Posts filed under ‘GRA Eminent Scholars’
GRA Eminent Scholar Joe Tsien of Georgia Regents University and his collaborators have reported that the declining ability in adults to filter and eliminate old information may make it harder to learn and acquire new information.
“When you are young, your brain is able to strengthen certain connections and weaken certain connections to make new memories,” said Tsien, who is co-director of the GRU Brain & Behavior Discovery Institute. This weakening appears to be hampered as people age. “If you only make synapses [which carry information between neurons] stronger and never get rid of the noise or less useful information, then it’s a problem.”
In the study, the research team used genetically modified mice that mimic the adult ratio of two NMDA receptor subunits that regulate learning and memory. Read more here>
GRA Distinguished Investigators Don Harn and Boris Striepen, both with the University of Georgia, have reported two quite different findings about parasites.
Harn, as part of a multi-university, multinational research team, has demonstrated that many parasitic worms, once inside a host, secrete a sugar-based anti-inflammatory molecule that might help treat metabolic disorders associated with obesity.
The molecule, a glycan, reduces inflammation to help the parasites evade the body’s immune system. The researchers hypothesized that the sugar molecule might have some effect on complications related to obesity since it is an inflammatory disease. They confirmed their hypothesis in mouse studies, which showed that when the experimental group and control group were fed a high fat diet, both gained weight, but the group treated with the glycan did not suffer the same negative health effects as the control.
“This doesn’t mean that people should seek out parasitic infections as treatment,” Harn said, “but it is an indication that the compounds secreted by worms could serve as the basis for future therapies.”
Striepen’s work was in a very different direction. Over 800 million years, single-celled algae have evolved into the parasites that case malaria and toxoplasmosis, serious diseases that infect millions of people every year, particularly in the developing world.
Striepen and colleague Maria Francia reported that a fiber inside the parasitic cells, which evolved from the flagellum that ancient algae used to swim, allows the cells to replicate and spread inside their hosts. By altering the genes for components of the fiber in the laboratory, the researchers discovered that they could prevent parasite replication, making the parasite essentially harmless.
“The algae-based connective fiber may serve as a promising target for anti-parasitic drug development,” Striepen said. Since parasites can become resistant to current drug therapies, the need for new approaches is always pressing.
GRA Eminent Scholar Eric Hunter and his research team have found that varieties of HIV that replicate more quickly can cause the immune systems of infected individuals to decline faster.
“These results are exciting because they demonstrate a novel early impact of HIV replicative capacity that can define the trajectory of immune decline and disease,” Hunter, who is co-director of the Emory University Center for AIDS research, said. “It raises the possibility that a vaccine that can attenuate early virus replication would have a positive impact on disease progression.” Read more here>
GRA Eminent Scholar Eberhard Voit’s skill for bringing together science, computing and engineering to make sense of the vast amounts of data biological research generates will play a key role in investigations of two quite different areas.
The Georgia Tech scientist is part of the newly created Malaria Host-Pathogen Interaction Center (MaHPIC), a consortium of Emory University, the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Funded through a $19.4 million contract with the National Institutes of Health, MaHPIC will use the comprehensive approach of systems biology — Voit’s research field — to study and catalog in molecular detail how malaria parasites interact with their human and animal hosts. This knowledge is fundamental to developing and evaluating new diagnostic tools, antimalarial drugs and vaccines for different types of malaria.
According to Voit, who is co-founder of Georgia Tech’s Integrative Biosystems Institute, “The sheer amount of detailed, high-quality information amassed by the experimental groups [of MaHPIC] will be unprecendented. With this project we have an incredible opportunity to integrate data with modern computational tools of dynamic modeling. This integration will allow us to analyze the complex networks of interactions between hosts and parasites in a manner never tried before. Systems biology will be the foundation for this integration.” Read more about the MaHPIC here>
Voit is also one of three Georgia Tech scientists collaborating in a study of how complex microbial systems use their genetic diversity to respond to human-induced change. The work, supported through a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, is important because these microbial communities play critical roles in the environment — breaking down pollutants, recycling nutrients and serving as major sources of nitrogen and carbon. The work will focus initially on microbial populations in man-made lakes located along the Chattahoochee River. “We have to make sense of pieces of DNA from perhaps thousands of organisms,” said Kostas Konstantinidis, the project’s director. “This is where biology, computing and engineering are merging to find clever ways to accomplish such tasks.” Read more here.
Governor Nathan Deal praised the power of partnerships in announcing that the National Institutes of Health has awarded $8.3 million to Emory University as initial funding for the Autism Center of Excellence (ACE). The Center, one of only three in the nation, is a collaboration of Emory University, the Marcus Autism Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory. Other collaborators include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Georgia Tech.
GRA Eminent Scholar Ami Klin, director of the Marcus Autism Center, will lead the ACE in its research, which will focus on early diagnosis and treatment of autism and related disorders. “It’s a unique community of scientists, but it’s also truly a city-wide commitment to tackle this public health issue in an unprecedented, concerted fashion,” Klin said. “What really makes this effort so different is the fact that all these institutions have come together to face this enormous challenge.”
Mike Cassidy, president and CEO of the Georgia Research Alliance said, “What Ami and his team are about is transformational. They are embracing what Ami calls ‘the science of clinical care.’ With Ami’s new view on science, coupled with the support of Bernie and Billi Marcus, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory University, the Woodruff Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the state of Georgia, and many others, the Marcus Center is now poised to create a brighter future for children and their families.”
The Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development at Clark Atlanta University has been awarded a five-year, $5.8 million renewal by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities. GRA Eminent Scholar Shafiq Khan is the center’s executive director. According to Khan, the award will allow the center to move closer to breakthroughs in prostate cancer and advance their efforts to create a culture of awareness and prevention, particularly in the African-American community. Read more here>
Writer: James Hataway
Athens. Ga. – University of Georgia researchers have employed specially designed nanomaterials to develop a new, label-free DNA detection method that promises to reduce the cost and complexity of common genetic tests.
Their discovery may be used to help clinicians diagnose certain cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. It can detect the presence of viruses in tissue. And it can be used for a variety of forensic applications, such as paternity testing or crime scene DNA analysis.
Led by Yiping Zhao, professor of physics in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and director of the university’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, and Ralph Tripp, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, the researchers proved the efficacy of their new DNA analysis method by experimenting with short strands of RNA called microRNA. While their approach may be used on all forms of DNA and RNA, researchers focused on microRNA because it holds great promise as a target for future therapeutics. More here>