Transition to exhaustion: clues for cancer immunotherapy

Research on immune cells “exhausted” by chronic viral infection provides clues on how to refine cancer immunotherapy. The results were published Tuesday, Dec. 3 in Immunity. Scientists at Emory Vaccine Center, led by Rafi Ahmed, PhD, have learned about exhausted CD8 T cells, based on studying mice with chronic viral infections. In the presence of persistent virus or cancer, CD8 T cells lose much of their ability to fight disease, and display inhibitory checkpoint proteins Read more

Radiologists wrestle with robots - ethically

Emory bioethicist John Banja says: don’t believe the hype about AI replacing Read more

Opioids: crunching the Tweets

The aim is to be able to spot patterns of overdoses faster than prescription drug monitoring Read more

Emory Healthcare

Expandable implants utilize magnets for treatment

One of the most exciting areas in the treatment of pediatric extremity sarcomas is the development of expandable implants and a procedure that uses magnets to treat sarcoma of bone and soft tissue.

The latest devices allow lengthening of the bone using a non-invasive technique with a simple magnet held against the patient’s leg, which preserves the patient’s own joint. These implants can be expanded and grow with the patient as they get taller without multiple operations.

The patient’s leg is put through a round magnet every few months and, using different settings, the physician can turn the magnet on and patients can watch their leg get longer. There are only a few centers in the country performing this procedure – Emory Musculoskeletal Oncology and Limb Reconstruction Center is the only center in Georgia that offers this treatment.

David K. Monson, MD, Emory assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, and Shervin V. Oskouei, MD, Emory assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, lead the Emory Musculoskeletal Oncology and Limb Reconstruction Center.

Monson’s focus is on rare tumors, sarcomas of the bone and soft tissue as well as other uncommon benign bone and soft tissue tumors. He also treats metastatic cancers that have spread to areas of the bone from other primary malignancies, and often performs complex reconstructive procedures for these disorders not available in the community. Oskouei is an expert in the treatment of musculoskeletal (extremity) tumors, total hip and total knee replacements and revisions. His specialty is in orthopaedic oncology.

Monson and Oskouei point to the advantages of the procedure:

  • The procedure can save the patient’s limb by avoiding amputation.
  • The procedure can be done in one operation so patients don’t have to make multiple trips to the operating room, using one implant that can be expanded as the patient grows.
  • It allows lengthening of the bones and maintains an equality in limb length.
  • The technique is noninvasive and can be done in the office using just a mild anesthetic, rather than general anesthesia.
  • The procedure can be done more frequently, allowing physicians to lengthen in much smaller increments, which is much safer and more comfortable for the patient.
  • The procedure provides patients improved function — patients are able to put their full weight on their leg immediately after surgery

Learn more from patient Ned Crystal or visit Emory Healthcare.

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Importance of flu vaccinations for pregnant women

Pregnant women are at the top of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s priority list when it comes to vaccinating people against the novel H1N1 flu virus this year. Not only should pregnant women receive the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, they should also receive the usual seasonal flu vaccine, say Emory experts.

Staying healthy in pregnancy

Staying healthy in pregnancy

Because pregnancy weakens the immune system, a pregnant woman who gets any type of flu has a greater chance for serious health problems. Pregnant women who contract H1N1 flu are more likely to be admitted to the hospital, compared with other people in general that get H1N1 flu. Pregnant women are also more likely to have serious illness, including pneumonia and death from this particular novel strain.

Both vaccines are made with a dead, or inactivated, flu virus and are given as an injection, usually in the arm. The other type of flu vaccine is a nasal spray and is not recommended for pregnant women. The nasal spray vaccine is safe for women after they have delivered, even if they are nursing.

A recent study by Emory researchers found that seasonal flu vaccination of pregnant women can benefit both mothers and infants, says Kevin Ault, MD, associate professor in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory.

Saad B. Omer, MBBS, MPH, PhD, assistant professor of global health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, served as senior author on the report, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. The study shows that there is substantial evidence that vaccination is not only safe for pregnant women but that it is critical for protecting women and their infants against serious complications from the flu.

Other members of the research team included Ault and Carlos del Rio, MD, professor and chair in the Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University.

The seasonal flu shot has been given to millions of pregnant women over several decades . Flu shots have not been shown to cause any harm to pregnant women or their babies. The 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine is being made in the same way and by the same manufacturers as the seasonal flu vaccine, explains Ault.

Ault also serves as principal investigator of a seasonal flu vaccine clinical trial underway at Emory Vaccine Center involving pregnant women.

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Children’s 1,000th pediatric transplant recognized

Emory University and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta transplant surgeon Stuart Knechtle, MD, and his surgical team recently performed the 1,000th solid organ transplant on a Children’s patient. The milestone operation was performed on a child who received a liver through the Children’s Transplant Center.

Stuart Knechtle, MD

Stuart Knechtle, MD

Knechtle is chief of the Emory School of Medicine transplant division and professor of surgery, and surgical director of Children’s Liver Transplant Program. Children’s Liver Transplant program was founded in 1990 and has completed more than 300 liver transplants.

The liver transplant team is made up of many individuals who contribute to its success – liver transplant surgeons, transplant hepatologists (doctors with expertise in the treatment of the liver), and a team of gastroenterologists, anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists, mental health specialists, chaplains, nurses, social workers and pharmacists.

For more than 20 years, Emory and Children’s physicians have been at the forefront of pediatric transplant care, achieving several groundbreaking accomplishments, including:

  • Transplanted the world’s youngest (10 days old) and three smallest (2 to 4 pounds) liver transplant recipients
  • One of the first pediatric hospitals in the United States to perform three heart transplants in 24 hours
  • At the forefront of its field with ABO-incompatible liver and heart transplants
  • Performed more than 450 pediatric kidney transplants.
Children's kidney transplant recipient Quinn Roberts, age 8, poses with her donor Cheryl Thomas

Children’s kidney transplant recipient Quinn Roberts, age 8, with her donor Cheryl Thomas

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An invitation to be healthy and stay healthy

Predictive Health blog photoThere’s a place in Midtown Atlanta called the Center for Health Discovery and Well Being, where people can go to be healthy and stay healthy.

This fresh approach to wellness marks a new model of healthcare called predictive health, which focuses on defining and maintaining health rather than treating disease.

The Center for Health Discovery and Well Being collects and analyzes physical, medical and lifestyle histories, and up to 50 different blood and plasma tests to create a personalized health action plan for each participant. Participants also act as research partners, as data from their assessments is used to discover and develop predictive markers of health and well being. Those markers are ultimately used to create health-related interventions. What’s more, the center is part of a research partnership between Emory and Georgia Tech called the Emory/Georgia Tech Predictive Health Institute.

Located on the 18th floor of the Medical Office Tower (MOT) at Emory University Hospital Midtown, the center occupies an architecturally innovative atmosphere that includes flowing spaces, soothing colors, and a big city view.

Healthy individuals, including those with well-controlled chronic conditions, may enroll in the Center.

The Center for Health Discovery and Well Being web site offers detailed information, testimonials, and an application for participation.

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Preparing for H1N1

James Steinberg, MD

James Steinberg, MD

With the novel H1N1 virus gaining a foothold in the northern hemisphere, anxious doctors, researchers and members of the public are carefully watching its movement and behavior.

Even before WHO declared novel H1N1 a pandemic late last spring, Emory University had been readying for its arrival. James Steinberg, MD, chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital Midtown, has been at the forefront of that preparation.

“A few years ago a decision was made to fund a center for emergency preparedness and response,” says Steinberg. “Having CEPAR, headed by Dr. Alex Isakov, gave us a leg up on preparing for this pandemic. Concern about the avian flu a few years ago sparked a pandemic plan and an antiviral plan. Having those plans on board helped us hit the gate running with the swine flu.”

To listen to Steinberg’s own words about novel H1N1 and its effect on the current flu season, access Emory’s new Sound Science podcast.

An expert in infectious disease, Steinberg says three key factors go into the making of a pandemic. “A virus can cause a pandemic when it can cause significant disease, when it’s a new virus to which people don’t have any immunity, and when the virus has the capacity to spread from person to person,” Steinberg says. “The novel H1N1 virus appears to meet all three of these characteristics.”

Steinberg cautions that the word pandemic has a horrible connotation. “We think of the 1918 pandemic that killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide, more people than were killed during World War I itself,” says Steinberg. “But there are pandemics in which the bumps in mortality have been modest.”

The H1N1 virus spreads from person to person via large droplets, the ones that fall quickly onto surfaces. These viruses can be spread by being close to an infected person who is coughing or sneezing or by touching contaminated surfaces. That’s why hand washing reduces the chance of infection.

Thus far, the novel strain of H1N1 has been relatively mild. Most of those infected have recovered without hospitalization or medical care, but according to the CDC some groups are at higher risk and should be vaccinated first. These include pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, persons between the ages of 6 months and 24 years, and people ages 25 through 64 who have chronic health conditions.

Initial supplies of the nasal mist H1N1 vaccine are expected to be available this week, followed soon by the injectable vaccine. The regular seasonal flu vaccine will not provide protection against the novel H1N1 strain, so people will need both vaccines.

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Ventricular assist devices offer hope for heart failure

Emory doctors are leaders in a “destination” therapy program using ventricular assist devices for failing hearts.

The United Network for Organ Sharing says there are more than 2,900 Americans, 43 in Georgia, who are awaiting a heart transplant. Regardless of the number of donor hearts available, however, many patients are not candidates for a heart transplant for a variety of reasons including cancer, personal and religious beliefs, blood clotting problems, and other debilitating health conditions.

Right now there are about 5 million Americans who suffer from congestive heart failure, with another half million diagnosed each year. Many individuals are limited by the severity of their heart failure, yet are not able to be transplanted for one of many reasons.

With so many people awaiting precious few donor hearts, doctors are working to provide access to Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs). VADs are small pumps that are implanted into the chest cavity and help pump a heart that is no longer able to function properly on its own. This offers new hope and a greater quality of life for individuals who are not transplant candidates, patients who do not want a transplant or for people who may be transplant eligible in the future.

Many patients use VADs as a bridge to transplant – meaning they rely on the device temporarily until a donor heart can become available. Others are candidates for VADs as destination therapy, which means a patient is not a candidate for heart transplant or simply does not want a heart transplant – often because of religious or personal ethical reasons.

David Vega, MD

David Vega, MD

David Vega, MD, professor of surgery, Emory University School of Medicine, and director of Heart Transplantation/Mechanical Circulatory Support at Emory University Hospital, leads the pioneering VAD program. He says VAD destination therapy allows patients to resume many basic activities that they were unable to perform before the VAD.

Recently, Emory University Hospital’s VAD program recently the “Gold Seal of Approval” from The Joint Commission, which accredits nearly 16,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States. Emory’s VAD program is the only certified program of its kind in Georgia. Learn more about Emory’s heart transplant program and its 500th patient.

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Attending to neglected tropical diseases

As Georgia’s immigrant and refugee communities grow, so do Georgia’s cases of infectious tropical diseases. Also known as neglected tropical diseases, these illnesses are endemic in some low-resource countries and cause considerable disability and dysfunction.

Carlos Franco-Paredes, MD, MPH

Carlos Franco-Paredes, MD, MPH

Carlos Franco-Paredes, MD, MPH, a researcher and clinician at the Emory TravelWell Clinic at Emory’s midtown campus, provides pre- and post-travel health care to international travelers, including faculty, staff, students, business travelers and missionaries. Franco-Paredes, an expert in infectious diseases, also treats immigrants and refugees affected by neglected tropical diseases. He and colleagues recently received funding to study the epidemiology and treatment outcomes of tropical infectious diseases in immigrant and refugee communities in Georgia.

With a grant from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation, Franco-Paredes and his colleagues are assessing the prevalence and the outcomes of hepatitis B, Chagas disease and leprosy.

In fact, the clinic is the main referral center for leprosy in the region, and physicians there currently care for about 25 patients with leprosy, a chronic disease. Most of the cases are found in foreign-born individuals, particularly patients from Central and South America and Asia.

Franco-Paredes’ collaborators include Uriel Kitron, PhD, Emory professor and chair, Environmental Studies, and Sam Marie Engle, senior associate director, Emory’s Office of University Community Partnerships.

To hear Franco-Paredes’ own words about his research into neglected tropical diseases, listen to Emory’s Sound Science podcast.

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World Alzheimer’s Day – brain health tips from Emory

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day 2009 and Emory’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center is part of an effort nationwide to address this disease through research and state-of-the-art care for patients.

Allan Levey, MD, PhD, chair of Emory’s Department of Neurology and an Alzheimer’s researcher and clinician, says millions of baby boomers are entering late adulthood and experts expect the number of patients with Alzheimer’s disease to increase drastically over the next several decades. Prevention and early detection are extremely important, he says.

Emory’s Center is a National Institute on Aging funded center focused on clinical trials and research for Alzheimer’s disease. It is the only comprehensive program in Georgia and one of only 32 nationwide.

Levey, who directs the Center, offers the tips for good brain health:

Stay socially active
Remaining socially engaged in activities that stimulate the mind and body can reduce stress levels and help maintain healthy connections among brain cells.

Stay active, say experts

Stay active, say experts

Be physically active
Exercising your body regularly is vital for maintaining good blood flow to the brain and encouraging the growth of new brain cells.

Stay mentally active
Your brain needs mental stimulation to allow it to function at its peak. Research shows that keeping the brain active helps increase its vigor and may strengthen brain cells and the connections between them, and may even generate new ones.

Protect your head
Injury to the head can increase your risk of dementia as you get older. Make sure you wear a helmet when you ride a bike, skate, ski or engage in any activity where you may injure yourself.

Eat brain healthy foods
The brain, like the heart, needs the proper balance of nutrients, including protein and sugar, to optimally function. According to current research, certain foods appear to protect brain cells so increase your intake of these protective foods.

Levey says scientists are finding more clues that high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes may increase a person’s risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. He says to keep your weight in a healthy range, lower your cholesterol if it is high and maintain control of your blood glucose and blood pressure.

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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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Pancreatic cancer: Front and center

With the sad news today of the death of actor Patrick Swayze, the public is again focused on pancreatic cancer and searching for more information on this aggressive cancer.

Recently, David Kooby, MD, Emory Winship Cancer Institute, and an assistant professor, Department of Surgical Oncology, authored a blog for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Doctor Is In” on this topic.

Emory Winship Cancer Institute

Emory Winship Cancer Institute

The following is an excerpt from the blog:

Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive malignancy that begins in the cells of the duct (or tube) running along the length of the pancreas. Each year about 42,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed and more than 35,000 people die from this cancer. A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is usually made after discovery of a mass or a dilated duct in the pancreas.

Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to diagnose. Patients often come in for a doctor’s visit with non-specific symptoms such as abdominal or back pain or weight loss. Some patients will develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin) as a result of the tumor blocking the duct draining bile from the liver

No one knows the exact causes of pancreatic cancer, although some risk factors are known through research that has been done.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the following are risk factors for development of pancreatic cancer:

  • Age — The likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Most pancreatic cancers occur in people over the age of 60.
  • Smoking — Cigarette smokers are two or three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Diabetes mellitus — Pancreatic cancer occurs more often in people who have diabetes than in people who do not.
  • Being male — More men than women are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
  • Being African-American — African-Americans are more likely than Asians, Hispanics or whites to get pancreatic cancer.
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