Posts filed under ‘News’

IL-21 signals key to long-lasting antibody responses

A team of researchers at the Emory Vaccine Center have shown that IL-21, an immune regulatory molecule, is essential for long-lasting antibody response against viral infections.  According to the study’s authors, the findings highlight how IL-21 could be important in the development of antiviral vaccines, potentially designing future vaccines to incorporate IL-21 directly or to use the ability to stimulate IL-21 as a gauge of vaccine activity.

For the study, mice engineered to lack the gene for the IL-21 receptor were exposed to three different viral infections.  The scientists found that, when infected with the three viruses separately, the mice started to produce antibodies, but the antibody levels faded over time.

Since 1996, the Georgia Research Alliance has invested in the development and work of the Emory Vaccine Center, which  supports five GRA Eminent Scholars, including Rafi Ahmed, its founding director.   Read more here>

June 4, 2013 at 2:18 pm Leave a comment

Study concludes drug side effects inevitable

Studying a set of computer-generated/artificial proteins and comparing them to natural proteins, GRA Eminent Scholar Jeff Skolnik and collaborator Mu Gao at Georgia Tech have found that there may be no more than about 500 unique protein pocket configurations that serve as binding sites for small molecule pharmaceutical compounds.  Their conclusion:  drug side  effects may be impossible to avoid since the likelihood that a molecule intended for one protein (the drug’s target) will also bind with an unintended target is significant.

“Our study provides a rationalization for why a lot of drugs have significant side effects,” Skolnik, who directs the Georgia Tech Center for the Study of Systems Biology, said.  “The idea that a small molecule [drug] could have just one protein target is not supported.”

The researchers also examined the role of physics vs. evolution on protein binding activity.  “The basic physics of the system provides the mechanism for molecules to bind to proteins,” Skolnik said.  “You don’t need evolution to have a system that works on at least at a low level.  This has a lot of implications for the biochemical component of the origins of life.”    Read more here>

June 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm Leave a comment

GPB Nominated for Five Southeast EMMY® Awards for GRA’s “The Future Files”

GRA’s “The Future Files” pilot episode, produced in partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting, has been nominated for five Southeast EMMY® Awards.    The nominees are:

  1. News & Program Specialty-  Health/Science -  Robert Brienza, Joshua Seftel, Jesse Sweet
  2. Crafts Achievement Graphic Arts -  Jawad Metni
  3. Crafts AchievemenEditor (Animations) –  Daniel Sousa
  4. Crafts Achievement Musical Composition/Arrangement –  Fred Story
  5. Crafts Achievement Photographer – Jesse Sweet

The series premiered in November on all GPB stations across the state. It showcases how top researchers at Georgia universities are addressing some of the most challenging problems facing humankind.  The threat of influenza – and the inventive work of Georgia scientists to stop it – are the focus of the nominated pilot episode.

The winners will be announced on Saturday, June 8, 2013.

“The Future Files” is now streaming at Watch it now >

Future Files Logo FINAL

May 20, 2013 at 4:31 pm Leave a comment

UGA College of Veterinary Medicine honors Don Harn

The Phi Zeta Veterinary Honor Society of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine presented its Zoetis Award for Excellence in Research to GRA Distinguished Investigator Don Harn at its annual induction ceremony May 13.

Recruited to UGA in 2009 as part of GRA’s next-generation vaccines initiative, Harn was recognized for his research into schistosomiasis, also known as snail fever, a devastating parasitic disease primarily affecting developing countries.  His work in testing novel HIV-1 vaccine candidates and in developing novel therapies for various autoimmune disorders, including psoriasis, autoimmune encephalomyelitis and diabetes, was also citied.

Phi Zeta recognizes and promotes scholarship and research in matters pertaining to the welfare and diseases of animals.  The Xi chapter of Phi Zeta was established at the University of Georgia in 1959.

May 14, 2013 at 10:19 am Leave a comment

Sholl to chair Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

GRA Eminent Scholar David Sholl will become the new chair of the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech on July 1, 2013.

Ranked among the nation’s top 10 undergraduate and graduate programs of its kind, the school includes more than 1,000 students and more than 40 faculty in 20 interdisciplinary research centers.

“Our school has a phenomenal group of faculty, students and alumni.  I am privileged to have the opportunity to work with all of them,” Sholl said.  “Our discipline is in the middle of a renaissance in the U.S., and Georgia Tech is poised to play a key role in technology development and industrial practice as this trend continues.”

Sholl was recruited to Georgia Tech from Carnegie Mellon University as the GRA Eminent Scholar in Energy Sustainability in 2008.  Currently, he also holds the Michael E. Tennenbaum Family Chair and serves as associate director of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute.  Read more here>

May 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

GRA names new public relations director

Amanda Schroeder has joined the Georgia Research Alliance as director of public relations. In this role, she will manage all media, industry and constituent relations. In particular, she will develop brand and message strategy, build GRA’s social media presence and manage event coordination and execution. 

“We are excited to have Amanda on the GRA team,” said Mike Cassidy, GRA’s president and CEO. “She has extensive experience working with start-ups and entrepreneurs as well as building out marketing and public relations strategies and programs. With this experience and her deep understanding of our organization, Amanda will help communicate and promote the important role GRA plays in Georgia’s overall economic development.”

Prior to joining GRA, Schroeder served as vice president of marketing for BLiNQ Media, a leading technology and media company providing social engagement advertising solutions to agencies and brands. While there, she was a member of the senior management team that led BLiNQ to become acquired by The Gannett Company in August 2012. With more than 10 years of marketing experience in the private sector, Schroeder also has served as senior marketing manager for Cox Enterprises’ and director of global marketing for EyeWonder, LLC, an interactive digital advertising company. At EyeWonder, Schroeder led marketing strategy and operations efforts in the U.S., Europe, Middle East and Australia.

Schroeder earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Georgia State University and an MBA an emphasis on strategy, marketing and business development, from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

May 8, 2013 at 3:16 pm Leave a comment

Researchers take steps toward universal flu vaccine

GRA Distinguished Investigator Biao He and his colleagues at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine have successfully tested a new approach to flu vaccines that could lead to fewer vaccinations over time.

Current flu vaccines target surface proteins of the virus to build immunity.  “Influenza viruses change their surface proteins for various reasons and by various means.  As a result, we need annual vaccination to match the circulating strains,” He said.  He’s vaccine targets an internal viral protein — called a nucleoprotein —  that does not change as readily as the surface proteins.

Previous attempts by other researchers to target the nucleoprotein haven’t been effective.  But employing a vector process He developed that uses a canine virus as a delivery system, He demonstrated for the first time in a mouse model that a single dose immunization protected against both H1N1 and H5N1 strains. “The finding suggests flu vaccines can protect against multiple strains, thus fewer flu vaccinations will be necessary,” He said.    Read more here>

April 30, 2013 at 3:46 pm Leave a comment

Emory Vaccine Center a world leader in scientific discovery

In 1996, the Georgia Research Alliance and Emory University recruited renowned immunologist Rafi Ahmed as a GRA Eminent Scholar.  His mission — establish a leading vaccine research center to tackle many of the most pressing problems in immunology and vaccine development.  With substantial support from GRA, today the Emory Vaccine Center, which Ahmed directs, is the largest and most comprehensive academic vaccine center in the world.  Almost weekly its 280 researchers announce discoveries that move the needle forward in developing new vaccines and therapeutics that marshal the immune system to prevent and treat diseases, including influenza, HIV/AIDS, arthritis and cancer.

Two recent findings:

  • Emory Vaccine Center postdoctoral fellow Scott Hale, Ph.D., and his colleagues  have demonstrated that follicular helper T cells, important for generating protective antibodies — proteins produced by the immune system that can block or neutralize a virus — maintain their character even after a viral infection is over.  Understanding how follicular helper T cells form and are maintained could improve the design of vaccines against a wide variety of viruses.  Read more here>
  • Scientists at the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Emory University School of Medicine and the Emory Vaccine Center  have found that CRISPR, a system of genes that bacteria use to defend themselves against viruses, can be involved in helping some bacteria evade the mammalian immune system.  The researchers have shown that Francisella novicida, a close relative of the bacterium that causes tularemia, and another bacterium that causes meningitis, need parts of the CRISPR system to stay infectious. F. novicida, which grows inside mammalian cells, employs parts of CRISPR to shut off a bacterial gene that would otherwise trigger detection and destruction of the bacteria by its host.  Read more here>

April 16, 2013 at 12:35 pm Leave a comment

GRA Distinguished Cancer Scientist receives high honor

GRA Distinguished Cancer Scientist Fadio R. Khuri, M.D., today was awarded the coveted Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Memorial Award from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).  The annual award is given to an investigator not older than 50 whose contributions to cancer research have led to new understandings of cancer and show promise of even greater advances in the future.  Deputy Director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Khuri was honored for his contributions and accomplishments as an investigator in lung and aerodigestive medical oncology.

“Fadio’s leadership in lung and head and neck cancer research is legendary, and he has helped advance our understanding of the national’s number one cancer killer by introducing novel therapeutic agents that have changed how people live with this disease,” said Walter J. Curran, Jr., M.D., director of the Winship Cancer Institute.  “More than any other person I can think of, he has changed how we think about lung cancer — and how people live with this disease as a chronic, manageable illness in many cases, rather than a death sentence.”

GRA Distinguished Cancer Scientist N. Volkan Adsay, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Emory, was also honored as a collaborator with the team of Johns Hopkins University researchers who received the AACR Team Science Award for their work in pancreatic cancer.    Read more here>

April 10, 2013 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

UGA awarded renewed funding for bioenergy research

The U.S. Department of Energy announced late last week that it has renewed funding for the three bioenergy research centers it established in 2007, including the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), a partnership of the Oak Ridge National Laboratories, the University of Georgia and other university and industry partners.  The three centers are working to accelerate progress toward development of liquid biofuels that add an affordable, sustainable, domestically-produced option to the nation’s energy supply.

BESC’s research efforts are focused on enabling revolutionary breakthroughs in overcoming biomass recalcitrance — the resistance of plant walls to releasing the sugars locked inside their cells for conversion to alcohol, with the aim of enabling the use of lignocellulosic biomass (wood and grass) to produce mainly transportation fuels.  Lignocellulosic biomass is attractive because it is abundant, renewable, comes from non-food sources, and can be grown on land not used for food crops.

During the first five years, BESC has disclosed more than 100 inventions, including a modified switchgrass with an improved biofuel yield that has reached field trials with a commercial partner, and a genetically improved yeast that has the ability to digest sugars from plant cellulose, alongside the native ability to ferment the sugar into biofuel.

The renewal of BESC is for $25 million a year for up to five years.  Two Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholars — Jeff Bennetzen and Ying Xu —  are among BESC’s principal investigators, and GRA has provided significant support for acquiring sophisticated research tools for the center.

Read more here>

April 9, 2013 at 3:58 pm Leave a comment

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