Mitochondrial blindness -- Newman's Emory story

Neuro-ophthalmologist Nancy Newman’s 2017 Dean’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture and Award were unexpectedly timely. Her talk on Tuesday was a tour of her career and mitochondrial disorders affecting vision, culminating in a description of gene therapy clinical trials for the treatment of Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy. The sponsor of those studies, Gensight Biologics, recently presented preliminary data on a previous study of their gene therapy at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in April. Two larger trials Read more

IMSD program nurtures young scientists

The IMSD (Initiative to Maximize Student Development) program nurtures and mentors a diverse group of young scientists at Read more

Flu meeting at Emory next week

We are looking forward to the “Immunology and Evolution of Influenza” symposium next week (Thursday the 25th and Friday the Read more

General Health

Stigma and shame block mental health treatment in Black community

As Dr. Sarah Vinson rotated through her first year of clinical work as a Child Psychiatry Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory, she quickly became aware that there are some significant roadblocks in getting people in the African-American community engaged in treatment for mental health problems.

Sarah Vinson, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

“Misinformation, an absence of trust in the system, racism and financial circumstances are some of the forces that can create barriers in making appropriate decisions about seeking treatment,” says Vinson.

In order to take a step toward resolving the problem, Vinson created an online mental health outreach program targeting the Black community. The website serves as an anonymous resource for patients and their families, or anyone who is interested in finding out more about mental illness.

This user-friendly online program provides educational materials, offers links to professional organizations, lists mental health professionals and provides descriptions of different types of mental illnesses as they relate specifically to African-Americans. The website also includes an interactive forum where people can share experiences.

“The Black community’s traditional reluctance to discuss mental health and illness comes at much too high a cost,” says Dr. Vinson.

“People may be fearful of being misjudged by their churches and families, so they don’t discuss their problems,” she explains. “However, it is the support of family and friends that is largely responsible for a successful course of treatment; particularly when it comes to children and adolescents, or people with severe mental illness. Regrettably, when people access care without reinforcement from their loved ones, they often drop out before they are better.

“Untreated, mental illness can cause strained relationships, social dysfunction, and numerous other problems that can end up in divorce, unemployment, and suicide.”

Dr. Vinson is the recipient of an American Psychiatric Association/Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Fellowship, which provides funds for programming related to minority mental health.

Posted on by Kathi Baker in Uncategorized Leave a comment

Smoking’s reach – and risk – even broader than we thought

Smoking’s link to lung cancer has been well-known for decades, but we are still learning about its cancer-causing effects on other organs.

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) provides solid epidemiological evidence that smoking’s link to bladder cancer is even higher than previously believed. And, the elevated risk factor appears to be the same for men and women.

Viraj Master, MD, PhD

“This is something I see in my practice every day,” says Viraj Master, associate professor of urology, Emory School of Medicine and director of urology clinical research at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. “The dangers of smoking are pervasive. Patients are often surprised to hear of the link between smoking and bladder cancer, but it’s there, and it’s a very real risk.”

The bladder may not be the first organ you think about when you think about the harmful effects of cigarette smoking. After all, when a person inhales cigarette smoke, the mouth, throat and lungs are the primary destination. But, a lethal change in the composition of cigarettes makes the bladder a target for cancer.

Written by researchers at the National Cancer Institute, the study explains that while there is less tar and nicotine in cigarettes now that in years passed, there also has been “an apparent increase in the concentration of specific carcinogens,” including a known bladder cancer carcinogen and tobacco-specific nitrosamines. The study authors also note that epidemiological studies have observed higher relative risk rates associated with cigarette smoking for lung cancer.

“The take-home message, of course, is the same as it long has been – don’t start smoking, and if you do smoke, stop,” says Master. “We need to do everything in our power to both stop people from starting to smoke and to help those already addicted to stop.”

Posted on by Kerry Ludlam in Uncategorized Leave a comment

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.”

Posted on by Kerry Ludlam in Uncategorized Leave a comment

Sunscreen: Looking Beyond the Numbers

Carl Washington, MD

Seems pretty obvious – if a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is good, then an SPF of 100 should be at least three times as good.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.  There are other important details to consider when you are purchasing a sunscreen.

“People have become much more educated about the importance of using sunscreen, and manufacturers have responded with an abundance of products,” says Carl Washington, MD, associate professor of Dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine. “Unfortunately, the labeling can be confusing and many of the current sunscreens only contain the ingredients necessary to offer protection against sunburn, but not skin cancer or aging.”

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration created new regulations to establish standards for sunscreen manufacturers to follow before they label their products.

Under the new regulations, which will go into effect in 2012, sunscreen products that protect against all types of sun-induced skin damage will be labeled “broad spectrum” and “SPF 15” or higher on the container. Only products that have been tested to ensure they protect against both UVA (ultraviolet radiation A) and UVB (ultraviolet radiation B) radiation will be allowed to use this labeling.  Broad-spectrum sunscreens of SPF 15 and higher can also be labeled as protective against skin cancer and premature aging. The maximum SPF value is set at 50-plus because the FDA says anything higher doesn’t provide a significant amount of additional protection.

Manufacturers will have to include warning labels on products that are not broad spectrum. Products that claim to be water resistant must indicate how long the consumer should expect to be protected in the water, and using such language as “waterproof” or “sweat proof” will not be allowed.

“Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and the number of people affected keeps rising. Simply getting into the habit of using a sunscreen every day – with the appropriate levels of protection – can make a significant difference in preventing many skin cancers, as well as premature aging,” says Washington.

“These new regulations will help consumers understand the difference in degrees of sun protection, and choose carefully.”

Washington also suggests staying out of direct sunlight between 10 am and 2 pm, seeking shade when you are outdoors, remembering to reapply sunscreen every two hours and wearing protective clothing.

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Fertility: a new frontier in treating those with HIV

HIV

Not long ago, physicians who treated those with HIV focused only on helping their patients stay well. Today some physicians are also beginning to focus on helping those patients conceive.

“Most of the patients who are now diagnosed with HIV are in their reproductive years, and as many as a third express a desire to have children,” says Emory reproductive endocrinologist Vitaly Kushnir, MD.

This emerging area of treatment has been made possible thanks to the growing effectiveness of a combination of drugs known as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, or HAART, used for years to treat retroviruses, including HIV.

“Now that people with HIV are living longer, fertility and HIV is an emerging area of interest,” says Kushnir. “Several studies have indicated that HIV drugs if given early in the course of the disease can reduce the risk of transmission from an HIV-positive person to an HIV-negative person.”

But researchers and physicians know very little yet about how treatments for HIV, the virus itself, and the comorbidities associated with HIV affect fertility. So, Kushnir and his colleague, Emory pathologist William Lewis, MD, decided it was time to explore existing data on how HIV and its treatment affect fertility, especially in women. Their review paper on the subject appears in the August 2011 issue of Fertility and Sterility.

Because there are safety concerns and legal restrictions on fertility treatments in couples in which one partner is HIV positive and the other is not, treatment options often are limited.

“This is becoming more and more of an issue,” says Kushnir. “It’s probably time for us to have a more open discussion about the access these patients have to fertility treatment. I think the current system probably discourages these patients from pursuing treatments that are a lot safer than trying to get pregnant on their own.”

Posted on by Robin Tricoles in Immunology Leave a comment

Exercise, changes in diet alter course for pre-diabetics

The D-CLIP Study staff in Chennai, India

A type 2 diabetes intervention program developed by researchers from Emory and the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF) in India is showing promising results in improving risk factors, such as lowering weight and decreasing blood pressure and glucose levels.

The ongoing study, called the Diabetes Community Life Improvement Program, (D-CLIP) was designed to test the benefits of a low-cost community program for people at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, most commonly associated with obesity. The curriculum integrates exercise, nutrition education and dietary changes. The study is being conducted in Chennai, India with hopes of expanding the program into other parts of South Asia.

Six-hundred participants with prediabetes were randomly assigned to either a standard of care control treatment or weekly D-CLIP classes for six months, where they learned about making healthy choices in real life situations such as restaurants and grocery stores. They also learned how to incorporate exercise into their daily routines with the goal of completing 150 minutes of physical activity a week.

Of the 200 participants who have completed the course to date, 83 percent have lost between five and 13 pounds. There also was improvement in blood glucose, serum cholesterol and blood pressure levels in participants.

“This initial research is quite encouraging because it shows we can turn the tide of type 2 diabetes onset by promoting simple lifestyle changes through well-structured community programming,” says Venkat Narayan, MD, Hubert Professor in Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and a professor in Emory School of Medicine. “Attendance at the lifestyle classes is 85 to 90 percent, with lifestyle changes strongly evident. More than anything, we have formed strong partnerships with the local community that will ultimately lead to the implementation of more successful programs like this.”

The study is conducted by the Global Diabetes Research Center, a collaboration between Emory University and MDRF in Chennai, India. The center received its initial support from the Emory Global Health Institute, with funding from BRiDGES (Bringing Research in Diabetes to Global Environments and Systems), an International Diabetes Federation program supported by an educational grant from Eli Lily. Currently, the 17th session of D-CLIP classes is in progress, with the study set to close in early 2013.

Participants in the D-CLIP study learned to incorporate exercise into their lives to stave off type 2 diabetes.

“We have always known that the right diet and exercise can improve health,” says V. Mohan, MD, president of the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation. “But there has been no scientific community-based program to quantify this until now. We hope this is just the beginning of efforts to reduce the incidence of the type 2 diabetes epidemic worldwide.”

Posted on by Kerry Ludlam in Uncategorized 1 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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Fat distribution in black and white women may help predict heart disease

A woman’s body shape – often described as pear, apple or hourglass – is usually determined by the amount of fat in various regions of the body including the bust, waist, arms and hips. New research from Emory University School of Medicine suggests that these patterns of fat distribution may help predict arterial stiffness – a precursor to cardiovascular disease.

Stiff arteries make the heart work harder to pump blood and are associated with atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaques in vessels that can block blood flow and cause a heart attack.

Noting that fat distribution generally differs between black and white women’s bodies, researchers enlisted 68 black women and 125 white women, all middle-aged, to see whether these patterns could help assess cardiovascular risk.

The study, conducted by Danny Eapen, MD, a cardiology fellow at Emory, used data from Emory’s Center for Health Discovery and Well Being. He presented his findings recently at the American Heart Association’s Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 2011 meeting.

Using skin calipers, the researchers measured subcutaneous fat in seven sites: the upper chest; midaxillary, or the side of the torso just under the armpit; triceps, or the back of the arm; subscapular, or on the back just below the shoulder blade; abdominal; suprailiac, or just above the front of the hip bone; and the thigh.

“Black women have higher rates of cardiovascular disease than white women and are more likely to die from it,” says Eapen. “Black and white women also have different patterns of fat distribution, so we were interested in measuring these pockets of fat at various regions of the body to evaluate whether it might be helpful in predicting cardiovascular risk between the two groups.  Our hope was to evaluate whether a quick, easy-to-use clinical tool could aid in further risk stratifying our female patients.”

The study also assessed the arterial stiffness of the women, adjusting for heart rate.

As a group, the black women had greater arterial stiffness than the white women. They also had more subcutaneous fat in the armpit, triceps, shoulder blade and hip bone areas.

In addition, they also found specific race dependent pockets of fat that could be related to arterial stiffness – fat measurements in the triceps area could predict increased arterial stiffness in black women, while fat in the suprailiac areas was a predictor in white women.

Content contributed in part by Sarah Goodwin, Emory’s Center for Health Discovery and Well Being.

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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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March for Babies – March for Hope

As parents we hope all babies are born with a healthy start in life, after a full 37 – 40 weeks in the womb. Sadly, every year more than half a million babies are born prematurely in the United States. The rate of premature birth has risen by 30 percent since 1981 according to the March of Dimes. It’s not clear why some babies are born before full gestation – before their lungs, brains or other organs are fully developed. Thousands don’t live to celebrate their first birthday as a result.

In Georgia more than 400 babies are born too soon each week.  Dr. William Sexson, a neonatologist and professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine and March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign Chair witnesses the effects of preterm birth every day.  He says, “Premature birth is the leading cause of infant mortality. Babies born just a few weeks too soon are at increased risk for newborn health complications, such as breathing problems, can face serious health challenges and are at risk of lifelong disabilities.”

On Saturday April 30, 2011, a legion of more than 10,000 families and business leaders from across Georgia will band together for the March of Dimes annual “March for Babies.” With more than 30 “March for Babies” events planned throughout the state, the annual affair is the nation’s oldest walk fundraiser dedicated to preventing premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality.

“March for Babies” supports research and educational programs aimed at helping women have healthy babies. Funds raised from the “March for Babies” event will support prenatal wellness programs, critical research and community grants, along with local resources such as the Angel II neonatal transport unit at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Most pregnancies last around 40 weeks. Babies born between 37 and 42 completed weeks of pregnancy are called full term. Babies born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy are called premature. “Women who have hypertension and diabetes are at higher risk to have preterm babies or babies with health problems,” says Sexson.

According to the March of Dimes, the most urgent infant health problem in the U.S. today is premature birth. It affects more than half a million babies each year and is the leading cause of newborn death within the first month of life. Last November, the March of Dimes issued a Report Card on Premature Birth, giving the nation a “D” and Georgia, the grade of “F.”  Sexson adds, “We have a long way to go before all babies in America get a healthy start in life and we are committed to working with state health officials, hospitals and health care providers to continue to fight for preemies.”

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization with its mission to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

For more information, or to participate in “March for Babies” visit marchofdimes.com.

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