Strengthening our strengths

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In this report

Serving our patients

Engaging hearts and minds

Investing for today and tomorrow


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1. To help ensure that her findings would improve care for patients, Jennifer Gooch formed a company to commercialize a test that measures actual effectiveness (not just blood levels) of a drug most transplant recipients must take to prevent organ rejection.

2. Pathologist Gabriel Sica with oncologist Taofeek Owonikoko, who is studying everolimus, part of a class of drugs called mTOR inhibitors that displayed metabolic activity against non-small cell lung cancer.

3. Clinicians Martin Sanda, John Petros, and Viraj Master see patients in different practice sites but come together in their research on prostate cancer.

4. A new melanoma drug designated as a “breakthrough” drug by the Food and Drug Administration is based on inhibiting the PD-1 protein. Rafi Ahmed, Emory Vaccine Center director, helped define how PD-1 functions.

5. A Remotoscope device developed by bioengineer Wilbur Lam could allow remote diagnosis of ear infections in children via an iPhone and help reduce use of unneeded antibiotics.

6. Psychchiatry researcher Kerry Ressler, who was recently elected to the Institute of Medicine, studies the biology of fear at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

7. Dog Petey remains well two years after his glioma brain tumor was treated with surgery followed by infusion of cetuximab, a monoclonal antibody developed in the lab of neurosurgeon Costas Hadjipanayis.

8. Researchers Mary Wagner (cardiology) and Michael Davis (biomedical engineering) are collaborating to develop new therapies for congenital heart disease, the most common type of birth defect.

In research, Emory Medicine is concentrating on the intersection of two important priorities—areas where we already have the greatest potential for achieving results and areas where patient need is most critical.

Our teams are reaching across disciplines, institutions, and time zones to translate discoveries into clinical benefit.

Cystic fibrosis

Research in cystic fibrosis (CF) includes studies to understand how diabetes develops in more than half of patients over 30 and why it aggravates lung disease, clinical trials of medications to enhance function of CF’s faulty proteins, and investigations into the impact of patient and parental anxiety on the course of the disease.

changing the game in cystic fibrosisClinicians see patients in the second largest CF clinic in the nation, a joint enterprise of Emory pediatricians and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The 200-plus patients in Emory’s rapidly growing adult CF program are themselves a measure of how advancements in patient care and research have transformed life expectancy of a disease that 60 years ago killed most patients before they entered elementary school.

To create the next cadre of CF experts, researcher Nael McCarty has created a CF Scholars program, in which medical and PhD students interact with each other and with CF patients. Similarly, an annual CF Academy brings together all types of CF caregivers together to learn from each other.

Combining perspectives in neuromodulation researchExpanded applications for neuromodulation therapy

After identifying and mapping specific neurologic mood circuits that malfunction in depression, psychiatrist Helen Mayberg adapted deep-brain stimulation, a procedure refined by neurologist Mahlon Delong for Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, for treating depression. Working with neurosurgeon Robert Gross, she continues to refine this procedure, inserting small electrodes in the targeted depression circuit that can lead to significant and sustained improvement in patients whose severe depression has been resistant to all other forms of treatment. Now the team is finding imaging biomarkers that define patients most likely to benefit from various treatments.

Research partners in autism

A recent NIH grant creating an Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) links more than 25 researchers and physicians in eight laboratories at Emory, the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, along with collaborators at Florida State University. Led by Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar Ami Klin, ACE is one of only three such newly designated centers in the country.

The award set in motion a series of investigations and clinical services involving thousands of Georgia families and using the team’s revolutionary eye-tracking technology to detect risk of autism in infants and very young children, when intervention is most effective. ACE is involved with the largest group of autism patients in the country.

New tools for diagnosis

Predicting near-term heart attack risk—Cardiologist Arshed Quyyumi, with colleagues at Emory, MedStar Health, and FirstMark, has identified a trio of biomarkers that indicate the presence of “vulnerable plaque,” which s likely to break off and form a clot. FirstMark, a division of Genway Biotech, is now developing the trio as a commercial test, called PREvent. Quyyumi believes the test could provide more clarity in differentiating between patients who need extensive diagnostic testing and aggressive medical therapy and low-risk patients who could avoid unnecessary tests and treatments.

Analyzing breath for lung cancer—A breath sampler developed at Georgia Tech has been used to identify 75 breath volatile organic compounds in persons with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Although these results must be tested in larger studies prior to market availability, such a simple and inexpensive breath test could make an enormous impact. Diagnosed early, the cure rate for NSCLC is more than 70%. Researchers at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute and Georgia Tech are now analyzing the breath compounds to see if they vary depending on disease stage.

Healing tiny hearts

Researchers Michael Davis (biomedical engineering) and Mary Davis (pediatric cardiology) and colleagues are developing the next generation of therapies for children with congenital heart disease, the most common type of birth defect and a leading cause of death in infants. Their team discovered that a small calcium-binding protein was decreased in newborns with heart failure. They found they could improve cardiac function in mice by administering the protein in encapsulated nanoparticles.

In other research in mice designed to correct genetic cardiac defects, the team is reprogramming skin cells into stem cells to repair the DNA mutation and guide the stem cells to differentiate into heart cells.

Building on ongoing work

Despite economic constraints in research funding, Emory received a number of large awards this past year that were based on years of research investment. Among these were the following:

New treatments for patients—$31 million from NIH to renew the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute (ACTSI), a research partnership established in 2007 to support clinical research for patients in Atlanta and beyond. Primary partners in the Emory-led ACTSI include Morehouse School of Medicine and Georgia Tech.

Fighting AIDS—$9 million from NIH to renew Emory’s designation, first granted in 1998, as a Center for AIDS Research (CFAR). The grant supports research ranging from behavioral prevention to HIV pathogenesis to drug and vaccine discovery and development. In addition to the NIH, the Emory CFAR is supported by the Georgia Research Alliance, ACTSI, and multiple units of Emory University.

Transplant tolerance—$20 million from NIH supporting research aimed at better immunosuppressant drugs and long-term organ tolerance in transplant patients. The approval in 2011 of the new transplant drug belatacept was based on years of research by Emory scientists and industry collaborators, providing a less toxic alternative to standard immunosuppressants like cyclosporine.

Malaria—an NIH contract of up to $19 million established a “systems biology” consortium to study and catalog in molecular detail how malaria parasites interact with their human and animal hosts. Yerkes National Primate Center is administering the contract, which includes the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, CDC, and Scientific Consultation Group.

Table of Contents

School of Medicine Annual Report 2013