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

April 22, 2020

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As part of 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.

Grants highlighted:

Publications highlighted:

 



Grants


$20 million NIAID funding for NIH Tetramer Core Facility

John Altman along with faculty and staff of the NIH Tetramer Core Facility were awarded a seven-year renewal of more than $20 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

The TCF, where Altman serves as director, was established at Emory University in 1999 for the production and distribution to the research community of major histocompatibility complex tetramers and related reagents for the detection of T cell responses to viruses, bacteria, parasites, tumors, auto-antigens and other model antigens. Reagent production currently is focusing on COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 related research.

 

Police shootings and public safety

Emory political scientists Tom Clark, Adam Glynn and Michael Leo Owens received a two-year, $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study police shootings of civilians.  

They will collect data on lethal and non-lethal shootings of civilians by police in the United States from 2000 to 2019. The primary sources of data will be the police departments of the 285 largest cities. The researchers plan to collect, catalog, store and share comprehensive data on police shootings with hopes to “better illuminate the degree to which police use lethal force and suggest how to better balance police discretion to use lethal force for public safety and order while fostering or maintaining public trust in the police, particularly by communities of color.”

Clark is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Political Science. Glynn and Owens are associate professors of political science.


SARS-C0V-2 pathogenesis, immune responses, and treatment: from macaques to humans

Researchers from Emory School of Medicine and Yerkes National Primate Research Center received a $150,000 seed grant to take a cross-scales approach to uncover insights to help in the care of COVID-19 patients. The award is from the Emory basic science initiative From Molecules and Pathogens to Populations and Pandemics.

The project will leverage a novel model of COVID-19 infection to characterize the immune response to the virus; define the main anatomical sites and kinetics of viral replication and evolution; and test strategies targeting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 that could be directly translatable to the clinic.

Research will take a cross-scales approach, from cellular and molecular immunology to whole-host analysis. Simultaneously, non-human primate data will be coupled with data generated from human specimens to understand intra-host and population-level viral evolution. The integrated results will be used to general insights to inform the care of people with COVID-19 infections. 

Investigators for the project include Mirko Paiardini (associate professor) from Yerkes National Primate Research Center and the School of Medicine and Raymond Schinazi (professor) and Anne Piantadosi (assistant professor) from the School of Medicine.


Landscape of coronavirus recombination across scales

Researchers from Emory College and the School of Medicine received a seed grant of $150,000 to find genomic markers for recombination events of coronaviruses. The award is from the Emory basic science initiative From Molecules and Pathogens to Populations and Pandemics.

Viruses continually evolve through mutation and recombination (when coinfecting viruses exchange genetic information and create a new virus). This project aims to anticipate epidemiologically significant recombination events involving the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The researchers will use experimental, modeling and phylogenetic analysis approaches to quantitatively examine recombination of human coronaviruses at cellular and population-level scales. By integrating their findings across these scales, they aim to identify genomic signatures of recombination that are likely to be adaptive for this family of viruses.

The investigators include Anice Lowen, associate professor in the School of Medicine; Mehul Suthar, assistant professor in the School of Medicine; and Katia Koelle, associate professor of biology.


COVID-19 specific antibody development from lampreys

Researchers from Emory’s School of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received a seed grant of $124,000 to investigate how spike glycoproteins in the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 promote infection by fusing viral and cellular membranes. The award is from the Emory basic science initiative From Molecules and Pathogens to Populations and Pandemics.

Widely available immunoglobulin-based monoclonal antibodies — which are specific to the coronavirus that caused a pandemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002 — do not bind to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. That suggests that antibody cross-reactivity may be limited. The researchers will work with antibodies from lampreys, jawless fish that have unique antibody properties. Lamprey immunoglobulin-based monoclonal antibodies are composed of Leucine-rich repeat modules, with exquisite specificity for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Investigators for the project are Max Cooper, professor in Emory’s School of Medicine; Balwan Singh, from the CDC; and Masayuki Hirano, assistant professor in the School of Medicine.

 


Publications

 

Urban gardeners’ awareness of soil contamination risks

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study that grew out of a senior honors thesis by Lauren Balotin, who graduated from Emory in 2019 with a degree in environmental sciences. Balotin is first author of the paper and senior author is Eri Saikawa, associate professor in Emory’s Department of Sciences.

Soil in urban areas may carry the risk of heavy metal and metalloid (HMM) contamination, which can result in adverse health effects for humans. In 2018, industrial slag and hazardous levels of soil contamination were detected in West Atlanta where some people maintain urban gardens.

The Emory researchers worked with community members to conduct research through surveys and follow-up interviews to understand the awareness of West Atlanta residents of the possibility of HMM in their soil. The results showed that residents were concerned about the potential health effects of contaminated soil, yet unconcerned about produce from their gardens. Their knowledge on sources of HMM exposure and methods for remediation was low and varied based on racial group. Results suggest a need for further community education and outreach on the subject.

Co-authors include members of History Westside Gardens and Rollins School of Public Health.


Tau imaging and Alzheimer’s disease pathology

How much can brain scans reveal about the progression of Alzheimer’s disease pathology in people who are at risk, because they display mild cognitive impairment? 

Ihab Hajjar, associate professor of medicine, and colleagues at Emory’s Brain Health Center and Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center examined the connection in a paper published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The data came from 29 participants in an ongoing study testing the effects of candesartan, a high blood pressure medication, on Alzheimer’s-related biomarkers. Postdoctoral fellow Maureen Okafor is first author.

Two hallmarks of brain pathology in Alzheimer’s disease are extracellular plaques and intracellular tangles, both associated with characteristic proteins: beta-amyloid and tau, respectively. The Emory investigators used a PET radiotracer for detecting tau accumulation. They compared radiological measurements with cerebrospinal fluid measurements of both tau and beta-amyloid, as well as memory tests.

While preliminary, the results suggest a potential for tau imaging in advancing diagnostic and therapeutic approaches in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, Okafor and colleagues conclude. The findings also allowed the researchers to determine the optimal part of the brain for monitoring tau: the temporal lobe.


RVD therapy for multiple myeloma

A team of investigators from Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University has shown outstanding long-term survival results for multiple myeloma patients from a three-drug induction regimen in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Nisha S. Joseph of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology was lead author. 

Their study describes the largest cohort of patients treated with a combination of lenalidomide, bortezomib and dexamethasone (RVD) with the longest follow up reported to date. 

The study followed 1,000 consecutive patients with newly diagnosed myeloma, both transplantation-eligible and -ineligible, who were treated with RVD induction therapy from January 2007 until August 2016. The study proves this induction regimen has good safety profile in the long run and is highly effective in managing multiple myeloma, a cancer caused by malignant plasma cells in the bone marrow.

 

A step forward in physics for energy efficiency

Nature Materials published a key finding related to improving energy efficiency led by Weijie Li, a graduate student in Emory’s Department of Physics; Xin Lu, a post-doctoral fellow; and Ajit Srivastava, assistant professor of physics.

Charges such as electrons interact with each other and this is the basis for transistors. Electrons, however, are slower than light, which is used in fiber optics and provides much faster computation and communication. But light particles, or photons, don’t interact with one another, and cannot be used to make switches or transistors.

The Emory physicists found a solution to this problem for how to make photons interact through matter. They showed that in a two-dimensional heterobilayer (a sandwich structure made of two different atomically thin materials) strong interactions can occur at the level of a single photon. The finding is a step not only towards engineering photon-photon interactions, but also doing so at the ultimate limit of a single photon, which is crucial for energy efficiency.

Post-doctoral fellow Sudipta Dubey and graduate student Luka Devenica are co-authors.

 

Intestinal bacteria protecting the liver

Certain types of intestinal bacteria can help protect the liver from injuries such as alcohol or acetaminophen overdose, according to Emory scientists led by pathologist Andrew Neish and physiologist Dean Jones.

The research was published on March 25 in Cell Metabolism. “The composition of the microbiota, because of natural variation, dysbiosis or supplementation with probiotics, can strongly affect how the liver processes both toxins and pharmacological agents, and thus have clinical consequences on how individuals respond to such exogenous chemicals,” Neish says.