Beyond the amyloid hypothesis: proteins that indicate cognitive stability

If you’re wondering where Alzheimer’s research might be headed after the latest large-scale failure of a clinical trial based on the “amyloid hypothesis,” check this Read more

Mother's milk is OK, even for the in-between babies

“Stop feeding him milk right away – just to be safe” was not what a new mother wanted to hear. The call came several days after Tamara Caspary gave birth to fraternal twins, a boy and a girl. She and husband David Katz were in the period of wonder and panic, both recovering and figuring out how to care for them. “A nurse called to ask how my son was doing,” says Caspary, a developmental Read more

Focus on mitochondria in schizophrenia research

Despite advances in genomics in recent years, schizophrenia remains one of the most complex challenges of both genetics and neuroscience. The chromosomal abnormality 22q11 deletion syndrome, also known as DiGeorge syndrome, offers a way in, since it is one of the strongest genetic risk factors for schizophrenia. Out of dozens of genes within the 22q11 deletion, several encode proteins found in mitochondria. A team of Emory scientists, led by cell biologist Victor Faundez, recently analyzed Read more

James Wagner

University-industry partnerships: a matter for cautious aggressiveness

Emory President James Wagner was keynote speaker last week at the 2011 Academic & Industry Intersection Conference sponsored by Georgia Bio and the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute (ACTSI). The conference focused on ethical issues in translating academic research into commercial drugs and medical devices.

Wagner pointed out the great power these relationships hold for the service of humanity, provided they are properly structured and managed. He recommended “cautious aggressiveness” by both universities and industry.

We should incorporate ethical considerations into our partnerships so that the practice of ethics is not “restrictive and paralyzing, but instead becomes part of the design criteria motivating our success, not restricting it.

Wagner is co-chair of President Obama’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. The commission lists five principles with broad application for biomedical translational research: public beneficence; responsible stewardship; intellectual freedom and responsibility; democratic deliberation; and justice and fairness.

He emphasized that researchers should guard against personal conflicts of interest and ensure against any compromise of research objectivity. But he cautioned against the temptation to value the process of ethics more highly than the ethical principles themselves, and the temptation to substitute compliance for true ethical practice.

Is it possible that we and our partners have come to place too much faith in documented protocols, and that excessive regulatory burden may give investigators a false sense of absolution of their own responsibility to exercise judgment and ethical practice? he asks.

“How does that square with the moral imperative to bring new knowledge that can benefit individuals and society to practice as soon as possible? Wouldn’t it be unethical to withhold the application of such knowledge if it is known to be able to do good?”

Ethical practice should not be an afterthought, Wagner emphasized, but instead a deeply understood and critical part of design and protocol and procedure — where the exercise of expert judgment goes beyond regulatory compliance.

“A challenge to all of our universities is to advance an ethics education that will bring heightened abilities to our investigators and their partners with the goal…of establishing even more trusting partnerships that can bring technology more safely and swiftly…from the minds of creative investigators, to the laboratory bench, to the manufacturing assembly line, to the vendor’s shelves, and to the bedside.”

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Federal research funding sparks economic growth

A recent report from The Science Coalition gives numerous examples of how federally funded research at universities has led to innovation, new companies, and the creation of jobs. The Sparking Economic Growth report lists the university research origins of 100 companies, including Google, Genentech, Cisco Systems and iRobot. Four Emory startup companies were highlighted among the success stories: GeoVax, Inc., Pharmasset, Inc., Syntermed, Inc., and Triangle Pharmaceuticals, which was later acquired by Gilead Sciences in California.

Emory President James Wagner wrote a followup editorial in the Atlanta Business Chronicle about the importance of scientific research in Georgia’s universities to the health of our economy.

“Atlanta can be proud that Emory University is a shining example in this report, with four highlighted successful companies that were launched because federally funded research resulted in innovative and life-saving discoveries. These four success stories only scratch the surface as examples of the more than 150 companies and the resulting 5,500 jobs created in Georgia from discoveries at its research universities.

“Since the 1990s, Emory has turned external research funding, the majority from the federal government, into more than $775 million in licensing revenues from drugs, diagnostics, devices and consumer products. This is money infused into the state’s economy that helps create jobs and educational opportunities, saves lives, and leads to more research discoveries for the benefit of all. Emory has launched 47 start-up companies and licensed 27 drugs, medical devices and diagnostics already in the marketplace and 12 more currently in human trials.”

GeoVax, Inc., is developing and testing a promising AIDS vaccine based on research at the Emory Vaccine Center and Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Gilead Sciences (from Triangle Pharmaceuticals) and Pharmasset, Inc. are creating AIDS drugs that are taken by over 90 percent of HIV-infected patients in the United States and many more around the world. Syntermed, Inc. distributes imaging software developed at Emory that helps in the diagnosis of more than four million heart disease patients every year.

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The Bayh-Dole Act: 30 Years of Innovation

At Emory’s recent Fourth Celebration of Technology and Innovation, faculty researchers and entrepreneurs were recognized for outstanding accomplishments in developing promising technologies that are moving from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Keynote speaker for the annual event was Joseph Allen, a key staff member in helping Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN) secure passage of the Bayh-Dole Act 30 years ago, opening up collaborations between research universities and U.S. industry.

Todd Sherer, executive director of Emory’s Technology Transfer Office, described Emory’s robust product pipeline, which includes products at all stages of development and regulatory approval. The pipeline helps ensure multiple missions of driving academic discoveries, advancing commercially protected technologies, and providing substantial public benefit.

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From the Predictive Health Symposium

Predictive Health logoEmory and Georgia Tech kicked off their fifth annual predictive health symposium, “Human Health: Molecules to Mankind,” Dec. 14-15. Researchers, physicians, health care workers, and interested community members were treated to some intriguing and provocative findings and commentary.

Emory President James Wagner and Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson introduced the symposium, along with Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD, CEO of Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center. Sanfilippo emphasized that predictive-personalized health is one of the most innovative and promising solutions to our current health care crisis. Medicine today stands at the brink of an achievable goal to tackle the most serious issues facing the health of humans – the ability to predict, reduce, and in many cases eliminate the specific illnesses we each face.

To achieve this goal, he said, we must understand why each of us has a different risk and response to diseases and their treatment, based on our unique differences in biology, behavior and environment. And then we have to use that knowledge to determine the right treatment at the right time for each individual.

Keynote speaker Penny Pilgram George, president of the George Family Foundation and co-founder of the the Bravewell Collaborative, said, “We currently have a disease management system based on episodic care, which means we treat symptoms instead of problems…True healing can only begin when we correctly diagnose the problem and treat the root cause.”

We know we could prevent half of chronic illness, said George by simply teaching people to eat nutritionally, adopt health habits such as nonsmoking, build positive relationships, live and work in nontoxic environments, practice stress reduction, stay fit through some form of exercise, and be purposely engaged in life. If we only treat disease after it occurs and do not promote health, we will have missed the whole point. We need to create a culture of health and well being.

And this from W. Andrew Faucett, director of the genomics and public health program at Emory, who cautioned that although many personalized genetic tests are now available through numerous sources, individuals and clinicians have to weigh the benefits, risks, and usefulness of this evolving technology. People may not even want to know some things revealed by genetic testing, and not everything revealed may be clinically useful or related to disease risk. For example, matters such as one’s true ancestry or revelations concerning one’s paternity may unexpectedly come to light. Furthermore, the accuracy of personalized genetic testing should be carefully considered. Also, a negative result is never truly negative, because there are so many factors involved and some of them can change.

Faucett also spoke about the differences between relative risk and absolute risk. “Anytime you’re talking about genetic risk for disease, you have to present risk in multiple ways,” Faucett said.

Kenneth Thorpe, chair of health policy and management at Emory, talked about the elements of health reform that may be getting lost in the reform process– redesigning the delivery system to prevent and avert the development of disease. Thorpe focused on Medicare because he says, it’s “the most acute offender of the system.” That is, it encompasses some of the most difficult problems that health care reform faces. The typical Medicare patient, he said, is an overweight hypertensive diabetic with back problems, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, and pulmonary disease. And that typical patient sees two different primary physicians, a multitude of specialists, and fills 30 different medications. Yet, Medicare does nothing to coordinate the patient’s care. As a result, preventable admissions and readmissions rates are “off the charts,” he says. But, data show that coordination could cut those rates in half.

Because today’s patients have chronic health care conditions that require medical management, said Thorpe, the hope is to develop a preventive and personalized health plan that identifies problems before they manifest and employs care coordinators to guide patients while they’re at home.

And Paul Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics, says health care has changed as more and more aspects of ordinary life or behaviors are being redefined as medical. For example, being drunk and disorderly has become alcoholism. Now, virtually all of life is being redefined in biological terms, he says. And that has led to an increase in health care costs. We have an enormous amount of new things that we are calling illness, and we expect this health care system to treat them, he says. “We are creating a new category of disease called presymptomatic.”

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Leverage universities for growth of metro Atlanta

Emory University President James W. Wagner, PhD

Emory University President James W. Wagner, PhD

In an Aug. 12 opinion piece published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Emory University President James W. Wagner, PhD, says that if Atlanta is to move forward, it must recognize the important role that its colleges and universities play and put them front and center in public and private economic development plans.

Wagner notes that colleges and universities like Emory create the human capital needed to advance the economic, social and cultural lifeblood of a community.

“Work in the area of sustainable development creates an opportunity for the production of new ideas that can be applied as far away as a remote village in Africa or as close as the crowded corridors of metro Atlanta,” says Wagner.

“Whether the goal is creating world-class facilities for the research and treatment of cancer in Atlanta or a healthier economic climate through sustainable development on another continent, America’s most successful communities have come to rely heavily on their universities and colleges to sustain economic and social progress.”

Visit AJC.com to read Wagner’s opinion piece on the impact that Emory and other colleges and universities have on the communities they serve and how they can help move the region and state forward.

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