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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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CPR Manikins Make Training Easier

Studies have consistently found that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) performed immediately by a bystander doubles or even triples a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival.

To increase the rate of bystander CPR, the American Heart Association recently modified its CPR guidelines so that it is now permissible to provide continual chest compressions without mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing. This makes CPR easier and may even produce better results.

Arthur Kellermann, MD, MPH

Arthur Kellermann, MD, MPH, formerly an emergency medicine physician and associate dean for public policy at Emory, and David Sanborn, a mechanical engineer at Georgia Tech, have invented a low-cost CPR manikin to help anyone learn and practice compression-only CPR. Kellermann currently is director of the Program in Public Health Systems and Preparedness and Paul O’Neill-Alcoa Chair in Policy Analysis at the RAND Corporation in Virginia.

Their work builds on Emory research that showed laypeople could teach themselves CPR at home using a 25-minute video with results that are comparable to taking a four-hour course taught by a professional instructor.

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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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Summer travel may require a stop at Emory TravelWell

As the weather gets warmer and schools wind down for the year, many around the metro Atlanta area begin making plans for summer vacation and travel.

African continent

Eco-touring or “giving back” trips have become popular, as have mission trips to developing and underserved countries. Both types of travel can enrich the lives of the travele rs and give a vacation experience. But before boarding the plane or boat, experts say don’t forget pre-travel care and immunizations.

Emory’s TravelWell clinic, located at Emory University Hospital Midtown, provides pre-travel care before journeying abroad, including a travel health education, immunizations, as well as medications, if illness occurs while traveling. The clinic also offers post-travel care, if needed, once back home.

Phyllis Kozarsky, MD

Phyllis Kozarsky, MD, medical director of TravelWell, says, “Travelers need to get the proper travel health education, including immunizations and prophylaxis medications, to safeguard themselves against preventable diseases and illness before leaving the country.”

The clinic has been caring for local travelers for 22 years – missionaries, families, students, educators and business men and women traveling abroad, many for extended stays. It also cares for immigrants and refugees coming into the country who need these services.

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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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Visioning for the future of aging and health

Ted Johnson, MD, says the United States is not prepared to meet the care needs of the next wave of aging older adults. “The statistics nationally show that by the year 2030, the demographics of every U.S. state will be similar to that of Florida today. Another way of looking at that: the number of people age 65 and older in the state of Georgia will increase 100 percent by 2020. We’re facing a tremendous aging wave, and we don’t know how we’re going to meet the needs of that group.”

Ted Johnson, MD

Johnson is leading the Emory Center for Health in Aging, a program that addresses health care issues affecting the rapidly growing senior population in the United States through research, clinical care, community outreach and education.

Johnson also serves as director of the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology, Department of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, and is associate director and Atlanta site director for the Birmingham/Atlanta VA Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center.

Johnson says he is committed to a new vision of aging. His agenda for reaching that vision:

Target conditions associated with disability common in seniors: We need to target specific disease processes–Alzheimer’s, urinary incontinence, obesity, congestive heart failure–and develop breakthrough treatments and better predictive models so that we can understand what it is that makes people with these chronic conditions get out of control and currently, end up in nursing homes.

Build livable communities: We need to build communities that will sustain people as they age, and that means livable and walkable communities, with public transportation and access to stores and food. We need urban planning, as well as rural planning. Aging people shouldn’t lose their ability to live independently because they can no longer drive a car.

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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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