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NIAID Director Fauci: link seasonal and pandemic flu preparedness

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, delivered the keynote address Sunday, April 18, as part of a three-day conference on H1N1 Virus: The First Pandemic of the 21st Century, sponsored by the Emory-UGA Influenza Pathogenesis and Immunology Research Center.

One of the most important lessons from this past year’s pandemic, Fauci said, is the need to “connect the dots” between seasonal and pandemic influenza and not view them as two separate phenomena.

Fauci enthusiastically supports the CDC’s call for universal flu vaccination.

“Rather than trying to figure out one priority group over another,” Fauci said, “if we can get into a rhythm of getting most people vaccinated each year, we will have most of the population with some degree of immunity. We will get into a situation where we don’t need to go from a seasonal approach to a crisis approach.

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NIH director visits Emory, Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute

David Stephens, MD, Jim Wagner, PhD, Earl Lewis, PhD, Francis Collins, MD, PhD

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and chief of staff Dr. Kathy Hudson, paid a daylong visit to Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center, including Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and Morehouse School of Medicine on April 14.

The purpose of Collins’ visit was to view the activities of the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute, one of 46 national CTSAs funded by the NIH through the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR).  Collins also will visit CTSAs at Duke, UNC, and Vanderbilt in the future.

Collins asked that his visit focus on “how CTSAs are enabling science.” It was an opportunity for the ACTSI, a partnership among Emory, Morehouse School of Medicine, Georgia Institute of Technology and others, including Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia Research Alliance, Georgia BIO, Kaiser Permanente, CDC, the Atlanta VA Medical Center and the Grady Health System, to showcase the unique contributions the ACTSI makes to enabling clinical and translational research.

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HER2-positive breast cancer treatment options studied

Emory oncologist Ruth O’Regan, MD, is leading a trial testing whether Afinitor can reverse resistance to Herceptin in metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients. As part of the trial, some patients been receiving a drug called Afinitor (everolimus) along with chemotherapy and Herceptin (trastuzumab).

Ruth O'Regan, MD

About 25 percent to 30 percent of breast cancers are HER2 -positive, which means they test positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2). This protein promotes the growth of cancer cells, making HER2 -positive breast cancers more aggressive than other types.

They also tend to be less responsive to hormone treatment. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this type of cancer responds extremely well to Herceptin.

Herceptin specifically targets HER2 cells, killing them while sparing healthy cells, so side effects are minimal. Its effectiveness has made Herceptin the gold standard of treatment for HER2 -positive breast cancer.

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Medical volunteerism conference

A free weekend conference at Emory, beginning April 16 at 7 p.m., brings together health professionals and the general public to learn more about medical volunteerism. The event features keynote addresses, exhibits and brainstorming panel discussions on a variety of topics. Participants will be able to network with the general public, students, nurses and physicians representing all areas of health care.

The inaugural “International Conference on Medical Volunteerism” (ICMV) is 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.

Conference organizers say they are offering a diverse array of events and presenters in hopes of inspiring more people to volunteer and create synergies among volunteer organizations and volunteers themselves.

“We want attendees to walk away with new, innovative ways and connections to help improve the overall health of the human race, particularly the underserved,” says Neil Shulman, MD, associate professor at Emory School of Medicine and chairman of the Conference Organizing Committee.

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Hold out your finger: Epidemiologist developing test for colon cancer risk

Years from now physicians may be able to determine whether you’re at increased risk for colorectal cancer by drawing blood from the tip of your finger.

Emory University researchers are working to identify biomarkers to detect a person’s chances of developing colon cancer. Much like blood pressure and cholesterol tests can indicate heart disease risk, researchers here hope that some day the makeup of blood and urine will be able to tell who’s at risk for colorectal cancer, why they may be at risk and what they can do to reduce their risk.

Postdoctoral fellows Joy Owen and Veronika Fedirko examine samples in Robin Bostick’s lab at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

For now, the Emory study team is analyzing the rectal tissue samples of people with colon adenomatous polyps, non-cancerous growths considered precursors to colon cancer, and comparing them to rectal tissue samples from people who don’t have polyps. They’re also looking at whether the differences they detect in rectal tissue can also be found in blood or urine. Currently, no accepted tests exist to determine whether someone may be at risk for colon cancer.

“Most people would rather provide a blood or urine sample than get a rectal biopsy,” says Robin Bostick, MD, MPH, Rollins School of Public Health epidemiology professor and study principal investigator. Bostick is also a clinical faculty member at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory and a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar.

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Moving flu vaccine research forward

The scientists in the lab of Richard Compans, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory, are hard at work, imagining the unimaginable: A time when patients can self-administer flu vaccines. A time when vaccination does not require exposure to inactive viruses. A time when a universal vaccine could protect from all varieties of influenza: swine, avian, seasonal and strains still emerging.

Richard Compans, PhD (right), with colleague Mark Prausnitz, PhD, from Georgia Tech

But it’s not just hope that motivates them as they work. Emory’s scientists are fighting the clock against another possible future: a time of pandemic and uncontrollable virus mutation. The recent emergence of H1N1 and H5N1, known colloquially as swine flu and avian flu, have added an even greater sense of urgency to their task.

“The H5N1—the virus derived from avian species—has a 60 percent mortality,” says Emory microbiologist Sang-Moo Kang, PhD. Yet that strain of influenza hasn’t resulted in many human deaths, because, so far, avian flu spreads only to humans who are in contact with infected birds.

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Some thoughts on the pursuit of happiness

Corey Keyes, PhD

What does it truly mean to be in good mental health? How are good mental health and mental illness connected? That is, does being in good mental health simply mean the absence of mental illness, or is there more to it than that? And how do people achieve a healthy state of both body and mind?

These are some of the complex questions Emory researchers brought to the fore in a discussion over lunch last month.

Speaker Corey Keyes, an Emory sociologist, made clear the absence of illness does not necessarily mean the presence of health. He noted that the ancient Greeks batted around the subject of mental health, specifically, happiness. Some championed emotions and pleasures as a path to happiness, others tranquility, freedom and reflection. Read more

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The Bayh-Dole Act: 30 Years of Innovation

At Emory’s recent Fourth Celebration of Technology and Innovation, faculty researchers and entrepreneurs were recognized for outstanding accomplishments in developing promising technologies that are moving from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Keynote speaker for the annual event was Joseph Allen, a key staff member in helping Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN) secure passage of the Bayh-Dole Act 30 years ago, opening up collaborations between research universities and U.S. industry.

Todd Sherer, executive director of Emory’s Technology Transfer Office, described Emory’s robust product pipeline, which includes products at all stages of development and regulatory approval. The pipeline helps ensure multiple missions of driving academic discoveries, advancing commercially protected technologies, and providing substantial public benefit.

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Finding success in retinoblastoma treatment

The idea of your child having an eye removed is shocking, an extremely difficult thing for a parent to cope with, says Baker Hubbard, MD, Thomas M. Aaberg Professor of Ophthalmology, and a pediatric ocular oncologist. Actually, says Hubbard, most children who lose an eye adapt very well and enjoy essentially normal lives.

Baker Hubbard, MD

Retinoblastoma is cancer that forms in the tissues of the retina (the light-sensitive layers of nerve tissue at the back of the eye). Retinoblastoma usually occurs in children younger than age five. It may be hereditary or nonhereditary (sporadic), and is caused by mutations in genes.

To six-year-old Emilia McKibbin, having a prosthetic eye is no big deal. She knows to protect it—wearing her glasses for school and playtime, donning a scuba mask at the beach—but it doesn’t limit her choices.

Following her interests, Emilia has earned a gold belt in karate. She’s learning gymnastics. She swims. She loves to romp with Daisy, her black cocker spaniel. And while most people don’t even notice that one of this little girl’s shining dark-brown eyes is different from the other, Emilia shares her story with a few. “I tell my teachers and my friends that I have a special eye,” she says.

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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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