

 

Laurence Sperling, MD

U.S. News & World Report recently announced the results of its first-ever Best Diets rankings evaluating some of the country’s most popular diets.

Emory Heart & Vascular Center cardiologist Laurence Sperling served on a panel of 22 health experts selected by U.S. News to help develop the rankings. Sperling is the medical director of the Emory Heartwise Risk Reduction Program and professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

Sperling and his panel colleagues reviewed information about 20 well-known diets, from Atkins to Zone, and rated each one on specific measures such as safety, easiness to follow and nutritional completeness.

Using the experts’ ratings, U.S. News developed five diet categories to address a broad range of consumers’ dieting goals and needs including Best Diabetes Diets, Best Heart Diets, Best Weight Loss Diets and Best Overall. “The goal of the Best Diets rankings is to help consumers find authoritative guidance on healthful diets that will work for them over the long haul,” said Lindsay Lyon, U.S. News‘s Health News Editor.

Weight Watchers ranked first in the Weight Loss category. Tied for number two were Jenny Craig and the Raw Food Diet, an approach that challenges dieters to avoid foods that have been cooked.

The government-endorsed DASH Diet took the top spot as the best diet overall. Three diets tied at number two, excelling in all measures U.S News considered: the Mediterranean Diet, the TLC Diet, and Weight Watchers.

For a complete list of the new diet rankings, please visit:

http://health.usnews.com/best-diet

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The science behind the Mediterranean diet

The diet calls for lots of fruits and vegetables.

Researchers, physicians, and health care providers from across the United States and Italy met recently at the Rollins School of Public Health for the first Emory Conference on Mediterranean Diet and Health. Participants focused on the diet’s relation to cardiovascular disease, cancer, neuropsychiatric disorders, and vascular health.

The Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, complex carbohydrates, and nuts; moderate consumption of fish and red wine; low consumption of cheese and red meat; and olive oil as the chief source of fat, explains Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, one of the conference chairs.

When topped with exercise, the Mediterranean diet—really a pattern of eating habits traditionally followed by people in the Mediterranean regions in the early 1960s—has proven beneficial for many throughout the years. But why this is so isn’t clear.
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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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Micronutrients: food for thought

Conrad Cole, MD, MPH

Physicians and researchers are seeing a resurgence of micronutrient deficiencies in certain high-risk populations of children. But what exactly does that mean to those children—right now and in the future?

For children who don’t get enough micronutrients it means life-long problems, including decreased neurodevelopment and diminished cognitive abilities.

“Micronutrients are nutrients that are needed by the body in small quantities and are important for development, growth and sustaining life,” says Conrad Cole, MD, MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition in Emory School of Medicine. “That’s why they’re called micronutrients, and the ones we commonly think about are iron, vitamin D, calcium and zinc because they all have significant importance.”

To listen to Cole’s own words about micronutrients, access Emory’s new Sound Science podcast.

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Cholesterol levels improve with nut consumption

Improvements in blood cholesterol levels are linked with eating nuts, according to this week’s Archives of Internal Medicine.

Nuts are good for your heart

Authors writing in the journal say that dietary interventions to lower blood cholesterol concentrations and to modify blood lipoprotein levels are the cornerstone of prevention and treatment plans for coronary heart disease.

Nuts are rich in plant proteins, fats (especially unsaturated fatty acids), dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins and other compounds, such as antioxidants and phytoesterols. The contents of nuts are a focus because of the potential to reduce coronary heart disease risk and to lower blood lipid – fat and cholesterol – levels.

Emory University’s Cheryl Williams, RD, LD, clinical nutritionist, Emory Heart & Vascular Center, Emory HeartWise Cardiac Risk Reduction Program, says nuts are among the heart healthiest whole foods as they provide a variety of health promoting compounds such as dietary fiber, vitamins (vitamin E), minerals (selenium), antioxidants and phytoesterols.

While most of the calories provided from nuts come from fat, notes Williams, it is mostly unsaturated fats (mono and polyunsaturated), which have been shown to help lower elevated serum cholesterol, and to some extent triglyceride levels (via omega 3 fatty acids provided from walnuts).

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National Cholesterol Month: Check your numbers

Emory’s Cheryl Williams, RD, LD, clinical nutritionist for the Emory Heart & Vascular Center and Emory HeartWise Cardiac Risk Reduction Program, says you should make it a priority to know your cholesterol levels and learn how what you eat can impact cholesterol and your heart’s health.Williams heart

Since diets high in saturated fat and trans fat have been linked to chronic disease, specifically, heart disease, this knowledge could save your life.

During National Cholesterol Month Williams notes in her blog for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Doctor Is In” that eating too many fatty foods – especially those high in saturated fat and trans fat – is the primary cause of high cholesterol. Thin, active people may not be aware of how much bad fat they consume, she says.

According to Williams, “Saturated fats are derived primarily from animal products and are known to raise cholesterol levels. They are found in common foods like butter, cheese, whole milk, pork and red meat. Lower-fat versions of these foods usually contain saturated fats, but typically in smaller quantities than the regular versions. Certain plant oils, like palm and coconut oils, are another source of saturated fats. You may not use these oils when you cook, but they are often added to commercially baked foods, such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts and pies.

Even more detrimental to cholesterol levels are trans fats, artificially created during food processing when liquid oils are converted into solid fats — a process called hydrogenation. Many fried restaurant foods and commercially baked goods contain trans fats, as well as vegetable shortening and stick margarine. Read labels and avoid foods that contain partially or fully hydrogenated oils.”

For more tips from Williams about managing for healthy cholesterol levels, visit ajc.com. To learn more about heart disease from Laurence Sperling MD, director of the Emory HeartWise Cardiac Risk Reduction Program, watch videos on health.com.

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Pediatric liver disease on the rise

Miriam Vos, MD with patient.

Miriam Vos, MD with patient.

Miriam Vos, MD treats a growing number of children with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Yet little research has been conducted into the development of the illness. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in children, which often is associated with obesity, occurs when fat deposits itself in the liver. It eventually can lead to inflammation, cirrhosis and even liver failure.

In the hopes of preventing the disease in children, Vos, a pediatric hepatologist at Emory University School of Medicine

and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, is conducting research into the origins of this disorder in children. She suspects a diet high in sugar and too little exercise are tied to its onset.

In fact, a recent study led by Vos found that Americans are getting more than 10 percent of their daily calories from fructose, used mainly in sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods.

The study analyzed the amount and sources of dietary fructose consumption among U.S. children and adults from 1988 to 1994. The researchers found that U.S. children and adults consumed 54.7 grams of fructose per day, an almost 50 percent increase from a national study sample conducted in 1977-1978.

Fructose occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables, however, it is added to many processed foods as table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup.

Vos has written a book aimed at helping children and their families shed pounds and achieve better nutrition through changes in lifestyle and diet.

To hear Vos’s own words about nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in children, listen to Emory University’s Sound Science podcast.

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