Research roundup: Recent grants and publications for Emory faculty and staff

Emory Report | Sept. 21, 2021

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As an academic research institution, Emory’s faculty and staff conduct studies across every discipline, from the sciences to the humanities. Here’s a sample of recent grant awards and the work they will support, plus highlights from some published research findings.

To read more about ongoing research at Emory, visit the eScience Commons blog (for natural and social sciences) and the Lab Land blog (for health sciences).

 

Grants highlighted:

  

Publications highlighted:

 

Grants

Reducing plastic waste burning to improve human health in Guatemala  

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded its grant for combustion of plastic waste and human health effects in Guatemala to Lisa Thompson of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Household air pollution (HAP) from solid fuel combustion is a major contributor to poor ambient air pollution and health. The R01 Research Project grant provides funding for five years of $2,667,915 toward an implementation of community working groups that will improve air quality by reducing household plastic waste burning, reduce exposure and improve health-related quality of life in women of reproductive age.  

Thompson is an associate professor in the School of Nursing and affiliated faculty in the Department of Environmental Health in the Rollins School of Public Health. She is the director of graduate studies for the PhD program in nursing. Read more about the grant funding. 

 

Training more sexual assault nurse examiners in Georgia 

The U.S. Department of Health Resources and Services Administration has awarded $1.2 million to the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing to create the Georgia Forensic Nursing Network (GFNN). Once established, the GFNN will work with partners across the state to increase the number of sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) in Georgia. 

Associate professor Trisha Sheridan leads the effort, which includes providing SANE training and certification opportunities to 140 nurses over the next three years. Learn more about the work. 

 

In-the-kNOW app for HIV prevention and health communication among Black women 

Rasheeta Chandler, an assistant professor with the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, has been awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for In-the-kNOW (Novel approaches to Optimizing Women’s Health), a mobile app to optimize HIV prevention and sexual/reproductive health communication among Black women in the Southern U.S. 

Black women have the second highest rate of all new HIV infections in the U.S. and account for 69% of all HIV diagnoses among women in the Southern U.S.  

The R34 grant provides funding for three years of $744,264.00 and gives Chandler the opportunity to refine and pilot test the In-the-kNOW app, with Black women, examining acceptability, feasibility and usability of the app. 

More information on the award is here. 

 

Morningside Center names inaugural research award recipients

Emory University investigators will receive a total of $955,000 in funding for new research projects from the Morningside Center for Innovative and Affordable Medicine, an interdisciplinary unit within Emory's Woodruff Health Sciences Center directed and co-founded by Emory University School of Medicine Dean Vikas Sukhatme.

The Morningside Center was created to promote research, education and advocacy for effective and affordable medical treatments. The inaugural call for proposals focused on preclinical work critical to supporting clinical trials, biomarker development for repurposed drug studies and clinical trials ready for implementation.

This cycle's Morningside Center Research Awards recipients are Andrew Hendrick (“Levodopa Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy”); Gregory B. Lesinski (“Repurposing CD26/DPP4 Inhibitors for Immunotherapy of Cancer”); Lauren E. McCullough (“Targeting Patients with Breast Adipose Tissue Inflammation for Statin Therapy to Prevent Breast Cancer Recurrence”); Renee Read  (“Repurposing Verteporfin for Treatment of Pediatric High-grade Gliomas”); Nicole Schmitt  (“Repurposing Statin Drugs to Enhance Immunotherapy in Head and Neck Cancer”); and Edmund K. Waller (“Indole-3-Carbinol Supplement for Prevention of Serious Acute Graft Versus Host Disease”).

Learn more here (Winship) and here (Health Sciences Update).

 

HPV vaccination for cancer prevention among HIV-positive adults

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is an effective and safe approach to prevent and reduce the risk of HPV-related disease. However, HPV vaccination remains low in people living with HIV, who are 28 times more likely to be diagnosed with anal cancer than the general population.

Jessica Wells, principal investigator from Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and a member of Winship Cancer Institute, and colleagues were recently awarded a grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research ($390,000 in the first year) to address this critical need. The R01-funded project will tailor and implement an evidence-based, multi-level program to promote the uptake of the HPV vaccine among people living with HIV. Three rural and urban HIV clinics in Georgia will be part of the intervention that aims to decrease the personal, clinical and public health burden of anal cancer and other HPV-related diseases.

 

Publications

The future of your face is plastic

Emory dermatologist Jack Arbiser has identified a compound as a treatment for rosacea, a common skin condition involving redness and visible blood vessels on the face. The compound is remarkable for two reasons: It is the same as Irganox 1010, an antioxidant plastic stabilizer used in industry for years, and it is a proteasome inhibitor.

The proteasome is the cell’s garbage disposal, and many kinds of proteins get tagged and thrown into it. Interfering with the disposal inhibits the inflammatory NFkB pathway. Oncologists use the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib/Velcade to treat multiple myeloma.

Arbiser has founded a company called Accuitis, funded by the Georgia Research Alliance, to develop the compound, called ACU-D1. The results of a clinical trial for ACU-D1, conducted at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and Forefront Dermatology in San Antonio, were recently published in Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. Find more information here.

 

Test-negative design: a positive for COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness studies

Emory biostatistician and assistant professor Natalie Dean has co-authored a commentary in The New England Journal of Medicine about the role of test-negative designs in COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness. Test-negative designs are a form of case-control study; the same clinical case definition is used for enrolling both cases and controls, and laboratory testing is subsequently used to distinguish the groups. 

The authors say that test-negative designs can play an important role in monitoring COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness because of their applicability to large electronic health records and their ability to simplify inclusion of large prospective cohorts. Test-negative designs have in the past been used to assess vaccine effectiveness for the seasonal flu vaccine, but the authors write that they have gained popularity for COVID-19 vaccinations and lay out certain considerations for interpreting results from such a design.

 

Link between racial discrimination and brain responses in Black women

In an Emory Brain Health Center study conducted among Black women, those with more experiences of racial discrimination showed proportionately greater response in regions of the brain related to threat vigilance and regulation of threat response.

Researchers, led by clinical neuropsychologist Negar Fani, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, reported their findings in a cross-sectional study published Sept. 1 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Fani and colleagues conducted the five-year study among 55 Black women in the U.S. (mean age, 37.7 years) who were exposed to trauma. The study suggests racial discrimination may place a burden on areas of the brain associated with fear inhibition, emotion regulation and visual attention.

These findings suggest that Black Americans who experience more discrimination may be more vigilant for future racist events, Fani says. A disproportionately high amount of brain power may go into regulating, or inhibiting, their emotional responses to these situations. Over time, there may be a physical and emotional cost to overburdening these systems, which could result in an increased risk for later brain health problems and race-related health disparities, she adds.

Read more about Fani’s work with the Grady Trauma Project.

 

Detecting vulnerable plaque with a laser-induced whisper

A relatively new imaging technique called photoacoustic imaging (or PAI) detects sounds produced when laser light interacts with human tissues. Working with colleagues at Michigan State, Emory immunologist Eliver Ghosn’s lab is taking the technique to the next step to visualize immune cells within atherosclerotic plaques.

The goal is to more accurately spot vulnerable plaque, or the problem areas lurking within arteries that lead to clots, and in turn heart attacks and strokes. A description of the technology was recently published in Advanced Functional Materials

Earlier this year, the FDA approved a photoacoustic imaging system for detection of breast cancer. Several companies are developing photoacoustic imaging systems, and PAI is currently being tested on carotid artery plaque in clinical studies in Europe.

Ghosn’s approach, developed with biomedical engineer Bryan Smith at Michigan State, adds specificity by adding nanoparticle probes taken up by macrophages, the immune cells that accumulate within atherosclerotic plaques. The nanoparticles, administered before imaging, act as contrast agents. Read more about it.

 

Thalamic input to motor cortex facilitates goal-direction action

The brain’s ventromedial thalamus (VMT) serves as an essential waystation from the basal ganglia to the motor cortex, and has been suggested to contribute to cortical activity during periods of movement preparation and initiation. Current Biology published new insights into this process, based on a mouse model.

Dieter Jaeger, Emory professor of biology, is senior author of the paper. First author is Naoya Takahashi, who did the work while at Humboldt University and is now with the University of Bordeaux. The project was funded by a visiting fellowship award from Berlin’s Einstein Foundation, which allowed the Jaeger lab to collaborate with the lab of co-author Matthew Larkum at Humboldt University.

The researchers trained mice to detect the deflection of a single whisker as a cue to lick a water spout to obtain a water reward. A technique known as two-photon calcium imaging allowed the researchers to measure the electrical activity of neurons during the experiments. The results showed that activation of VMT axons in the anterior lateral motor cortex preceded lick initiation and that the VMT inputs modulate cortical activity and increase the probability and vigor of licking.

Such insights may help in the understanding and treatment of disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, which involves an inability to initiate movement, thought to arise from inhibition of the motor thalamus by the basal ganglia.

 

Investors can reconcile stereotypes of CEOs’ accents  

Chief executive officers with nonnative accents may avoid communicating directly with investors in earnings calls for fear of investors’ negative stereotypes. But investors can downplay those stereotypes by inferring that the nonnative-accented CEOs have exceptional qualities, such as hard work and determination, that allowed them to rise to the CEO position.

These are the conclusions of a paper in The Accounting Review from Goizueta Business School professor of accounting Kathryn Kadous and doctoral student Leonardo Barcellos. Investors motivated to reconcile the stereotypes — for example, because of bad earnings news — are more likely to form a positive image of nonnative-accented CEOs and are more likely to invest in their companies, the authors find.

 

Cisplatin-mediated activation of glucocorticoid receptor and platinum resistance

Platinum-based compounds, such as cisplatin or carboplatin, have been used for decades to treat a variety of cancers, but therapeutic resistance and side effects remain challenges with this class of drugs.

New findings from Emory researchers and colleagues provide insights into the underlying mechanism of glucocorticoid receptor in cisplatin resistance. The study, published in Nature Communications, also identifies an effective alternative therapeutic strategy for patients on platinum-based therapy who need glucocorticoid receptor agonists as anti-inflammatory medication.

The research was led by Emory professor of hematology and medical oncology Sumin Kang, part of Winship Cancer Institute, and former Emory postdoctoral fellow Chaoyun Pan. Emory co-authors are JiHoon Kang, Jung Seok Hwang, Jie Li, Austin C. Boese, Xu Wang, Likun Yang, Kelly R. Magliocca, Georgia Z. Chen, Nabil F. Saba and Dong M. Shin. Other co-authors are Titus J. Boggon from Yale University School of Medicine and Lingtao Jin from the University of Florida College of Medicine.  

 

Recommendations on heart failure referrals

new scientific statement from the American Heart Association encourages health care practitioners to refer heart failure patients to an advanced health failure (HF) center and provides a framework to identify those who might benefit most from such sophisticated intervention. Emory cardiologist Alanna Morris was lead author on the statement published in Circulation.

The authors note that among the estimated 6.2 million Americans living with heart failure, around 5% each year progress to an advanced stage of the disease. While patients are often referred to an advanced center for therapies such as a heart transplantation, there might be other reasons to refer patients including access to the infrastructure and the availability of a multidisciplinary team that offers a broad range of expertise.

 

High school sports-related concussion and jugular vein compression collar

Sports-related concussion can exert serious acute and long-term consequences on brain microstructure, function and behavioral outcomes. A team of researchers aimed to quantify the alterations in white matter microstructure and global network organization, and the decrements in behavioral and cognitive outcomes from pre-season to post-concussion in youth athletes who experienced sports-related concussion.

Co-authors include Greg Myer, director of the Emory Sports Performance and Research Center. The research was published in Journal of Neurotrauma.

The study evaluated whether wearing a jugular compression neck collar, a device designed to mitigate brain “slosh” injury, would mitigate the pre-season to post-concussion alterations in neuroimaging, behavioral and cognitive outcomes. The researchers concluded that young athletes exhibited significant white matter microstructural and network organizational changes and cognitive alterations following sports-related concussion. The use of the jugular vein compression collar showed promising evidence to reduce these alterations in high school contact sport athletes.

 

Central nervous system dysfunction and patellofemoral pain in young females

Patellofemoral pain (PFP) is defined as retro- or peri-patellar knee pain without a clear structural abnormality. Unfortunately, many current treatment approaches fail to provide long-term pain relief, potentially due to an incomplete understanding of pain-disrupted sensorimotor dysfunction within the central nervous system. Greg Myer, director of the Emory Sports Performance and Research Center, and colleagues evaluated brain functional connectivity in participants with and without PFP, hoping to determine the relationship between altered brain functional connectivity in association with patient-reported outcomes.

The research was published in Journal of Orthopedic Research. The results support emergent evidence that patellofemoral pain is not localized to structural knee dysfunction but may actually be resultant to altered central neural processes. The data provide potential neuro-therapeutic targets for novel therapies aimed to reorganize neural processes, improve neuromuscular function, and restore an active pain-free lifestyle.

 

COVID-19 vaccine booster study for people with autoimmune diseases

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has begun a clinical trial to assess the antibody response to an extra dose of an authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine in people with autoimmune disease who did not respond to an original COVID-19 vaccine regimen. The trial also will investigate whether pausing immunosuppressive therapy for autoimmune disease improves the antibody response to an extra dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in this population.

The trial initially will include people with one of five autoimmune diseases: multiple sclerosis, pemphigus, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus or systemic sclerosis. An estimated 8% of Americans have an autoimmune disease, including a disproportionate number of people in minority communities most severely impacted by COVID-19.

Emory will participate in the study under the supervision of Ignacio Sanz, director of the Division of Rheumatology in Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar.

The trial is funded and supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of NIH, and is being conducted by the NIAID-funded Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence (Emory is is one of eight such centers). Additional information is available here. The locations of other study sites are at ClinicalTrials.gov under identifier NCT05000216.

 

Impact of wildfires on global mortality

Emory climate scientist and assistant professor Noah Scovronick is one of the authors of a global study in The Lancet Planetary Health on the impact of wildfires on mortality. The multi-institution global study attributed 33,500 deaths each year directly to wildfire pollution. The researchers revealed that short-term exposure to wildfire-related fine particulate matter in the air is increasing deaths worldwide and that pollution from wildfire smoke can spread as far as 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away. The study found that 3,200 deaths in the U.S. could be attributed to pollution from wildfire smoke during the study period.

 

Multiple myeloma patients and antibody responses to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines

A new study reports weakened antibody responses to COVID-19 mRNA vaccines among most patients with multiple myeloma, a form of bone-marrow cancer associated with an immunocompromised state.

The research, published in the journal Leukemia, was carried out at the Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research (IMBCR) in California, in collaboration with Emory infectious diseases fellow Samuel Stampfer.

Patients with smoldering myeloma not requiring treatment all achieved a good response to COVID-19 vaccination; less than half of patients with active myeloma requiring treatment did. Specifically, only 45% of active patients fully responded to the mRNA vaccines, whereas less than a quarter showed a partial response and one-third did not respond to the vaccines above background antibody levels. Read more information here.

 

COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on statewide cancer services

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to delays in people seeking medical care in the U.S. Researchers examined changes in patterns of cancer diagnosis and surgical treatment between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 in 2020 and 2019 with real-time electronic pathology report data from population-based Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) cancer registries from Georgia and Louisiana.

The study found 29,905 fewer pathology reports in 2020 vs. 2019, representing a 10.2% decline. The nadir was early April 2020, with 42.8% fewer reports than in April 2019. The results, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, suggest substantial delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.

The work was led by Rollins School of Public Health epidemiology professor Kevin C. Ward and American Cancer Society epidemiologist K. Robin Yabroff, both members of Winship Cancer Institute. Ward is the director of the Georgia Center for Cancer Statistics and principal investigator for the National Cancer Institute’s Georgia SEER Registry. Co-authors are Ahmedin Jemal and Jingxuan Zhao from the American Cancer Society; Xiao-Cheng Wu and Brent Mumphrey from Louisiana State University; Jennifer Stevens and Linda Coyle from Information Management Services, Inc.; and Serban Negoita from the National Cancer Institute.