Archive for April, 2013

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

Defining precise shapes of catalytic nanoparticles challenging

GRA Eminent Scholar Younan Xia and his colleagues in the Georgia Tech-Emory Department of Biomedical Engineering are working to understand many aspects of catalytic nanoparticles.  Their latest research investigates how surface diffusion — how atoms move from one site to another on nanoscale surfaces — affects the final shape of the particles.

Understanding the surface diffusion process is important for a wide range of applications that use specific shapes to optimize the activity and selectivity of nanoparticles, including catalytic converters, fuel cell technology, chemical catalysis and plasmonics.  “We want to be able to design the synthesis to produce nanoparticles with the exact shape we want for each specific application,” Xia said.  Controlling the shape of nanoparticles is especially important in catalysis and other applications using expensive metals like platinum and palladium.

Because diffusion rate is determined by temperature, with higher temperatures allowing particles to move around faster, the investigators varied both the temperature of the process used to deposit atoms and the rate at which the atoms were deposited.  They found that the ratio of the deposition rate to the diffusion rate determines the final shape. “Unless the atomic reaction is at absolute zero, you will always have some diffusion,” said Xia.  “But if you can add atoms to the surface in the places that you want them faster than they can diffuse, you can control the final destination of the atoms.”    Read more here>

April 9, 2013 at 3:26 pm Leave a comment

New Foundation formed to promote USDA/private sector technology partnerships

The Georgia Research Alliance is among the nine technology-based economic development organizations that have come together to launch the Agricultural Technology Innovation Partnership (ATIP) Foundation.  The new organization will foster public-private research and technology licensing partnerships integrating government, industry and academic R&D, and promote commercialization of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research outcomes from its Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and other scientific agencies.

Headquartered in Arlington, Texas, the ATIP Foundation will respond to USDA requests to develop public-private consortia around specific initiatives of high national priority.  The first of these focuses on land management practices for producing food, feed, fiber and biofuels.  A  second initiative addresses issues in translating nutrition research results to the food supply to combat obesity.  The foundation will also take private sector research needs to USDA science and technology experts.

Other foundation member organizations are the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, Innovate Mississippi, the Wisconsin Security Research Consortium, Pennsylvania’s Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, the Center for Innovation (Texas), the California Association for Local Economic Development, the Kansas Bioscience Authority and the Center for Innovative Food Technology in Ohio.   Read more here>

April 9, 2013 at 3:23 pm 1 comment

GRA VentureLab companies land top deals in 2012

Six of Georgia’s top 25 venture capital deals of 2012 were with GRA VentureLab graduates.  The six deals totaled more than $36 million in new investment capital.

Founded in 2002, GRA VentureLab helps to build companies around university research results and grow these start-ups in Georgia.  To date, the GRA VentureLab program has helped form more than 100 companies that have attracted nearly $460 million in investments and employ some 600 people.  

On the Top 25 list recently published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle are, in order of deal size:

  • Damballa, a computer systems security company
  • Suniva, a manufacturer of solar cells and systems
  • Clearside Biomedical, developer of ophthalmic therapeutics and a microneedle delivery system
  • Qcept Technologies, a manufacturer of wafer inspection systems
  • Urjanet, a provider of energy data to large energy users
  • Reach Health, a provider of systems that give health care worker remote access to patients

The Top 25 list was compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers/National Venture Capital Association MoneyTree Report and is based on data from Thomson Reuters.

April 2, 2013 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment

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