Insights into Parkinson's balance problems

In PD, disorganized sensorimotor signals cause muscles in the limbs to contract, such that both a muscle promoting a motion and its antagonist muscle are Read more

Cajoling brain cells to dance

“Flicker” treatment is a striking non-pharmaceutical approach aimed at slowing or reversing Alzheimer’s disease. It represents a reversal of EEG: not only recording brain waves, but reaching into the brain and cajoling cells to dance. One neuroscientist commentator called the process "almost too fantastic to believe." With flashing lights and buzzing sounds, researchers think they can get immune cells in the brain to gobble up more amyloid plaques, the characteristic clumps of protein seen in Read more

Research

New ways to pinpoint heart failure risk

Javed Butler, MD, MPH

Javed Butler, MD, MPH

An aging U.S. population, an increase in the prevalence of obesity and improved cardiovascular therapies for acute problems are boosting the number of people living with the condition of heart failure.

Javed Butler, MD, MPH, director of heart failure research at Emory Healthcare and associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, is looking for new ways to prevent and treat heart failure.

According to Butler, heart failure is any condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood for the metabolic needs of the body, but that does not mean that the heart is not cheap oakleys pumping or the heart has stopped working. Heart failure is not a disease but a syndrome, so there’s a whole family of different diseases that can precede this condition. These are known collectively as heart failure.

In the clinic, Butler treats patients already diagnosed with heart failure. His research focuses on prevention through life style changes as well as models pinpointing who is at risk for heart failure.

Butler and his colleagues recently created the Health ABC Heart Failure Model for predicting risk of new onset heart failure in the elderly. That model has now been strengthened by validating it via a library of patient data from an earlier cardiovascular study. The results suggest the Health ABC risk model can be used to identify high-risk individuals for whom interventions can be cost-effectively targeted to prevent heart failure.

To hear Butler’s own discussion about heart failure, access the podcast from Emory’s Sound Science series.

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Michael J. Fox Foundation supports Emory research

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research just announced plans to fund Emory pharmacology researcher Zixu Mao in his work to validate therapeutic targets for Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Zixu Mao, PhD

Zixu Mao, PhD

The two-year, $250,000 grant will fund research in Mao’s lab in the departments of neurology and pharmacology. He and his team hope to verify whether a particular protein – MEF2D – may be a good drug target in models of PD. If it is, his efforts will provide the basis for further research to identify ways to manipulate the activity of this protein as a way to treat PD.

Mao says this type of study is very important Maglie Calcio to allow the transition from findings made by basic research to more clinically relevant discoveries and is generally difficult to get funded by other major funding sources.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today. Learn more about Mao’s research.

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Emory, Georgia Tech tackle abdominal aortic aneurysms

Robert Taylor, MD

Robert Taylor, MD

Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) are a major cause of illness and death in the U.S., with the incidence increasing dramatically over the age of 55. These aneurysms are a widening and bulging of the large artery that runs through the body from the heart into the abdomen. They often go undetected until they suddenly rupture, often resulting in death within minutes.

A team of physicians and engineers from Emory and Georgia Tech is studying the biology and biomechanics of vascular inflammation and disturbed blood flow in AAAs to understand how they develop and could be prevented or detected earlier.

Cardiologist and biomedical engineer Robert Taylor is leading the Biomedical Engineering Partnership, funded by $6 million from the NIH.

Taylor points out that predicting the likelihood of aneurysm rupture is extremely difficult and patients often don’t notice them until they already are leaking or ruptured. Even small aneurysms often expand rapidly and rupture. He and his team will try to pin down specific risk factors for AAAs, which they think differ from traditional cardiovascular risk factors.

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Many roads to memory T cells

When our bodies encounter a bacteria or a virus, the immune system sends some cells out to fight the invader and keeps others in reserve, in order to respond faster and stronger the next time around. Vaccination depends on this phenomenon, called immunological memory.

Several recent papers — from Emory and elsewhere – provide insight into this process, and highlight this area of research as especially active lately.

Researchers led by Rafi Ahmed and Chris Larsen at Emory found that rapamycin, a drug usually given to transplant patients to block rejection, actually stimulates the formation of memory T cells. Rapamycin appears to nudge immune cells when they have to make a decision whether to hunker down to become a memory cell.

The immunosuppressant drug rapamycin was discovered in soil from Easter Island

The immunosuppressant drug rapamycin was discovered in soil from Easter Island

Similarly, the anti-diabetes drug metformin, which affects fatty acid metabolism, can also stimulate the formation of memory T cells, according to research that was published in the same issue of Nature.

In addition, Wnt signaling, which plays critical roles in embryonic development and cancer, influences memory T cell formation as well, according to a July paper in Nature Medicine.

To summarize — pushing on several different “buttons” produces the same thing: more memory T cells. How are the wires behind the buttons connected? Work by Ahmed and others may eventually help enhance vaccine efficacy or fight cancer with the immune system.

Rapamycin, the focus of the Ahmed/Larsen paper, was also recently found to slow aging in mice. However, with previous anti-aging research findings, translating results into the human realm has been a considerable challenge.

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Emory and Georgia Tech

Over the past twenty years, the research partnership between Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed into one of the leading bioengineering and biomedical research and educational programs in the nation. In recent years this partnership has resulted in the development of several pieces of diagnostic and medical-assistant technology, with medical experts on the Emory side working with engineers on the Georgia Tech side.

An example of this collaboration is the El-E robot, designed to perform simple tasks such as opening drawers and retrieving objects. Clinicians at Emory’s School of Medicine and engineers at Georgia Tech created the 5½-foot-tall machine, which glides across the floor on wheels and takes direction from a laser pointer that users can control in a variety of ways, depending on their preferences and capabilities. El-E is no mere toy, however: The machine could help patients with significant motor impairments, such as sufferers of ALS, maintain their independence and help relieve physical and financial burdens faced by caregivers.

 

Another result of the Emory-Georgia Tech collaboration is DETECT, a portable device capable of detecting the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, in any environment. DETECT has a helmet device that includes an LCD display in a visor, along with a computer and noise-reduction headphones. DETECT gives the patient a battery of words and pictures to assess cognitive abilities—reaction time and memory capabilities. The low-cost test takes approximately 10 minutes. The device was co-developed by emergency medicine physician David Wright, and Michelle LaPlaca, a scientist in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory.

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As China grows, so does Emory

Peking University

Peking University in Beijing, China

The meteoritic rise of China in the world has seen a corresponding rise in the number of partnerships between Emory and Chinese universities and researchers.

In February 2009, Emory, Georgia Tech, and Peking University announced a joint biomedical engineering PhD program. Representatives from the schools have been laying the groundwork for this program during the past five years.  In the Fall of 2009, members of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University traveled to Beijing to finalize the program details with the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Peking University (PKU). Faculty collaborations have been funded by seed grants and, as a result, several new research projects are already underway.

Public health units at Emory are also reaching out to China. In February 2009, it was announced that Emory University has received a $14 million, five-year grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help reduce the burden of tobacco use in China. The Emory Global Health Institute, in collaboration with the Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium (TTAC) of Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, will establish the Emory Global Health Institute — China Tobacco Partnership.

China is likewise reaching out to Emory. According to the international business news site Global Atlanta, delegates from China’s Shandong province recently came to Atlanta to meet with health care professionals, public health officials, educational institutions and legislators.The group visited the the Emory Spine Center, where they met with acupuncturists using traditional Chinese techniques alongside new therapies.

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