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

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Study: Regular aerobic exercise and prevention of drug abuse relapse

Exercise provides health benefits

Researchers at Emory University and the University of Georgia have received funding from the National Institutes of Health to study the neurobiological mechanisms for how regular aerobic exercise may prevent drug abuse relapse. The grant is for $1.9 million over the next five years.

David Weinshenker, PhD, associate professor of human genetics, Emory School of Medicine, is a co-principal investigator on the project.

David Weinshenker, PhD

“This research will provide new insight into how regular exercise may attenuate drug abuse in humans,” Weinshenker says “More importantly, it may reveal a neural mechanism through which exercise may prevent the relapse into drug-seeking behavior.”

During the study, Weinshenker and UGA co-investigator Philip Holmes, professor of psychology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, will measure exercise-induced increases of the galanin gene activity in the rat brain.

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Conference inspires medical volunteerism

Allen Dollar, MD, assistant professor of medicine (Division of Cardiology), Emory School of Medicine, and  Grady Chief of Cardiology, wanted to help those in developing countries long before he went to medical school. He’s donated his time and expertise in places like Cambodia, Vietnam, El Salvador and Sri Lanka, using his vacations to teach and heal. For the last decade, through Children’s Cross Connections, he’s held clinics and taught medical students in Ethiopia.

International Conference on Medical Volunteerism met at Emory in April

Dollar and nearly 200 others shared their experiences at a conference at Emory in April. The inaugural International Conference on Medical Volunteerism was hosted by the Emory School of Medicine and co-hosted by Morehouse School of Medicine, Mercer University School of Medicine, Medical College of Georgia, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Medical University of South Carolina.

The conference aimed at inspiring and enabling volunteers, including how to establish a community clinic, how to advocate for disabled and homeless, cultural sensitivity and media relations.

Organizations from around the world were represented, among them Mercy Ships, Flying Doctors of America, Operation Safety Net, the Mayo and Cleveland clinics, Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, Nurses for the Nations, Global HEED and Jewish Healthcare International.

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Composting food waste at Emory hospitals

Wasted food is composted at Emory hospitals

Food service workers in Emory’s hospitals have always been conscientious about reducing waste, trying to walk the fine line between preparing too much food and too little.

But when new pilot programs in composting food waste began recently at Wesley Woods Geriatric Hosptial and then Emory University Hospital, staff were surprised to see how much waste piled up—and how much could be diverted from landfills or garbage disposals and converted into compost, some of which will return to Emory to enrich campus flower beds.

Food composting efforts such as these are some of the fruits of a sustainability task force established in health sciences by Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD.

Lynne Ometer

Director of Emory’s food and nutrition services Lynne Ometer, and her team, began connecting Emory’s hospitals with a waste-to-compost program already under way at Emory University.

As the smallest and most compact of the hospitals, Wesley Woods Geritric Hospital went first, focusing on “preconsumer” waste – scraps generated in food preparation or unusable food items left after serving, and on some “postconsumer” waste – food that has already been served to a patient.

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NIAID Director Fauci: link seasonal and pandemic flu preparedness

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, delivered the keynote address Sunday, April 18, as part of a three-day conference on H1N1 Virus: The First Pandemic of the 21st Century, sponsored by the Emory-UGA Influenza Pathogenesis and Immunology Research Center.

One of the most important lessons from this past year’s pandemic, Fauci said, is the need to “connect the dots” between seasonal and pandemic influenza and not view them as two separate phenomena.

Fauci enthusiastically supports the CDC’s call for universal flu vaccination.

“Rather than trying to figure out one priority group over another,” Fauci said, “if we can get into a rhythm of getting most people vaccinated each year, we will have most of the population with some degree of immunity. We will get into a situation where we don’t need to go from a seasonal approach to a crisis approach.

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Medical volunteerism conference

A free weekend conference at Emory, beginning April 16 at 7 p.m., brings together health professionals and the general public to learn more about medical volunteerism. The event features keynote addresses, exhibits and brainstorming panel discussions on a variety of topics. Participants will be able to network with the general public, students, nurses and physicians representing all areas of health care.

The inaugural “International Conference on Medical Volunteerism” (ICMV) is hosted by the Emory School of Medicine and co-hosted by Morehouse School of Medicine, Mercer University School of Medicine, Medical College of Georgia, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Medical University of South Carolina.

Conference organizers say they are offering a diverse array of events and presenters in hopes of inspiring more people to volunteer and create synergies among volunteer organizations and volunteers themselves.

“We want attendees to walk away with new, innovative ways and connections to help improve the overall health of the human race, particularly the underserved,” says Neil Shulman, MD, associate professor at Emory School of Medicine and chairman of the Conference Organizing Committee.

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Combined MR/PET imaging

On Thursday, April 8, Emory’s Center for Systems Imaging, directed by Department of Radiology Chair Carolyn Meltzer, MD, and the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute celebrated the launch of the CSI’s prototype MR/PET imaging scanner.

View of MR/PET

View of MR/PET scanner from front, with Ciprian Catana of MGH and Larry Byars of Siemens

The scanner is one of four world-wide and one of two in the United States, and permits simultaneous MR (magnetic resonance) and PET (positron emission tomography) imaging in human subjects. This provides the advantage of being able to combine the anatomical information from MR with the biochemical/metabolic information from PET. Potential applications include functional brain mapping and the study of neurodegenerative diseases, drug addiction and brain cancer.

Thursday’s event brought together leaders of the three other MR/PET programs in Boston, Jülich and Tübingen, the Siemens engineers who designed the device, and the Atlanta research community to explore the possibilities of the technology.

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Two birds with one stone in treatment of Alzheimer’s

Allan Levey, MD, PhD

The drugs now available to treat Alzheimer’s address the symptoms of the disease — memory problems — rather than the underlying mechanism of neurodegeneration.

But what if something could do both? Here’s a tantalizing prospect, hinted at by a long-running thread of brain research: compounds that boost the function of certain acetylcholine circuits in the brain might also modify production of toxic beta-amyloid protein.

Emory neurologists Allan Levey and Jim Lah and members of their laboratories have been working on this idea, together with Jeffrey Conn’s group at Vanderbilt, for several years.

James Lah, MD, PhD

The possibility grows out of the properties of certain receptors for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, called “muscarinic acetylcholine receptors.” Acetylcholine is a major transmitter of signals in the brain, and there are several varieties of receptors, or receiver dishes for the signals, on brain cells.

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WHO Director Chan highlights global health changes, challenges

Dr. Margaret Chan

On World TB Day, March 16, Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, addressed public health professionals at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta at the eighth annual Jeffrey P. Koplan Global Leadership in Public Health Lecture. In introducing Chan, Koplan noted their long-term friendship, which grew from their work together in China.

While in Atlanta, Chan also visited Emory to meet with President James Wagner and Emory Global Health Institute Director Koplan. She heard presentations about global health field projects by students in public health, medicine, and theology.

Chan recalled the “lost decade for development,” the 1980s, a dismal time for public health. The 1979 energy crisis followed by a recession made for tighter public health resources and few health care improvements worldwide, she explained. Some developing countries have still not recovered.

In contrast, public health has faired better in the new millennium, when the world has benefited from financial commitments backed by substantial resources, often from innovative sources, says Chan.
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Hong Kong is Bright Spot of Tobacco Control in China

Jeffrey Koplan, MD, MPH

A remarkably successful 20-year program of tobacco control in Hong Kong can serve as a best-practices example for China and other nations, says Jeffrey Koplan in an article published online today in The Lancet. Koplan is vice president for global health at Emory and director of the Emory Global Health Institute.

Hong Kong’s successful tobacco control program began with a 1982 health ordinance launching a multi-step approach including legislative amendments (regulation of indoor smoking, pack warnings, ban on tobacco advertising), a steeply increased tobacco tax, school-based education, mass-media campaigns, community events, and leadership from the medical community.

Smoking prevalence in Hong Kong fell from 23.3 percent in 1982 to 11.8 percent in 2008 through the efforts of the Tobacco Control office of the Department of Health and NGOs such as the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health.

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Studying the doctor and nursing shortage

An increase in the number of the nation’s elderly and the aging population of doctors is causing a doctor shortage in the United States, with estimates that the demand for doctors will outstrip supply by 2020, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The Association of Colleges of Nursing notes a similar dilemma for the nation’s registered nurses. Read Knowledge@Emory for the full article. 

Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD

Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory, CEO of Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center and chairman of Emory Healthcare, says, “There is an ever-changing cycle of shortages. Advances in technology and treatment can reduce or increase demand for specialists needed in one area or another much more quickly than it takes to train or absorb them.”

For instance, the demand for cardiac surgeons has slowed dramatically as a result of better medications and stents. Changes in insurance and Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement can also impact specialties, he says.

“Since medical school graduates now carry so much debt, the specialty they choose is often influenced by potential income, which is most evident in the low numbers going into primary care.”

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