Mitochondrial blindness -- Newman's Emory story

Neuro-ophthalmologist Nancy Newman’s 2017 Dean’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture and Award were unexpectedly timely. Her talk on Tuesday was a tour of her career and mitochondrial disorders affecting vision, culminating in a description of gene therapy clinical trials for the treatment of Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy. The sponsor of those studies, Gensight Biologics, recently presented preliminary data on a previous study of their gene therapy at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in April. Two larger trials Read more

IMSD program nurtures young scientists

The IMSD (Initiative to Maximize Student Development) program nurtures and mentors a diverse group of young scientists at Read more

Flu meeting at Emory next week

We are looking forward to the “Immunology and Evolution of Influenza” symposium next week (Thursday the 25th and Friday the Read more

Rollins School of Public Health

Parkinson’s drug discovery: visit the dopamine container store

In a recent PNAS paper, Gary Miller and colleagues at Rollins School of Public Health outline a potential therapeutic approach to Parkinson’s disease that I’m going to call the Container Store approach.

If you have a mess in your kitchen or basement workshop, you might need more or better containers to hold your tools. Analogously, problems in Parkinson’s disease can be traced back to a lack of effective containers for the brain communication chemical dopamine.

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Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Neuro Leave a comment

Exercise, changes in diet alter course for pre-diabetics

The D-CLIP Study staff in Chennai, India

A type 2 diabetes intervention program developed by researchers from Emory and the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF) in India is showing promising results in improving risk factors, such as lowering weight and decreasing blood pressure and glucose levels.

The ongoing study, called the Diabetes Community Life Improvement Program, (D-CLIP) was designed to test the benefits of a low-cost community program for people at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, most commonly associated with obesity. The curriculum integrates exercise, nutrition education and dietary changes. The study is being conducted in Chennai, India with hopes of expanding the program into other parts of South Asia.

Six-hundred participants with prediabetes were randomly assigned to either a standard of care control treatment or weekly D-CLIP classes for six months, where they learned about making healthy choices in real life situations such as restaurants and grocery stores. They also learned how to incorporate exercise into their daily routines with the goal of completing 150 minutes of physical activity a week.

Of the 200 participants who have completed the course to date, 83 percent have lost between five and 13 pounds. There also was improvement in blood glucose, serum cholesterol and blood pressure levels in participants.

“This initial research is quite encouraging because it shows we can turn the tide of type 2 diabetes onset by promoting simple lifestyle changes through well-structured community programming,” says Venkat Narayan, MD, Hubert Professor in Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and a professor in Emory School of Medicine. “Attendance at the lifestyle classes is 85 to 90 percent, with lifestyle changes strongly evident. More than anything, we have formed strong partnerships with the local community that will ultimately lead to the implementation of more successful programs like this.”

The study is conducted by the Global Diabetes Research Center, a collaboration between Emory University and MDRF in Chennai, India. The center received its initial support from the Emory Global Health Institute, with funding from BRiDGES (Bringing Research in Diabetes to Global Environments and Systems), an International Diabetes Federation program supported by an educational grant from Eli Lily. Currently, the 17th session of D-CLIP classes is in progress, with the study set to close in early 2013.

Participants in the D-CLIP study learned to incorporate exercise into their lives to stave off type 2 diabetes.

“We have always known that the right diet and exercise can improve health,” says V. Mohan, MD, president of the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation. “But there has been no scientific community-based program to quantify this until now. We hope this is just the beginning of efforts to reduce the incidence of the type 2 diabetes epidemic worldwide.”

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Dr. Kutner Receives Award for Excellence in Public Health

Michael Kutner

Michael Kutner, PhD, the recipient of the 2011 Charles R. Hatcher, Jr, MD Award

The Rollins School of Public Health is on a 35-year trajectory that dreams are only made of. What began as a small working group tasked with formulating a strategic plan for Emory’s school of public health, evolved into a Masters of Community Health program (MCH) and degree in 1975. Finally, in 1990, Emory approved the public health school, the university’s first new school in 71 years. Michael Kutner, PhD has been there every step of the way, and as a result is the recipient of the 2011 Charles R. Hatcher, Jr, MD Award. The award honors faculty members from Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center who, through their lifetime of work, exemplify excellence in public health.

For 40 years, Dr. Kutner has played a key role in building the school of public health and advancing programs of research across the Woodruff Health Sciences Center.  He joined Emory’s School of Medicine in 1971, was a key figure on that small planning group for a school of public health, and served as Interim Chair of the medical school’s Department of Statistics and Biometry in 1986.

When Dr. Hatcher and the Board of Trustees approved the creation of the Emory University School of Public Health in 1990, Dr. Kutner was appointed the inaugural Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.  As he has stated on numerous occasions that subsequent events after this appointment “went way beyond our wildest dreams.”

He played a major role in creating the organizational structure of the school—curriculum, strategic faculty and chair recruitments, committees, policies and procedures—and for securing its initial accreditation.

Dr. Kutner always carried public health with him. In 1994, he served as Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and returned to the Rollins School of Public Health in 2000.  In 2004, he was named Rollins Professor and Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, where he served until 2009.

Throughout his Emory career, Dr. Kutner has provided critical support for biomedical research.  He developed the Biostatistics Consulting Center, collaborated with scores of investigators, and has co-authored over 150 articles in leading health and medical journals.   He is former Director for Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design for the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute and is currently the Biostatistics Core Director for the Center for AIDS Research.  He is known around the world for his widely adopted textbooks, Applied Linear Regression Models and Applied Linear Statistical Models.

Dr. Kutner’s lifetime contributions to research, teaching and mentoring are not only legendary, but they give integrity and energy to public health and to Emory. On April 5th, the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and the Rollins School of Public Health will celebrate Dr. Kutner’s distinguished career with a reception in the RSPH Klamon Room at 4 p.m.

RSVP to Nancy Sterk at nsterk@emory.edu.

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March madness: National global health case competition features 13 universities

March Madness of a different flavor overtook Emory University March 18-19 as more than 200 students, judges, observers and staff convened for the first national Emory Global Health Case Competition.

The competition involved 20 teams of five students each, representing at least three academic disciplines per team. Emory fielded eight teams, and 12 teams came from leading universities across the country: Dartmouth, Princeton, Penn, Cornell, Yeshiva, Duke, Vanderbilt, UAB, USC, UCSF, Rice, and Texas A&M. All these universities are members of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health.

The first-place team, from Emory (l-r): Jason Myers, Candler School of Theology; Abdul Wahab Shaikh, Goizueta Business School; Stephanie Stawicki, Laney Graduate School; Andrew K. Stein, Goizueta Business School; Jenna Blumenthal, Laney Graduate School; Krista Bauer (judge), GE director of global programs; Meridith Mikulich, School of Nursing (not pictured)

As in two past local and regional case competitions, this year’s event was student initiated, developed, planned, staffed and conducted.

This year’s signature sponsor was GE, with additional sponsorship from Douglas and Barbara Engmann, and internal Emory funding.

“Global health continues to grow as a primary interest of students at universities across the United States, and the Emory Global Health Case Competition has gained a reputation as the leading national team event to showcase the creativity, passion, and intellect of our future leaders in global health,” says Jeffrey Koplan, MD, MPH, director of the Emory Global Health Institute.

The Feb. 17, 2011 issue of The Lancet included an article by Koplan and Mohammed K. Ali, assistant professor of global health at Rollins School of Public Health on the benefits of problem-based competitions to promote global health in universities.

Teams worked through the night on Friday for their Saturday morning presentations. The case involved a proposal for improving conditions in several East African refugee camps in the face of a severe budget cut. Judges were blinded to the academic affiliations of the teams, but Emory won the top two prizes (first prize was $5,000). UCSF and Dartmouth received honorable mentions, and Rice was given an innovation award.

 

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The Scientist ranks Emory one of top 15 best places to work for postdocs

This year, the readers of The Scientist magazine have ranked Emory University as the 11th best place to work for postdocs in the United States. Among Emory’s strengths, respondents cited training and mentoring, and career development opportunities.

The top U.S. institution was the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The top international institution was University College, London. Emory has previously ranked as high as number 4 (in 2006) in The Scientist’s best places to work for postdocs survey.

The ranking was based on responses from 2,881 nontenured life scientists working in academia, industry or noncommercial research institutions. 76 institutions in the United States and 17 international institutions were included.

Emory employs nearly 700 postdoctoral fellows in laboratories in the School of Medicine, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Rollins School of Public Health and Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.

After receiving their PhD degrees, life sciences graduates launch their research careers by working for several years as postdoctoral fellows in the laboratories of established scientists. In addition to engaging in sometimes grueling laboratory research, many postdocs teach, mentor graduate and undergraduate students and apply for their own funding on a limited basis.

 

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What’s left when it comes to research?

Cesare Lombroso

In an editorial appearing in a recent issue of The Lancet, Emory Rollins School of Public Health professor Dr. Howard Kushner contends that the connection between left-handedness and a raft of mental and physical disorders has gained currency since the 1980s and ‘90s.

Although Kushner acknowledges a long history of suspicion surrounding left-handedness, he spotlights one Cesare Lombroso, a Turin physician who spent a great deal of time in and around the 19th century pointing a negative finger at left-handedness. Lombroso’s contemporaries mistakenly considered his studies, albeit mere observations, to be cutting-edge science.

Although scientific standards have changed since Lombroso’s time and today’s studies do not portray left-handedness with such profound negativity, Kushner says, “general claims about the pathology of left-handedness persist.” This despite studies showing left-handers displaying exceptional intellectual and creative talents.

So, what are we to conclude about the connection between left-handedness and health? Kushner doesn’t say. Instead, he asks us to consider that despite all the advanced scientific tools we have at our disposal, researchers should keep in mind that these very tools may not enable us to conclusively explain the mystery behind left-handedness and its meaning. Yet, we should not stop trying. After all, he says, today’s researchers are making solid contributions to such research–while raising provocative questions along the way.

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A healthy discussion on American medical innovation

Kenneth Thorpe, PhD

Researchers and medical experts will be meeting Wednesday morning, Jan. 12 in Washington, DC, at a symposium on “Medical Innovation at the Crossroads: Choosing the Path Ahead.” Emory University’s Kenneth Thorpe, PhD, chair of the Department of Health Policy & Management, Rollins School of Public Health, and other health care experts, commentators and journalists, will discuss the most effective federal policy strategies for U.S. medical innovation aimed at job creation, economic recovery and health security.

The symposium is sponsored by the Council for American Medical Innovation.

For more information, view the council’s recent video on medical innovation.

Not long ago, polio, a crippling and dreaded disease, seemed unstoppable. But thanks to innovative medical research, the disease met its match in a vaccine developed in the early 1950s by American scientists. Today America and the world still face diseases that cripple and kill.  But with ongoing innovations in medicine and science, diseases such as diabetes and HIV/AIDs may one day meet their match, too.

On a related note, Thorpe, who regularly blogs for the Huffington Post, has written a new article, “Medical Advancements: Who Is Leading the World?”

Posted on by Holly Korschun in Uncategorized 1 Comment

The science behind the Mediterranean diet

The diet calls for lots of fruits and vegetables.

Researchers, physicians, and health care providers from across the United States and Italy met recently at the Rollins School of Public Health for the first Emory Conference on Mediterranean Diet and Health. Participants focused on the diet’s relation to cardiovascular disease, cancer, neuropsychiatric disorders, and vascular health.

The Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, complex carbohydrates, and nuts; moderate consumption of fish and red wine; low consumption of cheese and red meat; and olive oil as the chief source of fat, explains Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, one of the conference chairs.

When topped with exercise, the Mediterranean diet—really a pattern of eating habits traditionally followed by people in the Mediterranean regions in the early 1960s—has proven beneficial for many throughout the years. But why this is so isn’t clear.
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Number of diabetic Americans could triple by 2050

As many as 1 in 3 U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050, federal officials recently announced.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 10 have diabetes now – approximately 24 million Americans – but that number could grow to 1 in 5 or even 1 in 3 by mid-century if current trends continue.

The report was published in the Oct. 22 issue of Population Health Metrics. Edward Gregg, Emory adjunct professor of global health, and David Williamson, Emory visiting professor of global health, were co-authors.

The CDC’s projections have been a work in progress. The last revision put the number at 39 million in 2050. The new estimate takes it to the range of 76 million to 100 million.

The growth in U.S. diabetes cases has been closely tied to escalating obesity rates. A corresponding rise in diabetes has even prompted researchers to coin a new hybrid term: diabesity.

“There is an epidemic going on that, if left unchecked, will have a huge effect on the U.S. population and on health care costs,” says K. M. Venkat Narayan, MD, MSc, MBA, professor of global health and epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health, who came to Emory from the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation. “The numbers are very worrying.”

K. M. Venkat Narayan, MD, MSc, MBA

Narayan also heads the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center, which aims to find solutions to the growing global diabetes epidemic. The Center serves as the research leader and hub for population-based research and large intervention trials throughout South Asia and globally.

“Whatever we do, the fruits of our research have to be available to people everywhere,” says Narayan.

Read more about Dr. Narayan’s global efforts and diabetes research underway at Emory.

Hear Dr. Narayan talk about the Global Diabetes Research Center.

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New Emory center expands diabetes prevention

According to the CDC, an estimated 23.6 million Americans live with diabetes. The Diabetes Training and Technical Assistance Center (DTTAC), based at the Rollins School of Public Health, aims to reduce the burden of the disease.

Established with a $2 million grant from the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, DTTAC is modeled after the Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium. Both programs provide training, expertise, and materials to state public health departments to strengthen leadership, organizational capacity, and partnerships in prevention and control. DTTAC also works with the National Diabetes Prevention Program, the framework for community-based lifestyle intervention to prevent type-2 diabetes among those at high risk of the disease.

“We need to act with urgency to reach individuals and their families early if we are to prevent and reduce suffering from diabetes,” says Linelle Blais, DTTAC director and associate research professor at Rollins. “By developing services that build capacity, our goal is to better equip local, state, and national partners to deliver evidence-based community interventions and effective diabetes programs.”

Linelle Blais, DTTAC director

DTTAC is helping spearhead the national rollout of a lifestyle intervention program modeled on research from the NIH’s Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) clinical trial. The program seeks to prevent diabetes by helping participants adopt healthy lifestyle habits such as being physically active at least 150 minutes per week and losing 7 percent of their body weight. In the DPP clinical trial, participants who made these changes saw their diabetes risk drop by 58 percent.

The success of diabetes prevention programs at Indiana University, the University of Pittsburgh, and YMCAs around the country will also shape DTTAC training. Experts regard these examples as cost-effective models.

Read more about DTTAC in the fall 2010 issue of Public Health magazine.

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