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NASCAR weekend full of health care success stories

Terry “Mr. 500” Green

This weekend’s slate of racing at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, including the marquee Emory Healthcare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday night, will have a uniquely Emory flavor that exceeds far beyond just the naming rights for the event that will be watched by millions of fans around the country. Emory Healthcare is the official healthcare partner for the Atlanta Motor Speedway and this year’s Emory Healthcare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race.

Mr. 500

When Emory Healthcare and Atlanta Motor Speedway officials began searching for the grand marshal of this year’s Emory Healthcare 500 Sprint Cup Series race, they didn’t have to search long or far to find the perfect candidate – and one who already possessed the perfect tailor-made nickname for such an occasion.

Lawrenceville native Terry “Mr. 500” Green has been named the grand marshal for this year’s race.

Green first came to be known as “Mr. 500” in March 2008, after he became the 500th heart transplant recipient at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Keeping his motor running

Wayne Reese has been racing motocross and super late model cars on dirt tracks for more than 11 years, and he knows the risks. One risk he won’t take, however, is with his health.

Reese, a prostate cancer survivor, will be the Honorary Starter at the Emory Healthcare 500.  In this role, Reese will drop the Green Flag to start the race.  In addition, his son Brian will drive his Reese Motorsports Super Late Model Number 33 in the pre-race parade.

Reese, 55, recently completed therapy at Emory University Hospital’s Department of Radiation Oncology.  He says he knew he wanted to be treated at Emory because his wife was treated at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute.  “We appreciate all the help we’ve gotten there.”

Reese recently demonstrated his appreciation by putting the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University logo on his race cars.

Emory’s own pit crew

When more than 150,000 race fans, visitors and support crews flood Atlanta Motor Speedway this Labor Day weekend, they may learn a thing or two about their health – possibly saving their own lives in the process.

Emory Healthcare will bring its own pit crew team of volunteers to Henry County this weekend to provide free health care screenings including:
•    Blood pressure screenings
•    Smoking cessation help and information
•    Head, neck and skin cancer screenings
•    Body Mass Index (BMI) screenings
•    General health and wellness information

“Having this incredible opportunity to reach out to so many men and women to provide potentially life-saving cancer screenings, blood pressure checks, and informative ways to live a longer and healthier life, is a perfect way for us to thank those in our community who have allowed us to serve them over the years, while also supporting this special event that means so much to our region,” says Dane Peterson, chief operating officer for Emory University Hospital Midtown. “At the end of the day, we hope to make a difference in the lives of more than a few individuals and ensure that they will be able to return for many more exciting Labor Day weekends at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.”

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Welcome to the heat: Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Ride

Thomas Kukar, a new Emory faculty member in pharmacology, is participating in a charity bicycle ride for Alzheimer’s disease research called the Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Ride. On Thursday and Friday, he will be riding from Oklahoma City, OK to Wichita, KS. Tomorrow’s ride is 100 miles, and it’s supposed to be 97°F in Wichita.

Thomas Kukar, PhD

Kukar’s willingness to take on this challenge indicates that he shouldn’t have too much trouble adjusting to Atlanta’s climate. He comes to Emory from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. There, he investigated potential drugs that could change how the body produces and processes beta-amyloid, a toxic protein fragment that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

The money raised by the bicycle ride goes to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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New drug strategy against fragile X

Even as clinical trials examining potential treatments for fragile X syndrome gain momentum, Emory scientists have identified a new strategy for treating the neurodevelopmental disorder.

In a paper recently published in Journal of Neuroscience, a team led by cell biologist Gary Bassell shows that PI3 kinase inhibitors could restore normal appearance and levels of protein production at the synapses of hippocampal neurons from fragile X model mice. The next steps, studies in animals, are underway.

“This is an important first step toward having a new therapeutic strategy for fragile X syndrome that treats the underlying molecular defect, and it may be more broadly applicable to other forms of autism,” he says.

A recent Nature Biotechnology article describes pharmaceutical approaches to autism and fragile X.

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Survivors of intimate partner violence find safety, hope and purpose

Nadine Kaslow, PhD

Nadine Kaslow, PhD, Emory psychologist and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory, has learned a lot about Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) over the last two decades. In the 1990’s, Kaslow began the development of a program that was eventually named the “Nia Project.”

Nia is a counseling program for abused and suicidal African American women, funded by grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Mental Health. The name comes from the Kwanzaa term that means “purpose.”

Nia serves countless numbers of abused (click site for information on domestic abuse) and suicidal women who come through Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital’s emergency department each year. The women come in with black eyes, broken bones, and broken spirits, often inflicted by the people who are supposed to love them the most: their husbands, boyfriends and partners.

According to the CDC, Intimate Partner violence resulted in more than 1,500 deaths in the United States in 2005.  Statistics from the Commission on Domestic Violence show that African American females experienced intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of white females, and about 22 times the rate of women of other races. The number one killer of African American women ages 15 to 34 is homicide at the hands of a current or former intimate partner.

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Summer undergrad research at Emory booming

This year’s Emory’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program is the largest it has ever been. Thursday’s poster session at the Dobbs University Center was split into two shifts so that all 99 participants could have a chance to explain their research. Graduate students in Emory’s Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences circulated through the crowd, taking notes in order to judge the posters. The majority of participating students worked in biomedical research labs in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center.

Oxford College chemistry major Ashley Hodges explains her work on new potential anti-cancer agents to radiologist Hui Mao

SURE, organized by Emory’s Center for Science Education, is a ten-week program, attracting undergraduates not only from Emory but from other Atlanta-area universities and around the world.

Participants receive a stipend and on-campus housing, and have weekly meetings on ethics, research careers and lab life. About a third of former participants complete a graduate degree, according to follow-up surveys recently published in the journal Life Sciences Education. The main funding comes from Howard Hughes Medical Institute, with additional support from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and a variety of non-profit foundations.

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Respiratory infection may lead to weaker immunological memory

How you vaccinate helps determine how you protect. This idea lies behind many researchers’ interest in mucosal vaccines. How a vaccine is administered (orally/nasally vs intramuscular, for example) could make a difference later, when the immune system faces the bad guys the vaccine is supposed to strengthen defenses against.

How does the route of immunization affect the quality of immunity later on? For example, is a nasal spray best when trying to prevent respiratory infections?

A recent paper from Emory Vaccine Center director Rafi Ahmed’s laboratory challenges this idea. The paper was published in the Journal of Immunology. Scott Mueller, now an Australian Research Council research fellow at the University of Melbourne, is first author.

Memory T cells are a key part of a response to a vaccine, because they stick around after an infection, enabling the immune system to fight an invading virus more quickly and strongly the second time around. In the paper, the Emory team compared memory T cells that form in mice after they are infected in the respiratory system by a flu virus or throughout their bodies by a virus that causes meningitis (lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus or LCMV).

The authors engineered a flu virus to carry a tiny bit of LCMV (an epitope, in immunological terms) so that they could compare apples to apples by measuring the same kind of T cells. They found that memory T cells generated after a flu infection are weaker, in that they proliferate and stimulate other immune cells less, than after a LCMV infection. This goes against the idea that after a respiratory infection, the immune system will be better able to face a challenge in the respiratory system.

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Staring (cell) death in the face: imaging agents for necrotic cells

DNA usually occupies a privileged place inside the cell. Although cells in our body die all the time, an orderly process of disassembly (programmed cell death or apoptosis) generally keeps cellular DNA from leaking all over the place. DNA’s presence outside the cell means something is wrong: tissue injury has occurred and cells are undergoing necrosis.

Researchers from the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University have devised a way to exploit the properties of extracellular DNA to create an imaging agent for injured tissue. Niren Murthy and Mike Davis recently published a paper in Organic Letters describing the creation of “Hoechst-IR.” This imaging agent essentially consists of the DNA-binding compound Hoechst 33258 (often used to stain cells before microscopy), attached to a dye that is visible in the near-infrared range. A water-loving polymer chain between the two keeps the new molecule from crossing cell membranes and binding DNA inside the cell.

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Targeting antioxidants to mitochondria

Why aren’t antioxidants magic cure-alls?

It’s not a silly question, when one sees how oxidative stress and reactive oxygen species have been implicated in so many diseases, ranging from hypertension and atherosclerosis to neurodegenerative disorders. Yet large-scale clinical trials supplementing participants’ diets with antioxidants have showed little benefit.

Emory University School of Medicine scientists have arrived at an essential insight: the cell isn’t a tiny bucket with all the constituent chemicals sloshing around. To modulate reactive oxygen species effectively, an antioxidant needs to be targeted to the right place in the cell.

Sergei Dikalov and colleagues in the Division of Cardiology have a paper in the July 9 issue of Circulation Research, describing how targeting antioxidant molecules to mitochondria dramatically increases their effectiveness in tamping down hypertension.

Mitochondria are usually described as miniature power plants, but in the cells that line blood vessels, they have the potential to act as amplifiers. The authors describe a “vicious cycle” of feedback between the cellular enzyme NADPH oxidase, which produces the reactive form of oxygen called superoxide, and the mitochondria, which can also make superoxide as a byproduct of their energy-producing function.

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Federal research funding sparks economic growth

A recent report from The Science Coalition gives numerous examples of how federally funded research at universities has led to innovation, new companies, and the creation of jobs. The Sparking Economic Growth report lists the university research origins of 100 companies, including Google, Genentech, Cisco Systems and iRobot. Four Emory startup companies were highlighted among the success stories: GeoVax, Inc., Pharmasset, Inc., Syntermed, Inc., and Triangle Pharmaceuticals, which was later acquired by Gilead Sciences in California.

Emory President James Wagner wrote a followup editorial in the Atlanta Business Chronicle about the importance of scientific research in Georgia’s universities to the health of our economy.

“Atlanta can be proud that Emory University is a shining example in this report, with four highlighted successful companies that were launched because federally funded research resulted in innovative and life-saving discoveries. These four success stories only scratch the surface as examples of the more than 150 companies and the resulting 5,500 jobs created in Georgia from discoveries at its research universities.

“Since the 1990s, Emory has turned external research funding, the majority from the federal government, into more than $775 million in licensing revenues from drugs, diagnostics, devices and consumer products. This is money infused into the state’s economy that helps create jobs and educational opportunities, saves lives, and leads to more research discoveries for the benefit of all. Emory has launched 47 start-up companies and licensed 27 drugs, medical devices and diagnostics already in the marketplace and 12 more currently in human trials.”

GeoVax, Inc., is developing and testing a promising AIDS vaccine based on research at the Emory Vaccine Center and Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Gilead Sciences (from Triangle Pharmaceuticals) and Pharmasset, Inc. are creating AIDS drugs that are taken by over 90 percent of HIV-infected patients in the United States and many more around the world. Syntermed, Inc. distributes imaging software developed at Emory that helps in the diagnosis of more than four million heart disease patients every year.

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Nursing students provide health services to migrant farmers in south Georgia

Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing faculty and students traveled to Moultrie, Ga., June 13-25 to provide valuable health care services to migrant farm workers and their families. Nursing faculty and students make the trip annually to the rural, agricultural community three hours south of Atlanta as part of the Farm Worker Family Health Program.

There are more than 100,000 migrant and seasonal farm workers in Georgia. Migrant farm workers face more complex health issues than the general population because of the physical demands of their jobs, pesticide exposure, poor access to health care services, and substandard housing conditions.

“Our clinics may be the only health care they get during the year,” says Judith Wold, a visiting professor in Emory’s School of Nursing and director of the Farm Worker Family Health Program. “The farm workers are very hardworking people and they are so appreciative of the health care we give them.”

By day, the students worked at Cox Elementary School with farm worker children. Each evening, they set up mobile clinics to treat adult farm workers. The students worked alongside other Georgia allied health students in physical therapy, psychology, pharmacy and dental hygiene.

Wold, who has participated in the project since its launch in 1994, estimates that the program has treated more than 14,000 farm workers over the course of its 16-year history.

Read more about the students’ Moultrie experiences on the Emory Nursing blog.

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