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

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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Looking at quality of life in visually impaired children

Vision loss can affect one’s daily function and quality of life (QOL), but few research studies have actually looked at the impact of visual impairments on children’s quality of life.

An Emory project aims to develop an instrument that will measure the effect of vision loss on the quality of life of children age 8 to 18.

Pictured from left to right: J. Devn Cornish, MD, professor and vice chair, Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine; Andy Lovas, grand recorder, Knights Templar Eye Foundation; Sheila Angeles-Han, MD, MSc, assistant professor, Pediatric Rheumatology and Immunology, Emory University School of Medicine; Larry Vogler, MD, division chief, Pediatric Rheumatology and Immunology, Emory University School of Medicine; and Tim Taylor, director of marketing, Knights Templar Eye Foundation

The project is being led by Emory pediatric rheumatologist Sheila Angeles-Han, MD, MSc. Han recently received a $40,000 grant from the Knights Templar Eye Foundation to augment her work in this area. She is collaborating with pediatric ophthalmologists at the Emory Eye Center.

Currently, there are no validated questionnaires or tools to determine how children in these age groups cope with their visual impairments and the impact of vision loss on their daily lives. This knowledge can enhance physicians’ understanding of diseases that affect vision.

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Biomarker may predict serious complications after lung transplantation

Researchers at Emory studying lung transplantation have identified a marker of inflammation that may help predict primary graft dysfunction (PGD), an often fatal complication following a lung transplant.

Primary graft dysfunction after a lung transplant

The results are published in the American Journal of Transplantation. First author Andres Pelaez, a pulmonary medicine specialist at Emory’s McKelvey Lung Transplant Center, and postdoc Patrick Mitchell led the research team.

“Despite major advances in surgical techniques and clinical management, serious lung transplant complications are common and often untreatable,” Pelaez says. “PGD is a severe lung injury appearing just a few days after transplantation. Unfortunately, predicting which lung transplant recipients go on to develop PGD has been so far unsuccessful. Therefore, our research has been directed towards identifying predictive markers in the donor lungs prior to transplantation.”

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How intestinal bacteria influence appetite, metabolism

Pathologist Andrew Gewirtz and his colleagues have been getting some welldeserved attention for their research on intestinal bacteria and obesity.

Briefly, they found that increased appetite and insulin resistance can be transferred from one mouse to another via intestinal bacteria. The results were published online by Science magazine.

Previous research indicated intestinal bacteria could modify absorption of calories, but Gewirtz and his colleagues showed that they influence appetite and metabolism (in mice)

“It has been assumed that the obesity epidemic in the developed world is driven by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the abundance of low-cost high-calorie foods,” Gewirtz says. “However, our results suggest that excess caloric consumption is not only a result of undisciplined eating but that intestinal bacteria contribute to changes in appetite and metabolism.”

A related report in Nature illustrates how “next generation” gene sequencing is driving large advances in our understanding of all the things the bacteria in our intestines do to us.

Gewirtz’s laboratory’s discovery grew out of their study of mice with an altered immune system. The mice were engineered to lack a gene, Toll-like receptor 5 (TLR5), which helps cells sense the presence of bacteria.

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Looking at simple foods to protect against breast cancer

Researchers at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University have found that the hormone adiponectin may reduce the ability of cancer cells to migrate from the breast and invade other tissues. Adiponectin appears to protect against the effects of obesity on metabolism, the heart and blood vessels, the researchers say.

Fat cells make up most of the breast tissue, and some of the hormones produced by fat cells can have tumor-stimulating effects. Previous studies have shown that women with high body mass index (highest fifth) have double the death rate from breast cancer compared to those in the lowest fifth.

Dipali Sharma, PhD

The key to translating this research for patient care lies in finding a way to increase a person’s adiponectin, says Dipali Sharma, PhD, assistant professor of hematology and medical oncology at Winship.

Currently, Winship scientists are testing a molecule found in certain foods that appears to mimic the effects of adiponectin. The molecule is found in grapes, cabbage and green tea.

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Improving measurement of pesticides in breast milk

Little is known about the exposure of infants to pesticides, despite their vulnerability and evidence of widespread dietary exposure among older children and adults. A study led by Emory Rollins School of Public Health researchers P. Barry Ryan, PhD, and Anne Riederer, ScD, seeks to improve methods for measuring pesticides in breast milk and infant formula.

“We really don’t know about how babies are exposed to pesticides in their everyday life,” says Riederer, assistant research professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “There are very few published studies on this topic, and we’d like to be one of the groups that actually publishes an analytical method that can be used by researchers in any country to be able to detect these different types of pesticides in breast milk.”

Although the breast milk method will be pilot tested on samples collected from a birth cohort in Thailand, it will have broad applications for the U.S. population.  Insight Pest Control Wilmington says that because these pesticides are widely distributed in the food supply, all U.S. infants are potentially exposed.

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Probing a puzzling form of muscular dystrophy

Two researchers at Emory, Anita Corbett and Grace Pavlath, recently have combined their expertise to probe how a puzzling form of muscular dystrophy develops.

Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy (OPMD) is an inherited type of muscular dystrophy that primarily affects muscles of the face and throat. In the video below, Anita Corbett explains how this affects patients as they get older.


The mutations that cause the disease make a protein called PABPN1 longer and stickier than normal, and the mutated protein appears to form clumps in muscle cells.

The puzzle lies in that PABPN1 (poly A binding protein nuclear 1) can be found everywhere in the body, but it’s not clear why the mutated protein specifically affects muscle cells — or why the muscles in the face and throat are especially vulnerable.

In December 2009, Corbett, Pavlath and postdoctoral fellow Luciano Apponi published a paper where they suggest that the clumps of mutated protein, which some researchers have proposed to be toxic, might not be the whole story. A lack of functioning PABPN1 might be just as strong a factor in the disease, they’ve discovered.

The results will appear in a future issue of the journal Human Molecular Genetics.

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Chronic diseases drive up Medicare costs, study shows

A new study by Emory University public health researchers finds that outpatient treatment for chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease are to blame for the recent rise in Medicare spending. Kenneth Thorpe, PhD, chair, Health Policy and Management, Rollins School of Public Health, presented study findings today at a briefing of the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

The report, “Chronic Conditions Account for Rise in Medicare Spending from 1987 to 2006,” was published Feb. 18 by the journal Health Affairs.

Kenneth E. Thorpe, PhD

Thorpe and colleagues analyzed data about disease prevalence and about level of and change in spending on the 10 most expensive conditions in the Medicare population from 1987, 1997 and 2006.

Among key study findings:

  • Heart disease ranked first in terms of share of growth from 1987 to 1997.  However, from 1997 to 2006, heart disease fell to 10th, while other medical conditions – diabetes the most prevalent – accounted for a significant portion of the rise.
  • Increased spending on diabetes and some other conditions results from rising incidence of these diseases, not increased screening and diagnoses.

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Eye diseases and immune system link studied

Drawing shows areas of the eye

Emory Eye Center researchers are looking at the role of the immune system in the inflammation of the eye and the progression of eye diseases.

Santa Ono, PhD, professor of ophthalmology, Emory School of Medicine and researcher at the Emory Eye Center, and Emory senior vice provost for undergraduate education and academic affairs, and his team at the R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Ocular Immunology Lab, focus on the immune component of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), ocular cancer (melanoma and retinoblastoma) and ocular inflammation.

Santa J. Ono, PhD

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of sight impairment and blindness in older people. The macula, in the center of the retina, is the portion of the eye that allows for the perception of fine detail. AMD gradually destroys a person’s central vision, ultimately preventing reading, driving, and seeing objects clearly

In a recent article of Emory Magazine, Ono, an ocular immunologist, says, “If a person with AMD looks at graph paper, some of the lines will be wavy instead of straight. Certain parts of the image are no longer being transferred to the brain.”

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Nanotechnology may help surgeons detect cancer

What a cancer patient wants to know after surgery can be expressed succinctly: “Did you get everything?” Having a confident answer to that question can be difficult, because when they originate or metastasize, tumors are microscopic.

Considerable advances have been made in “targeted therapy” for cancer, but the wealth of information available on the molecular characteristics of cancer cells hasn’t given doctors good tools for detecting cancer during surgery – yet.

Even the much-heralded advent of robotic surgery has not led to clear benefits for prostate cancer patients in the area of long-term cancer control, a recent New York Times article reports.

At Emory and Georgia Tech’s joint department for biomedical engineering, Shuming Nie and his colleagues are developing tools that could help surgeons define tumor margins in human patients.

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