White Coats for Black Lives

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June 30, 2020

White Coats for Black Lives

Over the past several weeks, our organization and community have been reminded of the disparities and challenges that our African American colleagues, neighbors, and friends too often face. Many of us participated in White Coats for Black Lives and were heartened by the support from across Emory, and many participated in meaningful Emory Juneteenth dialogues.

Creating real change takes time, and when we work together, positive change will occur. I was personally moved to witness the historic bipartisan vote to approve a new Georgia hate crimes bill. The bill, supported by Emory and other key businesses and leaders, extends protections to people who are targeted because of their race, sexual orientation, or religion. To me, this exemplifies the encouraging fact that change is possible, and while positive, it is not enough.

I appreciate the opportunity to hear from many of you as you have shared your experiences and feedback, to listen carefully, and to learn more about your perspectives. As we continue to manage these complex issues, it is critical that we build on the momentum and foster an open dialogue. We have a tremendous opportunity to listen, learn, and formulate an ongoing action plan to continuously improve.

These values are built into our work on constructive culture, which is something everyone at Emory plays an active role in every day. There is no place for racism or discrimination of any kind within our culture. And when we fall short of our values, we commit to improve – by working together and by carefully and honestly examining our shortfalls. We are committed to moving forward, have engaged the Emory University Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and will be engaging outside experts to work with us to ensure we are on track.

We aspire to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to treat everyone with respect, caring, and compassion. We aim to serve with dignity to improve lives and provide hope for our patients, our students, our community, and each other.

Emory labs reopen

David Weinshenker is back in his lab. Well, not actually. But his team of grad students and post docs are back in, resuming their work with mice and rats to understand neurologic diseases. Weinshenker, a human genetics professor, had to shutter much of his lab on March 24 as COVID-19 spread across the state. Fortunately, his research associate was able to continue to care for the animals during the research hiatus.

“We have dozens of transgenic lines of mice and rats,” says Weinshenker. “If they had been left to their own devices, restarting our research would have taken years.”

Weinshenker’s lab reopened, along with others across the university, starting in early June. Researchers, however, returned to a changed landscape. Regulations allow only one person per 250 square feet, researchers must wear face masks, gloves, and lab coats at all times, and signs direct people how to move between rooms and buildings. To accommodate the lower density requirements, researchers now work in shifts—7 am to 3 pm and 3 pm to 11 pm.

“Ramping down slows our investigators and our research enterprise,” says Michael Zwick, WHSC associate vice president for research. “We really wanted to plan for the longer term since we expect COVID-19 to be around until a vaccine is developed. We think the working environment we’ve created is safe and will allow us to sustain our research enterprise while exposure to COVID-19 remains a risk to all of us in Georgia.”

Zwick stresses that researchers were far from idle during the lab closures. WHSC managed to secure more than $61 million in federal grants for COVID-19 research. “Even while labs were at reduced capacity, our investigators were being creative and competitive,” he says. “Emory is leading the way in COVID-19 research.”

Projects include:

• Rolling out an ambitious vaccine trial sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) that launched in record speed

• Enrolling more patients in a global antiviral therapeutic trial that preliminary data has shown helped hasten recovery for certain patients and subsequently, launching a second arm of that trial which combines the antiviral with an anti-inflammatory drug

• Receiving the largest award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a single budgetary year to rapidly create widely accessible diagnostic tools and tests

• Building a national, county-level dashboard and tracking map that will enable local officials to understand epidemiological trends and respond accordingly

• Helping implement a national seroprevalence survey to understand how many adults in the U.S. have antibodies to the virus. Read more.

Rollins, Georgia collaborate on COVID-19 response

Rollins in partnering with the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) to increase the state’s public health resources to combat the COVID-19 crisis. The Emory COVID-19 Response Collaborative (ECRC), established within Rollins, will provide ongoing, flexible and collaborative support to the GDPH in four major areas:

• Participating in state strategic and program planning and identifying areas for immediate focus for assistance from faculty, alumni and students.

• Identifying and supporting RSPH faculty, students and staff to work in the field alongside practice partners to investigate and stem COVID-19 outbreaks as they arise throughout Georgia.

• Preparing and placing public health professionals throughout Georgia through creation of the Rollins COVID-19 Epidemiology Fellows Program. Conceived as a way to accelerate the hiring of additional epidemiologists, the inaugural cohort will aim to place one fellow in each of Georgia’s 18 health districts, with additional fellows assigned at DPH, the ECRC or in districts with unique needs or larger populations.

• Identifying key areas where rapid implementation, evaluation and research are needed and provide support through projects or other sources of funding. This includes conducting the nation’s first randomized statewide COVID-19 survey, modeled after an NIH-approved national survey, of 1,200 households across Georgia to understand the prevalence of COVID-19.

The ECRC launched with support from a gift of $7.8 million from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. Read more.

In brief
Unite against racial violence

Thousands of members of the Emory community came together for in-person and virtual events held on June 5 to protest racist violence and recommit to working for a more just future. “White Coats for Black Lives” vigil participants knelt in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in remembrance of George Floyd and countless other victims of racist violence. Read more.

Health equities dashboard

To track and respond to the differential health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at Rollins have developed the COVID-19 Health Equity Dashboard. This is a dynamic and interactive web-based dashboard to visualize the interplay between social determinants and COVID-19 epidemiologic metrics at the county level.

EJCH breaks ground on expansion project

Emory Johns Creek Hospital held a virtual groundbreaking event to celebrate the expansion of the medical office building. Attendees watched via live stream as leaders broke ground on the new construction project that will add three new floors for patients.

Winship names new program leaders

Winship announced leadership changes in its recently formed Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB) Research Program. Wei Zhou is now the leader of the CMB Research Program. Zhou, who previously served as the program's co-leader, succeeded Jing Chen in this role. Cheng-Kui Qu has assumed the role of co-leader of the CMB Research Program. Read more.

A perfect storm in behavioral health

The 24th report of the Blue Ridge Academic Health Group explores the behavioral health crisis in the U.S. The need for services is growing, but there is a shortage of trained health care professionals, severe deficiency in inpatient/facility capacity, inadequate reimbursement, and a variety of other barriers that make it difficult, if not impossible, for people to access appropriate care in a timely manner. Read The Behavioral Health Crisis: A Road Map for Academic Health Center Leadership in Healing Our Nation.

New scientific search tool

A team led by A. Cecile J.W. Janssens (epidemiology) created an online, citation-based search tool—CoCites—that helps researchers find related articles for scientific literature in PubMed. With CoCites, users don’t enter keywords, they enter or select the title of the article for which they would like to find related content. The tool retrieves these other articles through co-citations. CoCites is currently available as a browser extension for Chrome or Firefox; an extension for Safari will be added.

Alvaro Alonso (epidemiology) has been selected as the inaugural Stephen D. Clements, Jr. Distinguished Professor in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Research.

Anita Corbett (biology) is the inaugural recipient of the Mid-Career Leadership Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Linda A. McCauley (SON dean) has been included in the Environmental Protection Agency’s appointment of 28 members to the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee.

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