Category: Health

Genetics researchers unveil fully functional lab-grown thymus

0 comments

Manley_Nancy-portrait.jpgA major advance from researchers in the department of genetics:

A team of scientists including researchers from the University of Georgia have grown a fully functional organ from scratch in a living animal for the first time.

...

The researchers created a thymus, a butterfly-shaped gland and vital component of the human immune system. Located beneath the breastbone in the upper chest, the thymus is responsible for producing T-lymphocytes, or T-cells, which help organize and lead the body’s fighting forces against threats like bacteria, viruses and even cancerous cells.

“We were all surprised by how well this works,” said Nancy Manley, professor of genetics in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the paper describing their finding in Nature Cell Biology.

“The general idea in science is that to make cells change their fate, you need to reprogram first to a stem-cell like state and then coax them to change into what you want,” said Manley, who is also director of UGA’s Developmental Biology Alliance. “But we jump-started the process just by expressing a single gene that was sufficient to initiate the entire process and orchestrate organ development.”

Congratulations to the research team on this fantastic news, a very big step along the way to clinical trials and treatments which, while they might be still far out in the future, seem to have just become significantly closer.

Nature article highlights UGA malaria researcher

0 comments

R_cellbio2012_01.jpgCongratulations are in order to University of Georgia professor Vasant Muralidharan, an assistant  professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of cellular biology. His research was recently highlighted in the journal Nature.  Muralidharan, who studies the biology of the deadly malaria eukaryotic parasite, worked with with a group of researchers as a post-doc at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis to investigate a means to trap and kill the parasite. You can read more and hear an accompanying audio piece about this published research here

Scientists may be able to entomb the malaria parasite in a prison of its own making, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report July 16 in Nature.

As it invades a red blood cell, the malaria parasite takes part of the host cell’s membrane to build a protective compartment. To grow properly, steal nourishment and dump waste, the parasite then starts a series of major renovations that transform the red blood cell into a suitable home.

But the new research reveals the proteins that make these renovations must pass through a single pore in the parasite’s compartment to get into the red blood cell. When the scientists disrupted passage through that pore in cell cultures, the parasite stopped growing and died.

Muralidharan now works on his research here at UGA and his work is a great addition to the collaborative efforts of researchers at the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. His lab website describes the crux of his research interests as follows:

Investigating Pneumonia

0 comments

Duncan-Krause-pneumonia.jpgA collaborative group of researchers at the University of Georgia has received a grant to study the leading cause of pneumonia in older children and young adults.  Researchers will study Bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae with a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

A fundamental goal of the new research project is to better understand how the bacterium eludes the immune system and common antibiotic treatment, which can often lead to persistent infection or life-altering conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"These bacteria have evolved to live in the human respiratory tract and have developed ways to avoid the natural defenses that keep us safe," said Duncan Krause, principal investigator for the project and professor of microbiology in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "We want to understand the chemical features of Mycoplasma pneumoniae and the conditions inside the human body that cause these persistent infections so we can one day develop more effective treatments."

Alongside Krause is a team of co-investigators from various departments and colleges on the UGA campus including Thomas Krunkosky, associate professor of veterinary biosciences and diagnostic imaging in the College of Veterinary Medicine; Jason Locklin, associate professor in the Franklin College and the College of Engineering; Michael Tiemeyer, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College; and Bingqian Xu, associate professor in the College of Engineering.

Working together, these researchers will employ a series of experiments to determine how M. pneumoniae moves within the human airways.

M. pneumoniae travels like a rock climber, attaching and releasing chemical bonds as it traverses human tissues one foothold at a time. Eventually, the bacteria reach areas of the respiratory tract where new chemical bonds allow it to stick and multiply, leading to infection and illness.

The research team will examine the molecular features of both M. pneumoniae and the surface of the human airway to determine why they glide over certain areas and are static on others.

"The human airway is lined with complex sugar molecules called glycans that contribute to the chemistry of mucus membranes in those tissues," said Krause, who is also director of UGA's Faculty of Infectious Diseases. "The differences in these glycans may be the key to understanding how and where M. pneumoniae moves and why it causes these chronic infections that are so difficult to treat."

New research tracks Amazon River microbial activity, effects on global carbon budget

0 comments

Amazon-River-Plume.jpg

New research from the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences  departments of microbiology and marine sciences could have a major impact on the study of microbial activity in the Amazon River, as well as the effects on the global carbon budget.. The Amazon River, the largest in the world in terms of discharge water, transfers a plume of nutrients and organisms into the ocean that creates a hotspot of microbial activity.  This affects many global processes, including the storage of atmospheric carbon.

The new study further reveals detail about the microbial activity of the Amazon River Plume as part of a broad project to understand the global carbon budget and its possible impacts on a changing ocean. The study, "Microspatial gene expression patterns in the Amazon River Plume," was published July 14 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"By collecting data from genes and gene transcripts in the water samples, taking billions of sequences of DNA and RNA from organisms at various places in the plume, we were able to construct the most detailed look that's ever been put together of the microbial processes in a drop of seawater," said Mary Ann Moran, Distinguished Research Professor of Marine Sciences at UGA.

UGA researchers from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences departments of marine sciences and microbiology took samples from the plume 300 miles offshore from the Amazon River mouth, then isolated the genes of organisms using the nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon being carried into the ocean by the river plume.

Discharge from the plume, more than 200,000 cubic meters of fresh water per second, delivers nitrogen and phosphorus to microscopic phytoplankton that live in the upper sunlit layers of the ocean. Via photosynthesis, phytoplankton capture carbon dioxide that dissolves into the ocean from the atmosphere, a mechanism that captures a larger proportion of CO2 than is consumed by the world's rainforests.

Until now, quantitative data about the microbial activity underlying this mechanism has been elusive.

Data in the paper will used be as part of a larger model of the Amazon and will be available to researchers around the world.

"The scientific community as a whole can draw new conclusions or study different aspects from the data sets," said Brandon Satinsky, a doctoral student in microbiology at UGA and lead author on the study. "It's such a large amount of water and material, and the location of the plume moves over the course of the year, from the Caribbean virtually over to Africa."

"It's first time we've had this kind of data, at this level of detail, and so now we can share with teams of modelers to help them make better predictions about the future of the system," Moran said.

The project is part of two major UGA research initiatives: ROCA, the River Continuum of the Amazon; and ANACONDAS, Amazon iNfluence on the Atlantic: CarbOn export from Nitrogen fixation by DiAtom Symbioses, both of which are led by associate professor of marine sciences Patricia Yager. The initiatives are supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation through grant GBMF2293 and the National Science Foundation.

For more on UGA research in the Amazon, see http://amazoncontinuum.org/.

New nanoparticle treatment for stroke victims

0 comments

nano-biocleanroom zhaoGreat new work from Franklin College researchers that should garner significant attention:

Researchers at the University of Georgia and their collaborators have developed a new technique to enhance stroke treatment that uses magnetically controlled nanomotors to rapidly transport a clot-busting drug to potentially life-threatening blockages in blood vessels.

The only drug currently approved for the treatment of acute stroke—recombinant tissue plasminogen activator, or t-PA—is administered intravenously to patients after the first symptoms of ischemic stroke appear. The protein in the drug dissolves blood clots that cause strokes and other cardiovascular problems, like pulmonary embolisms and heart attacks.

"Our technology uses magnetic nanorods that, when injected into the bloodstream and activated with rotating magnets, act like stirring bars to drive t-PA to the site of the clot," said Yiping Zhao, co-author of a paper describing the results in ACS Nano and professor of physics in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "Our preliminary results show that the breakdown of clots can be enhanced up to twofold compared to treatment with t-PA alone."

...

Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one American dies from stroke every four minutes.

"We're dealing with a huge population of patients who desperately need new treatments," said Leidong Mao, paper co-author and associate professor in UGA's College of Engineering.

Medical advances can sometime appear quite far removed from the source of their greatest need - either only focused on a small aspect of a condition or only remotely connected to a future treatment regime. Zhao, Mao and their colleagues have a special intuition about getting to the essence of a problem, drug delivery in this instance, and forging solutions with the use of technology developed in their labs. Congratulations to this team of perceptive researchers as they seek to utilize technology to improve the efficiency of the t-PA drug to help stroke and heart attack victims.

Image: Professor Yiping Zhao

Chemistry researchers enhance chemotherapy with nanoparticles

0 comments

Dhar_Marrache_Pathak.jpgAs science moves forward, disease treatment regimes become more refined, safer and more effective. Great news from Shanta Dhar's research lab in the department of chemistry:

Dhar, assistant professor of chemistry in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Rakesh Pathak, a postdoctoral researcher in Dhar's lab, constructed a modified version of cisplatin called Platin-M, which is designed to overcome this resistance by attacking mitochondria within cancerous cells. They published their findings recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"You can think of mitochondria as a kind of powerhouse for the cell, generating the energy it needs to grow and reproduce," said Dhar, a member of the UGA Cancer Center and principal investigator for the project. "This prodrug delivers cisplatin directly to the mitochondria in cancerous cells. Without that essential powerhouse, the cell cannot survive."

Sean Marrache, a graduate student in Dhar's lab, entrapped Platin-M in a specially designed nanoparticle 1,000 times finer than a human hair that seeks out the mitochondria and releases the drug. Once inside, Platin-M interferes with the mitochondria's DNA, triggering cell death.

Dhar's research team tested Platin-M on neuroblastoma-a cancer commonly diagnosed in children-that typically originates in the adrenal glands. In preliminary experiments using a cisplatin-resistant cell culture, Platin-M nanoparticles were 17 times more active than cisplatin alone.

Improving on current therapies can be a very difficult target. But with an expanding knowledge about the role of mitochondria in cell survival, drug design and delivery mechanism on the nanoscale have scientists poised for promising breakthroughs. Great work.

Image: Shanta Dhar (center), Rakesh Pathak (right) and Sean Marrache, courtesy of UGA Photographic Services.

Specialization in a tight job market

0 comments

Beginning a career after college is a constant topic of conversations on campus, and a Red & Black article today draws particular attention to the experience of several recent graduates and the seeming mis-match of aspirations and opportunities. More common than not and not a cause for alarm in and of itself, the chase for experience and urgency to begin a career after college present clues about some majors and areas of study that may be better suited to the flexibility needed in an uncertain job market. In the article, for example,

[UGA grad and GEICO employee]Hickman face[d] a difficulty undermining millions of recent college graduates after they receive their diplomas trying to match a highly specialized, niche degree in a labor market filled with generalized, unskilled jobs.

According to the Accenture study, 46 percent of workers who graduated in 2012 and 2013 are underemployed and have jobs that don’t utilize their college degrees, marking a five percent increase from the previous two years.

Getchell said past experience and general skills are usually more important to employers than a degree, especially in today’s market.

“Of course, some careers require a specific degree, but others may not,” she said. “In general, employers are often more focused on skills and experiences than majors. That’s why it’s so important for college students to gain experience and develop skills during college.”

There are many decisions university students need to make - about their present and their future - throughout the course of their studies. Erring on one side can compound difficulties on another, and no student of any age is expected to navigate their college years perfectly. Perfection is not what we're after, and in many ways that is the point of a liberal arts education: a melange of cultivating interests, learning and experiences to build the unique set of credentials that, yes, make graduates attractive to employers, but that also help students discover who they are and all they might do. It's easy to endorse broad majors versus niche fields, though not always the best thing for any particular individual. That being said, we can endorse without caveat the importance of learning as much as you can about as many things as interest you while you are on this or any campus.

A university degree has never been more important - neither has our committment to the classical, liberal arts education model: Communications and analytical skills, critical thinking and creative problem solving. The traits that are applicable to all fields often lay between the pages, the chapters, the tests and projects. They are a product of all of these, plus great professors that trigger curiosity and a campus that nurtures community thinking in a global setting. The degree will say University of Georgia but its emphasis will always be on you. 

UGA Alumna Receives Urann Fellowship

0 comments

SmithaGaneshan.jpgCongratulations are in order for a Franklin College alumna who received a prestigious fellowship this week.  Smitha Ganeshan, a May UGA graduate, was one of six students nationwide that received a $15,000 Marcus L. Urann Fellowship from the Phi Kappa Phi honor society.  

Ganeshan was a Franklin College of Arts and Sciences student, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in anthropology.  She was also a UGA Honors student, a recipient of UGA’s Foundation Fellowship and a 2013 Truman Scholar. She begins her studies at Harvard Medical School in the fall.

"One of Phi Kappa Phi's core ideals is the promotion of the love of learning, and Smitha Ganeshan is one of those rare individuals whose outstanding academic achievement and intellectual curiosity truly embody this high ideal," said Shannon Wilder, president of the UGA chapter of Phi Kappa Phi and director of the UGA Office of Service-Learning. "The UGA chapter of Phi Kappa Phi was very pleased to nominate Smitha because she is so accomplished and has such high aspirations for graduate work, so it is wonderful to see her potential recognized with the Marcus L. Urann Fellowship."

Ganeshan's undergraduate career at UGA focused on the intersection between health and policy. She directed the health policy center and the environmental policy center at the Roosevelt Institute, a student-run think tank. Through the Roosevelt Institute, she drafted a federal Health Professional Shortage Area designation application on behalf of Athens/Clarke County that has enhanced the ability of safety net providers to compete for grants. She conducted research under the guidance of faculty in the UGA College of Public Health and has interned at the Greater New York Hospital Association and the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Ganeshan studied at Oxford University through the UGA at Oxford program, interned at the World Health Organization's M.V. Hospital for Diabetes in Chennai, India and has assisted physicians in Peru and Nicaragua. She volunteered at the Athens Nurses Clinic and interned at the Athens Health Network, which works to reduce health care disparities by coordinating health services for the indigent population.

An example of great success at UGA, we are proud to call her a Franklin College graduate.  Congratulations on all of your success, your future endeavors and the receipt of this prestigious fellowship!

REFOCUS program benefits students, scientists

0 comments

Projectfocuslogo2_000.jpgMore great news today for the future of STEM-related careers. Veteran scientists and engineers will share their love of science and math with the next generation through a program known as REFOCUS.  The program will train professionals to work with teachers in Clarke and six surrounding counties to provide regular science and math enrichment activities to students. 

The program is meant to help students in K-12 understand math and science concepts and expose them to new STEM career choices for the future. The program is based on a program that’s been in place at UGA for the past 12 years.  David Knauft, a professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, began a program called FOCUS in which UGA students studying STEM subjects were paired with elementary and middle school teachers in Clarke County.

REFOCUS will expand on the Project FOCUS framework, allowing science, technology, engineering and math mentors to be in even more Clarke County classrooms and in classrooms in surrounding counties.

"For quite some time, we have wanted to expand Project FOCUS to include graduate students, postdocs, faculty and retired scientists," said David Knauft, professor of horticulture in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and STEM education advocate. "Thanks to this AAAS funding, we will be able to do so.

"Also, because these individuals have more flexible schedules, we hope to bring REFOCUS to nearby counties, something we haven't been able to do with Project FOCUS."

Another great example of collaboration, between disciplines at UGA and between UGA and area school systems.  Knauft worked with the Clarke County School District; Julie Luft, the Athletic Association Professor of Mathematics and Science Education in the UGA College of Education; and Chuck Kutal, associate dean of the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, to secure a $14,800 grant from American Association for the Advancement of Science to help develop the REFOCUS program.  

The REFOCUS project will start recruiting its first class of STEM mentors this summer and debut the program in Clarke County classrooms this fall.

To get involved in Project REFOCUS, contact Knauft atdknauft@uga.edu.  For more information on Project FOCUS, see www.focus.uga.edu.

Welcoming a New Class: Orientation is Under Way

0 comments

orientationleaders.png

It’s a beautiful summer morning here at the University of Georgia.  Some students are on their way to summer classes, but some of the newest class of Bulldawgs is on campus for orientation.  Sessions are held all summer long, and this Monday marks the second group of students welcomed onto campus in the UGA tradition. The orientation experience provides a foundational memory, as students plan for the future, make friends and take in the beauty of the UGA campus. 

A team of outstanding orientation leaders mentors these new students as they embark on their academic paths.  Franklin College is well represented in this leadership group, as you can see here, with orientation leaders pursuing degrees in communication studies, English, sociology and psychology.  They advise on campus traditions, choosing a major, and getting to know the town of Athens. We commend these student leaders for imparting their wisdom and inspiring the incoming class.  

Congratulations and welcome to the incoming class of UGA students! Have fun at orientation!