Emory Report
December 4, 2006
Volume 59, Number 13


Emory Report homepage  

December 4 , 2006
Emory transforms health through research and discovery

Michael M.E. Johns is executive vice president for health affairs and chief executive officer of Emory Healthcare.

I often look at the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and reflect on the amazing changes in medicine since Robert W. Woodruff first provided his vision and extraordinary leadership starting in the early 1930s. Fast-forward to 2006 and you will find an exciting and transformative time for our Center.

Our faculty and staff have never been more productive in their quest for discoveries that will improve health. In fact, nowhere is our priority for serving the community more manifest than in advances made in Emory laboratories — advances that significantly impact the clinical setting. This week, at an event called Research Appreciation Day (see story), we celebrate our core purpose of serving humanity by making people healthy.

On Dec. 6, the Center will officially recognize and show appreciation for its research community.

I am pleased to tell you about a few scientific endeavors that started here in the lab and now translate into care by Emory doctors and nurses. Advances that begin in the depths of a scientist’s brain and proceed through lab experiments, and then mouse and primate models, and finally reach human clinical trials are called translational research. This is where Emory excels — translating ideas into making people healthy.

For example, collaboration by Drs. Raymond Schinazi and Dennis Liotta led to the discovery of several of the most widely used anti-HIV drugs. They have been leaders in the fight to develop life-saving therapies for HIV/AIDS since the early days of the epidemic.

Now, Emory’s Dr. Marcia McDonnell applies her skills as a front-line nurse practitioner working with women who have AIDS to help them understand the requirements for taking the medications that may keep them alive. Over time, her work as a primary care provider has evolved into a dual role of providing both care and education to women in the AIDS clinic.

Drs. Chris Larsen and Tom Pearson have devoted their careers to helping transplant patients by working in the lab to develop medications that keep the immune system from rejecting a new organ, but that are much improved over current choices that are toxic to patients.

Research moved from the lab to Yerkes National Primate Center, where the medication, called belatacept, significantly prolonged the lives of transplanted kidneys in rhesus macaque monkeys. Now studies in people at Emory and 19 other centers have found it was effective and resulted in fewer medical problems.

Dr. Steve Warren and his team persisted over years to discover the gene responsible for fragile X syndrome, the most common cause of inherited mental impairment, and most common known cause of autism. Dr. Warren was among the first to develop genetic tests to diagnose the disease in children and predict the possibility of having an affected child. While his team is looking for a drug to treat fragile X, they also are using their clinical knowledge to focus on early interventions shown to have a powerful impact on behavior and learning.

A clinical trial directed by Drs. Arshed Quyyumi and Ned Waller allows for harvesting cells from patients’ own bone marrow and then using a cell separation technique to sort out an “enriched” population of stem cells. The cells are re-infused into patients through cardiac catheterization to improve heart muscle function. This work was based on basic research by Dr. Quyyumi and other scientists, showing the importance of circulating stem cells for cardiovascular health.

Drs. Mary Jo Lund, Otis Brawley and Ruth O’Regan are working to address an aggressive form of breast cancer — one that affects black women disproportionately and is difficult to treat. Together they are using questionnaires, blood tests and tumor samples at three Emory-affiliated hospitals. By analyzing tumors for proteins and other biomarkers they hope to develop new protein-targeted treatments.

In a recent journal report, Dr. Arthur Kellermann and his Emory colleagues showed that giving progesterone to trauma victims shortly following brain injury may reduce the risk of death and the degree of disability. The results of this — the first clinical trial of its kind in the world — are based on studies in lab animals for more than 15 years led by Dr. Donald Stein. Dr. Stein’s results were so impressive that Dr. Kellermann believed it was time to take this treatment to the bedside for testing in patients.

Emory nanotechnology experts led by Dr. Shuming Nie have developed nanoparticles called “quantum dots” that are rapidly moving from laboratory experiments with mice into new diagnostic protocols in patients. Soon these novel particles will help cancer and cardiovascular physicians detect cancer at a molecular level while it is still treatable and sort out individual differences in tumors that will help them target therapies. These scientists are hopeful that in the near future quantum dot particles will carry life-saving therapies to cancer patients.

As you might imagine, there are hundreds more researchers and developments at Emory that are awe-inspiring and deserve attention. I hope that you will join me on Research Appreciation Day on Dec. 6 to learn more about exciting work here at Emory.

For more information visit http://whsc.emory.edu/researchday.