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NIH stimulus funding supports Emory biomedical scientists

At least 50 research projects so far, supported by more than $10 million in stimulus grants from the National Institutes of Health, are expected to lead to new discoveries at Emory University that will improve medical treatment, create new jobs, and provide additional educational opportunities for students. Emory has received half of all the NIH ARRA grants awarded to Georgia academic institutions thus far.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), passed by Congress in February, opened up funding opportunities for new projects as well as supplemental funding for projects that already are well on their way to achieving significant results. Emory scientists expect to advance research discoveries in areas ranging from heart disease, cancer and neurology to organ transplantation, pulmonary diseases, addiction and epilepsy.

In addition to research grants, NIH provided funding for Emory scientists to hire eight high school students, 22 college students, and five teachers for summer research positions.

Emory's stimulus grant funding is highlighted at

The NIH is expected to award a total of $10.4 billion in stimulus grants. Funds provided by the ARRA must be used within two years; however, Emory scientists believe they will continue to reap benefits for years to come. Emory expects more funds to be received as ARRA grants continue to be awarded over the next several months.

"This unprecedented funding from the National Institutes of Health presents a tremendous opportunity for Emory scientists, along with researchers throughout the United States, to begin projects that are highly promising but might not have been funded otherwise, and to extend successful projects that could soon be translated into treatments for patients," says David Stephens, MD, vice president for research in Emory's Woodruff Health Sciences Center. "In addition, it gives some young scientists a chance to advance their careers while pursuing discoveries that could lead to true breakthrough treatments."

"Funds from the stimulus bill will have far-reaching effects," says David Wynes, PhD, Emory's vice president for research. "New equipment, additional postdoctoral trainees and laboratory technicians, and possible new facility space will create opportunities that we can build on in future years after this funding is no longer available."

Examples of stimulus-funded projects at Emory thus far include:

Blocking blood vessel growth in tumors: The creation of new blood vessels can be good a response to exercise or injury or bad, enabling the growth of a tumor. This project examines Syk, a molecule that appears to push blood vessels to grow in response to low oxygen. Finding ways to block such growth signals could generate new tools to fight cancer.

New treatments for epilepsy: Some epilepsy patients cannot control their seizures with drugs. Animal research shows that shutting off a gene called SCN8A can lower susceptibility to seizures. Scientists plan to test a gene-therapy-like technique for shutting off SCN8A in mice, with an eye towards developing similar treatments for humans.

The role of memory T cells in transplant rejection: Memory T cells allow the immune system to respond to infections faster and stronger upon a second encounter, but they also play a big role in rejecting transplanted organs. Scientists will test several molecules found on memory T cells' surfaces as possible handles for manipulating the immune system.

Dietary phosphate and prostate cancer: The nutrient phosphate is an additive in products ranging from soft drinks to meats and bakery goods, but it plays a critical role in regulating cell growth and could encourage tumor formation. This project monitors the influence of dietary phosphate on a mouse model of prostate cancer.

Understanding hemophilia and other clotting disorders: If your blood has trouble clotting, you might have hemophilia. If it clots too easily, embolisms, heart attacks or strokes can occur. Understanding blood-clotting proteins can improve treatments for inherited hemophilia and cardiovascular disease. This study looks at one particular clotting protein, factor VIII.

Biomarkers for Alzheimer's via magnetic resonance: Identifying patients who are developing Alzheimer's disease could help neurologists treat it earlier and possibly delay its progression. Certain chemicals produced as part of the brain's metabolism could signal the presence of the disease. Scientists are testing magnetic resonance spectroscopy as a way to spot these chemicals in the brain.

Impact of video viewing on infant learning TV programs and videos targeted at infants are flourishing, despite the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that watching videos is potentially harmful to the development of children under the age of two. This study will provide critical experimental evaluation of the potential hazards, as well as the potential benefits, of educational video materials targeted at infants and toddlers.

Vitamin D and lung scarring: Pulmonary fibrosis, or scarring of the lung, is difficult to treat and kills half of the people with the disease within three years. Vitamin D, which is lacking in many peoples' diets, may regulate inflammatory molecules that contribute to pulmonary fibrosis.

Mechanisms of cardiac fibrosis: NADPH oxidases are enzymes that create reactive oxygen species, and also are used by the body to fight bacteria and stimulate the muscle cells that line blood vessels. This project looks at NADPH oxidases' role in promoting scarring in a mouse model of heart disease.

Risk factors for heart disease in women: Young and middle-aged women tend to have higher mortality and complication rates after a heart attack. This set of studies evaluates risk factors connected with heart disease in women such as: depression and history of trauma and biological changes in the heart and brain and inflammation in response to stress.

Pediatric heart development: Children's hearts respond differently to medications and surgery than adults' hearts, and more information is needed to guide pediatric heart specialists. This project looks at physiological properties of human heart tissue in pediatric patients.

Student research experiences:

Stimulus funding also is supporting research training for high school and undergraduate students and teachers. For example, Emory undergraduate nursing student Adam Houck is working with Emory nursing professor Sandra Dunbar. Their project tests whether involving family members in the care of elderly heart failure patients can help them stick to their diets and medication plans.

Emory undergraduate Garron Deshazer is working with Emory cardiologist John Oshinski to study how cardiac imaging can help doctors decide who could benefit from a pacemaker. Deshazer uses magnetic resonance imaging and a specialized computer program to analyze how much blood is flowing through a patient's heart from moment to moment.


Contact: Holly Korschun
Emory University

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