Rising research rankings

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February 26, 2021

Rising research rankings

The Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research has confirmed its 2020 rankings of schools and departments by NIH funding, and Emory once again scores among the nation’s most elite academic health centers. The Emory School of Medicine ranks 14th in the nation (up from 19th last year). The Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing ranks fifth nationwide and the Rollins School of Public Health fourth.

At the department level, the Woodruff Health Sciences Center has 12 in the top 20, including Pediatrics, which ranks number one nationwide. Emory’s Pediatrics department, with its clinical partner Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, has continued to rise in national rankings, up from number 49 in 2004 to number three last year to leading the nation this year.

Individually, these school and department rankings are truly impressive achievements, and taken as a whole, they paint a picture of Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center as one of the top-tier research institutions in the United States. Add Yerkes to that equation – with the largest research funding base of all the National Primate Research Centers in the US—and it’s no wonder WHSC is at the very forefront of innovation and discovery.

These rankings would not be possible without the tremendous efforts of our research faculty, their team members, and all the administrative support for research. I’m grateful to our research teams across the entire Woodruff Health Sciences Center. They are unparalleled in their diligence and dedication.

Emory MVA COVID-19 vaccine progresses

Yerkes researchers have developed a COVID-19 vaccine that has proven safe and effective in mice and monkeys. The Emory MVA COVID-19 vaccine uses modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA), a harmless version of a poxvirus that is well-known for its use in HIV/AIDS vaccines. Like the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, the Emory MVA COVID-19 vaccine induces strong neutralizing antibodies, which support the immune system’s ability to fight infections. However, the Emory MVA COVID-19 vaccine takes protection several steps further, starting with inducing killer CD8 T cells in addition to the neutralizing antibodies, providing a multi-pronged approach to halting SAR-COV-2. In addition, the Emory researchers say the vaccine is easily adaptable to address disease variants, can be used in combination with existing vaccines to improve their ability to combat variants, and has the potential to be equally effective with a single dose.

Lead researcher Rama Amara built the Emory MVA COVID-19 vaccine based on his more than 20 years of experience working with MVA and animal models to develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine. He and his Yerkes-based research team tested two MVA SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in mice. One of them, MVA/S, used the complete spike protein of coronavirus to induce strong neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. In addition, this vaccine also induced a strong killer CD8 T cell response.

According to Amara, a researcher in Yerkes and the Emory Vaccine Center, “Generating neutralizing antibodies is an important component of a successful COVID-19 vaccine because the antibodies can block the virus from entering the body’s cells. It’s as important to activate CD8 T cells that can clear infected cells, so this allows us to approach halting the virus two ways simultaneously. The CD8 T cells also provide ongoing value because they are key to working against other variants of the virus, especially if antibodies fail.”

Based on the encouraging study results in mice, the Amara team advanced the MVA/S COVID-19 vaccine into a study with 10 rhesus monkeys at Yerkes. For five animals, the researchers gave two doses of the vaccine a month apart and then challenged them with SARS-CoV-2. The researchers also challenged a group of five monkeys that received a placebo MVA vaccine, which did not contain any genes from the COVID-19 virus. The virus grew to high levels in the lungs of all five placebo animals by the second day, but was below detection limits in all five MVA/S-vaccinated animals. “These results are even more promising because the MVA/S-vaccinated animals did not show any signs of inflammation in the lungs such as what medical professional are seeing in humans who have COVID-19,” says Amara.

Amara is working with Emory’s Office of Technology Transfer to license the vaccine for production.

He will continue his work on COVID-19 vaccines. One study focuses on the effectiveness of a single dose of the Emory MVA COVID-19 vaccine. A single dose could prove especially valuable to ensure vaccination compliance and, therefore, effectiveness, which can help drive a reduction in COVID-19 diagnoses and hospitalizations. In a second study, Amara’s team is focusing on inducing broader T cell responses capable of fighting new COVID-19 variants and other human coronaviruses."

Amara’s research team includes Nandakishore Routhu (postdoc), Sailaja Gangadhara (research associate), Narayanaiah Cheedarla (postdoc), and Venkata Satish Bollimpelli (postdoc), all four co-lead authors, as well as Ayalensh Shiferaw (research specialist). Amara and his team worked in close collaboration with the laboratories of Mehul Suthar and Steve Bosinger. Results from this NIH-funded study published online in Immunity.

In Brief
Rouphael executive director of Hope Clinic

Nadine Rouphael (infectious diseases) has been named executive director of the Hope Clinic, the clinical research arm of the Emory Vaccine Center. Rouphael has been instrumental in vaccine, immunology and therapeutics studies and Hope Clinic principal investigator for the nationwide phase III study of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna. She has been interim director of the Hope Clinic since 2018, and the principal investigator for the Emory Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit. She is the director of the Clinical Core of the Stanford/Emory Human Immunology Project Consortium and associate director of the Vaccinology T32 training program. Read more here.

Tackling heart disease with the Falcons

Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan has teamed up with Emory Healthcare to help tackle heart disease in Black and Brown communities who have higher rates of heart disease and death compared to white communities. Ryan and the Falcons have created the “Healthy ATL” campaign to fund research and innovation at Emory to address health disparities and important health challenges in vulnerable communities. To kick off the campaign, Matt Ryan and the Falcons will match up to $300,000 donated to Healthy ATL in the effort to help fight heart disease and close the health disparity gap in the community. Read more here.

Emory expanding post-COVID-19 clinics for ‘long haulers’

Emory physicians have established post-COVID clinics to provide follow-up care for people who have recovered from their acute illnesses, yet continue to experience persistent symptoms such as shortness of breath, chronic pain, dizziness and neuromuscular weakness. Researchers plan to investigate the origin of “long haul COVID”, which can take a variety of forms. The co-directors of the Emory Executive Park post-COVID clinic are Alex Truong and Adviteeya Dixit. Read more here.

Emory Healthcare and Emory hospitals win safety awards

The Georgia Hospital Association Partnership for Health and Accountability (PHA) presented eight of its prestigious Patient Safety and Quality Awards to Emory Healthcare and three Emory hospitals: Emory University Hospital Midtown, Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital, and Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. These annual awards recognize Georgia health care organizations for achievements in reducing the risk of medical errors and improving patient safety and medical outcomes.

WHEA teaching fellowship graduates

Thirty-one faculty and staff educators from across WHSC schools and healthcare system recently graduated from the Woodruff Health Educators Academy (WHEA). For the past 12 months, these fellows have been working together to advance their teaching skills and offer quality instruction to their learners. To learn more about the 2020-21 Teaching Fellows, the types of teaching strategies they learned and adopted, and to pick up a few teaching tips, view WHEA Explorations in Teaching and Learning Newsletter, Volume 2 on the WHEA Publications page.

The Task Force for Global Health annual report

The year started like many others for The Task Force for Global Health. with teams setting goals to eliminate diseases, strengthen health systems, and advance health equity in more than 150 countries. However, it soon became clear that 2020 would be unlike any other year. From the impacts of COVID-19 to long overdue calls for racial justice, the events of this year called for extraordinary action. The Task Force’s 2020 annual report, "Stepping Up in a Year That Called for Action," illustrates the ways it stepped up to navigate the twists and turns of this unprecedented year.

Linda A. McCauley (SON dean) has been elected to serve on the National Academy of Medicine's Governing Council.

David Murphy (Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine), has been named fellow of the American College of Critical Care Medicine.

Lisa Newbern (Yerkes communications) was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to serve a three-year term on the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Dan Owens (CEO of Emory University Hospitals in Midtown and Smyrna) has been named to the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals' Board of Directors.

Shanthi Srinivasan (Division of Digestive Diseases) received the Veterans Affairs Biomedical Laboratory R&D Senior Clinician Scientist Investigator Award for her project, “Mechanism of GDNF regulation of Hepatic Steatosis.”

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