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

Untangling the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease

Lary Walker, PhD

Consider this: Alzheimer’s is a uniquely human disorder. But why? Why don’t nonhuman primates, such as monkeys, get Alzheimer’s disease. Monkeys form the senile plaques that are identical to the plaques found in humans. So do other animals.

“Yet, despite the fact that nonhuman primates make this protein that we know is very important in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease, they don’t develop the full disease,” says Lary Walker, PhD. Walker is an associate professor at Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

“They don’t develop the tangles we associate with Alzheimer’s disease, the neuronal loss, the shrinkage of the brain, and they don’t get demented in the sense that humans do,” says Walker.

When our bodies make a protein, the protein tends to fold into a functional form. But when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, some proteins misfold, becoming sticky and then combining with one another. In their collective form, the proteins can then form plaques or tangles, the two types of lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

And for some unknown reason, people who have plaques usually go on to form tangles. But people who have tangles don’t always go on to form plaques. No one is sure why. But that’s what researcher Walker wants to find out.

To listen to Walker’s own words about Alzheimer’s disease, access Emory’s new Sound Science podcast.

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Action Cycling 200 Mile Ride Benefits AIDS Vaccine Research

Riders gather at the Hope Clinic of the Emory Vaccine Center for the final leg of their ride.

More than 130 bicyclists rode 200 miles in two days to raise $188,660 for AIDS vaccine research at the Emory Vaccine Center. The AIDS Vaccine 200 on May 22-23, sponsored by Action Cycling Atlanta, was the eighth annual ride. The series now has raised more than $680,000 for AIDS vaccine research.

This year’s riders traveled from Emory to Eatonton, Georgia, and back to Emory along with a volunteer crew.

Because of generous sponsorships, Action Cycling donates 100 percent of funds raised by participants to AIDS vaccine research. These unrestricted funds fill gaps that cannot be met by grant dollars alone.

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Study: ADHD linked to pesticide exposure

A study published in the May 17, 2010, issue of the journal Pediatrics found that one type of pesticide commonly used on fruits and vegetables may be contributing to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, in children.

The study measured the levels of pesticide byproducts in the urine of 1,139 children from across the United States. Children with the highest concentration of pesticides in their urine were more likely to have symptoms of ADHD.

Dana Boyd Barr, PhD, a research professor in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory, spent more than 20 years studying pesticide exposure at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Barr was not a member of the research team that published these findings on pesticides and ADHD, but data generated in her former CDC lab was analyzed for this particular study.

Barr says while the study doesn’t prove causality between pesticide exposures and ADHD, it does shed light on how even low level daily exposures to pesticides could potentially impact cognitive health.

“It seems very plausible that low-level daily exposures to pesticides can produce some subtle effects like ADHD or other neurological delays,” she says.

Barr notes that additional research is needed to confirm a connection to pesticides and ADHD, but says there are tips for limiting your exposure to commonly used pesticides.

“We’ve done studies here at Emory and also at CDC that have indicated that if you use organic food or if you wash your food properly prior to preparation, you can reduce the levels of these metabolites in your urine.  Eat as much organic produce as possible, or wash your fruits and vegetables very well and that likely could decrease the chances of your children developing ADHD,” says Barr.

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Delegation to Peking University advances PhD program

Peking University administrators with Georgia Tech, Emory delegation

A recent trip to Peking University (PKU) by administrators from Georgia Tech and Emory included a formal signing ceremony for the joint Georgia Tech/Emory/PKU PhD program in biomedical engineering. Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson and Tech Engineering Dean Don Giddens made the trip along with Larry McIntire, chair of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory and Cheng Zhu, BME associate chair of international programs.

The joint PhD program was first announced last February and began enrolling its first students last fall. Students apply to the program through either the Department of Biomedical Engineering at PKU or the Coulter Department at Georgia Tech and Emory. Primary classes and research take place on the student’s home campus, but students spend at least a year in classes and research on the secondary campus.

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Quirky little prairie voles hold answers

Larry Young, PhD

So says Larry Young, PhD, chief of the Division of Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychiatric Disorders at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University.

Young, who is world-renowned for his work on the role of neuropeptides in regulating social behavior, uses voles to investigate the neurobiological and genetic mechanisms underlying social behavior. Using the monogamous prairie vole (vs. the promiscuous meadow vole) as a model organism, Young and his research team identified the oxytocin and vasopressin receptors as key mediators of social bonding and attachment. In addition, they are examining the consequences of social bond disruption as a model of social loss-induced depression.

This work has important implications for developing novel treatment strategies for psychiatric disorders associated with social cognitive deficits, including autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.

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Micronutrients: food for thought

Conrad Cole, MD, MPH

Physicians and researchers are seeing a resurgence of micronutrient deficiencies in certain high-risk populations of children. But what exactly does that mean to those children—right now and in the future?

For children who don’t get enough micronutrients it means life-long problems, including decreased neurodevelopment and diminished cognitive abilities.

“Micronutrients are nutrients that are needed by the body in small quantities and are important for development, growth and sustaining life,” says Conrad Cole, MD, MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition in Emory School of Medicine. “That’s why they’re called micronutrients, and the ones we commonly think about are iron, vitamin D, calcium and zinc because they all have significant importance.”

To listen to Cole’s own words about micronutrients, access Emory’s new Sound Science podcast.

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Pig stem cells: hope for Type 1 diabetes treatment

University of Georgia researchers recently reported on their work to create pigs with induced pluripotent stem cells. This type of cell, first developed about five years ago, has the ability to turn into any other kind of cell in the body.

An Emory transplant team, working with the UGA group, hopes to use this technology to develop pig islet cells as an alternative to human islets to treat patients with Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes usually occurs early in life and affects more than one million Americans who are unable to manufacture their own insulin because their pancreatic islets do not function.

Emory islet transplant team

The Emory Transplant Center has conducted clinical trials since 2003 transplanting human pancreatic islet cells into patients with Type I diabetes. Some of these patients have been able to give up insulin injections, either temporarily or permanently. Other sources of islets are needed for transplant though because of the large number of potential patients and because each transplant typically requires islets from several pancreases.

To create pigs using pluripotent stem cells, the UGA team injected new genes into pig bone marrow cells to reprogram the cells into functioning like embryonic stem cells. The resulting pluripotent cells were inserted into blastocysts (developing embryos), and the embryos were implanted into surrogate mothers. The resulting pigs had cells from the stem cell lines as well as the embryo donor in multiple tissue types.

The pluripotent stem cell process could allow researchers to make genetic changes to dampen or potentially eliminate the rejection of the pig islets by the human immune system.

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Cholesterol levels improve with nut consumption

Improvements in blood cholesterol levels are linked with eating nuts, according to this week’s Archives of Internal Medicine.

Nuts are good for your heart

Authors writing in the journal say that dietary interventions to lower blood cholesterol concentrations and to modify blood lipoprotein levels are the cornerstone of prevention and treatment plans for coronary heart disease.

Nuts are rich in plant proteins, fats (especially unsaturated fatty acids), dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins and other compounds, such as antioxidants and phytoesterols. The contents of nuts are a focus because of the potential to reduce coronary heart disease risk and to lower blood lipid – fat and cholesterol – levels.

Emory University’s Cheryl Williams, RD, LD, clinical nutritionist, Emory Heart & Vascular Center, Emory HeartWise Cardiac Risk Reduction Program, says nuts are among the heart healthiest whole foods as they provide a variety of health promoting compounds such as dietary fiber, vitamins (vitamin E), minerals (selenium), antioxidants and phytoesterols.

While most of the calories provided from nuts come from fat, notes Williams, it is mostly unsaturated fats (mono and polyunsaturated), which have been shown to help lower elevated serum cholesterol, and to some extent triglyceride levels (via omega 3 fatty acids provided from walnuts).

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Biomedical engineering links Emory, Georgia Tech in medical discoveries

Larry McIntire, PhD

Despite its youth, the 20-year-old field of biomedical engineering is the fastest growing engineering academic program today. The joint Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory, with Larry McIntire as chair, has emerged on the forefront of biotechnology-related research and education.

“By integrating the fields of life sciences with engineering,” McIntire explains, “we can better understand the mechanisms of disease and develop new ways to diagnose and treat medical problems. We are working collaboratively in the fields of biomedical nanotechnology, predictive health, regenerative medicine, and health care robotics, among others.

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Non-invasive tests for organ transplant rejection

Even with better immune suppressing drugs being developed for organ transplants, patients still require regular monitoring to prevent graft rejection. Kidney transplant recipients sometimes can be at risk even when standard blood tests for rejection appear stable.

To improve accuracy and avoid the need for frequent biopsies, several teams of transplant specialists are developing new urine tests for diagnosing acute organ rejection. These tests are non-invasive, could be administered often, and could identify immune events in real time.

At the American Transplant Congress this week in San Diego, Jennifer Jackson, MD, a nephrology fellow on the Emory kidney transplant team, presented research on a new urine-based test for the protein osteoprotegerin (OPG) and the chemokines CSCL9 and CXCL10.

Researchers found levels for all three markers elevated in patients experiencing acute rejection, but also in some patients whose grafts were supposedly “stable.” This smoldering inflammation could be responsible for chronic graft deterioration that goes undetected.

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