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

Research

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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New opportunities in modulating microRNA

Emory geneticist Peng Jin and his colleagues have a review in the June 25, 2010 issue of Chemistry and Biology exploring whether microRNAs offer new possibilities for pharmacology.

MicroRNAs directly regulate other genes

The microRNA pathway represents both a way for scientists to “knock down” the activity of just one gene in the laboratory, and a major way for cells to regulate their genes during development.

MicroRNAs add a big wallop of complexity on top of the standard model of molecular biology, where the information in DNA is made into RNA, and RNAs make proteins. MicroRNAs don’t get turned into protein, but directly regulate other genes.

Andrew Fire and Craig Mello received the 2006 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery that short pieces of RNA, when introduced into cells, can silence genes. This “RNA interference” tactic hijacks the natural machinery inside the cell that microRNAs use.

In 2008, Jin and coworkers published in Nature Biotechnology their discovery that certain antibiotics called fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin is one) can make the RNA interference process work more efficiently — in general. In the review, Jin notes that scientists are starting to look for drugs that act more selectively, disrupting or enhancing a particular microRNA rather than many at once:

Since miRNAs play major roles in nearly every cellular process, the identification and characterization of small-molecule modulators of the RNAi/miRNA pathway will yield fresh insights into fundamental mechanisms behind human disease… Moreover, these RNAi modulators, particularly RNAi enhancers, could potentially facilitate the development of RNA interference as a tool for biomedical research and therapeutic interventions.

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2009 H1N1 flu strain could give clues to universal flu vaccine?

Last year, when the H1N1 flu epidemic was a major public health concern, a relatively low proportion of individuals getting sick were elderly, compared to previous flu epidemics. To explain this, scientists hypothesized that flu strains that circulated decades ago were similar enough to the novel swine-origin H1N1 strain to provide some immune protection.

A universal flu vaccine would eliminate the guesswork associated with the yearly flu shot

Now, researchers at Emory’s Influenza Pathogenesis & Immunology Research Center have directly tested that hypothesis in mice, and it holds up. Exposure of mice to flu strains that circulated in 1947 or 1934 induced “robust cross-protective immune responses” and can protect them against a lethal challenge with 2009 H1N1 virus, they report in Journal of Immunology.

Ioanna Skountzou and Dimitrios Koutsananos are co-first authors of the paper.

The Emory team, led by Joshy Jacob, also reports that antibodies produced in response to the 2009 H1N1 flu strain exhibit broad cross-reactivity — they react with other H1N1 strains as well as against H3N2 flu strains. They write:

The fact that the 2009 H1N1 virus can induce such cross-reactive Abs raises the intriguing possibility that viruses such as A/California/04/2009 can be used for vaccines to induce broadly cross-reactive humoral immune responses against influenza viruses. Identifying the mechanism behind this broad reactivity may enable us to design broadly cross-reactive universal influenza vaccines.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Tony Fauci, when he was at Emory for the H1N1 flu conference in April, discussed the idea of a universal flu vaccine:

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GRA partnership promotes research collaboration, grows economy

“Other states wish they had what Georgia has: Research universities that work together, and a unified commitment from industry, government and academia to grow a technology-based economy,” states Michael Cassidy, president and CEO of the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) in the GRA’s recent annual report.”

As one of six GRA universities, Emory has benefited from this unique partnership in numerous ways: through its 11 Eminent Scholars, multidisciplinary university and industry collaborations, and support for research in vaccines, nanomedicine, transplantation, neurosciences, pediatrics, biomedical engineering, clinical research, and drug discovery.

Emory is featured throughout the report, including

  • The Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory and its four eminent scholars, Xiaoping Hu, PhD, Eberhard Voit, PhD, Barbara Boyan, PhD and Don Giddens, PhD.
  • Emory transplant medicine expert and GRA Eminent Scholar Allan Kirk, MD, PhD, who collaborates with Andrew Mellor, PhD at the Medical College of Georgia on research to find enzymes that could keep the body from rejecting newly transplanted organs.
  • The Emory-University of Georgia Influenza Center of Excellence and its leading collaborators, GRA Eminent Scholar and Emory Vaccine Center Director Rafi Ahmed, PhD, and Emory microbiologist Richard Compans, PhD, along with UGA GRA Eminent Scholar Ralph Tripp.
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How to build a distinguished career studying vascular biology

Kathy Griendling, PhD (in green), surrounded by members of her lab

On June 15, 2010, vascular biologist Kathy Griendling delivered the 2010 Dean’s Distinguished Faculty lecture at Emory University School of Medicine.

Some of Griendling’s publications have been cited thousands of times by fellow scientists around the world, making her the lead member of a small group of researchers at Emory called the “Millipub Club.”

With her five children and one grandson watching in the back row, Griendling explained how she and her colleagues, over the course of more than two decades at Emory, have gradually revealed the functions of a family of enzymes called NADPH oxidases in vascular smooth muscle cells. Read more

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Resurgence of interest in cancer cell metabolism

A recent article in Nature describes the resurgence of interest in cancer cell metabolism. This means exploiting the unique metabolic dependencies of cancer cells, such as their increased demand for glucose.

Cancer cells' preference for glucose is named after 1931 Nobelist Otto Warburg

Otto Warburg, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1931, noticed that cancer cells have a “sweet tooth” decades ago, but only recently have researchers learned enough about cancer cells’ regulatory circuitry to possibly use this to their advantage.

At Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, several scientists have been investigating aspects of this phenomenon. Jing Chen and his team have identified a switch, the enzyme pyruvate kinase, which many types of cancer use to control glucose metabolism, and that might be a good drug target.

Jing Chen, PhD, and Taro Hitosugi, PhD

Shi-Yong Sun, Wei Zhou and their colleagues have found that cancer cells are sneaky: blockade the front door (for glucose metabolism, this means hitting them with the chemical 2-deoxyglucose) and they escape out the back by turning on certain survival pathways. This means combination tactics or indirectly targeting glucose metabolism through the molecule mTOR might be more effective, the Nature article says.

A quote from the article:

Clearly, metabolic pathways are highly interconnected with pathways that govern the hallmarks of cancer, such as unrestrained proliferation and resistance to cell death. The many metabolic enzymes, intermediates and products involved could be fertile ground for improving cancer diagnostics and therapeutics.

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Microsoft Life Sciences Award recognizes ACTSI innovation

Microsoft Corp. recently selected the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute (ACTSI) for a 2010 Life Sciences Innovation Award. The award recognized the ACTSI’s Biomedical Informatics Program for implementing the Thermo Scientific Nautilus Laboratory Information System (LIMS) across ACTSI laboratories.

The ACTSI is a partnership of Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine and Georgia Institute of Technology, along with other community partners and collaborators. It is one of 46 medical research institutes working to enhance translational research in the United States and is supported by the Clinical and Translational Science Award program, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Research Resources.
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Gulf residents and workers face heat exhaustion, mental stress

Residents and relief workers along the oil-ravaged Gulf of Mexico could experience a host of short- and long-term health problems, including respiratory ailments, neurological symptoms, heat exhaustion and mental stress.

Emory University environmental health expert Linda McCauley, RN, PhD, is one of more than a dozen national scientists participating in a two-day Institute of Medicine (IOM) workshop in New Orleans exploring some of the potential health risks that people in the Gulf could face.

Short term, McCauley says, there could be reports of respiratory problems from people who’ve inhaled gas fumes as well as neurological issues such as dizziness, headaches, nausea and vomiting. In addition, exposure to oil may cause eye and skin irritation.

Heat stress is also a major concern for workers in the Gulf, says McCauley, dean of Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.

“On some of the days it’s been so hot they’ve only allowed workers to work 12 minutes out of the hour,” she says. “A lot of new workers are being brought in [to clean up the oil]. These are workers who don’t do this for a living and may never have been exposed to this type of heat before and that’s a serious issue.”

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Regulatory B cells: old dogs reveal their new tricks

B cells are workhorses of the immune system. Their main function is to produce antibodies against bacteria or viruses when they encounter something that they recognize. But recently researchers have been getting hints that certain kinds of B cells can also have a calming effect on the immune system. This property could come in handy with hard-to-treat conditions such as graft-vs-host disease, multiple sclerosis, or Crohn’s disease.

Hematologist Jacques Galipeau has found that B cells treated with an artificial hybrid molecule called GIFT15 turn into “peacemakers”. These specially treated B cells can tamp down the immune system in an experimental animal model of multiple sclerosis, suggesting that they could accomplish a similar task with the human disease.

Galipeau’s paper in Nature Medicine from August 2009 says succinctly: “We propose that autologous GIFT15 B regulatory cells may serve as a new treatment for autoimmune ailments.” Galipeau, a recent arrival to Emory from McGill University in Montreal, explains this tactic and other aspects of personalized cell therapy in the video above. Read more

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Med into grad program bridges gap between basic and clinical research

Former National Institutes of Health director Elias Zerhouni created a vivid label for a persistent problem. He noted there was a widening gap between basic and clinical research. The “valley of death” describes the gap between basic research, where the majority of NIH funding is directed and many insights into fundamental biology are gained, and patients who need these discoveries translated to the bedside and into the community in order to benefit human health. Thus, a chasm has opened up between biomedical researchers and the patients who would benefit from their discoveries.

Translational research seeks to move ideas from the laboratory into clinical practice

Translational research seeks to move ideas from the laboratory into clinical practice in order to improve human health.

A new certificate program in translational research is designed to empower PhD graduate students to bridge that gap. Participants (PhD graduate students) from Emory, Georgia Tech and Morehouse School of Medicine can take courses in epidemiology, biostatistics, bioethics, designing clinical trials and grant writing, and will have rotations with clinicians and clinical interaction network sites where clinical research studies are carried out to get a better sense of the impact and potential benefit of the research they are conducting.

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