Category: Health

New drug formulation for cancer treatment


Shanta-Dhar.jpgGreat new research from the department of chemistry:

The drug dichloroacetate, or DCA, was touted as a cure-all, but after years of work, scientists are still searching for ways to make the unique treatment as effective as possible.

Now, researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered a new way to deliver this drug that may one day make it a viable treatment for numerous forms of cancer. They published their findings in the American Chemical Society's journal ACS Chemical Biology.

"DCA shows great promise as a potential cancer treatment, but the drug doesn't find and attack cancer cells very efficiently in the doses researchers are testing," said Shanta Dhar, an assistant professor of chemistry in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "We have developed a new compound based on DCA that is three orders of magnitude more potent than standard treatments."

Every cell in the body needs energy to divide and grow, and most of them do this by breaking down sugar. When cells misbehave, they are normally deprived of their food and die in a process called apoptosis.

Dhar is becoming one of the foremost cancer researchers in the country, and this new work (and accompanying technology) only re-emphasize that case. So very much goes into getting to the stage where we can promote published results from our faculty, and having the institutional pieces of the puzzle in place where our researchers can do their best work is where these real benefits to society can be glimpsed. Hard to overstate the implications of this new research, the product of great perserverence and dedication by Dr. Dhar and her team. And it's also occasion to remember how many things have to happen in concert to make it all possible.

Image: Shanta Dhar, with graduate assitant Sean Marrache, in her lab.

Ancient Medicine and the Modern Physician


Asclepius_Rhodes_wipad.jpgThe classics department in collaboration with the Georgia Regents University/UGA Medical Partnership, will host a two-day symposium designed to find relevant historical practices that are useful to modern-day physicians:

Events will be held March 23-24 on both the UGA main campus and the Health Sciences Campus. Experts in ancient medicine and modern medical practices will present workshops, panel discussions and a keynote address.

"Methods of diagnosis are undergoing fundamental changes within American medical communities," said Nancy Felson, professor emerita in the classics department and one of the event organizers. "Physicians and other health care professionals now recognize that successful diagnosis is not only a matter of identifying symptoms, but rather an interpretive process involving the narrative arc of a patient's life, activities, habits, gene profile as well as the exhibited symptoms. This new and fundamental aspect of modern health care is rooted in ancient medical methods of diagnosis and patient narratives."

The symposium will begin March 23 with a 7 p.m. lecture in George Hall on the Health Sciences Campus.

Dr. Richard Panico will discuss "The Art of Medicine: It's Always Been About the Dialogue." A reception will follow his talk.

For more information, visit the classics website. Great subject for discussion, and very important to engage the himanities with the study of medicine and vice versa.

New research: origins of satellite thymus glands


PASCOMSAT_GridsphereLots of great news out of the department of genetics, and now we add to it an interesting new study:

researchers at the University of Georgia have published findings in Nature Communications that reveal where these extra glands come from and help explain what roles the extra thymuses may play in the complex network of the body's natural defense systems.

"This was a really important question for me as a developmental biologist studying the thymus," said Nancy Manley, professor of genetics in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator for the project. "It would almost be akin to someone discovering that humans have extra heart tissue somewhere else in the body."

Manley and her team of researchers discovered that the small satellite thymuses, known as cervical thymi, have two distinct origins, and while it's not entirely clear if they play a major role in human health, the T-cells these thymi produce could be either helpful or harmful.

It seems to difficult to believe that there is so much about the human body that is still being discovered. But great science is all about building on the framework of new questions and this new work is terrific evidence of both.

UGA chemistry researchers develop new treatment for chemotherapy side effects


A prodrug is medication introducded into the body in an inactive (or less than fully active) form, that then becomes converted to its active form through the normal metabolic processes of the body, as a sort of precursor to the intended drug.

Researchers in the department of chemistry announced the development of a new aspirin-based prodrug that may prevent damage caused by chemotherapy:

[The new treament] promises to reduce many of the negative side effects caused by cisplatin, a commonly prescribed chemotherapy treatment.

Cisplatin may be used to treat a variety of cancers, but it is most commonly prescribed for cancer of the bladder, ovaries, cervix, testicles and lung. It is an effective drug, but it often causes severe and irreversible damage to a patient's kidneys, hearing and sense of balance.

UGA researchers combined cisplatin with aspirin in a new single prodrug formulation they call Platin-A, which prevents these negative side effects by reducing inflammation. They reported their findings recently in Angewandte Chemie, a journal published by the German Chemical Society.

"We know that inflammation plays a major role in the development of these side effects," said Rakesh Pathak, lead author of the paper and postdoctoral research associate in the UGA chemistry department. "By attaching aspirin to cisplatin, we can help control this response and reduce damage to the body."

Congratulations to Pathak and assistant professor Shanta Dhar, the principal investigator on the paper, but more importantly to the thousands of patients who suffer these side effects during their treatment regimes. Researchers work to improve human health in all kinds of ways and this work reminds of a very important one: combating the side effects of established treatments. 

New gene discovery from Franklin researchers at CCRC


Startling new discovery of a gene that may play an important role in the development of the life-threatening birth defect congenital diaphragmatic hernia, or CDH:

The hallmark of CDH is a rupture of the diaphragm that allows organs found in the lower abdomen, such as the liver, spleen and intestines, to push their way into the chest cavity. The invading organs crowd the limited space and can lead to abnormal lung development or poor lung function, which, depending on the severity of the condition, can cause disability or death.

In a paper published recently in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, UGA researchers, along with colleagues from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of California at San Diego, demonstrated for the first time that a gene known as Ndst1 plays a significant role in the proper development of the diaphragm, and abnormal expression of the gene could lead to CDH.

"Scientists really don't know what causes CDH, so finding new clues like this is very important," said Lianchun Wang, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "Our laboratory tests with mice give us some good clues as to what causes this defect and what we might be able to do about it in the future."

New clues are the key but getting to them - or getting to a place where research might access them - is very difficult, time-consuming and without guarantee. Congratulations to Wang and colleagues in California for their tenacity, and continued good fortune in their experiments and tests based on this discovery.

Stem cell research focuses on cell cycle


Interesting new work on stem cells sheds light on mysteries about cell differentiation:

Amar Singh, postdoctoral associate in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Molecular Cell Biology Stephen Dalton worked together to uncover the mystery about why stem cell populations are thought to be heterogeneous, or made up of a variety of different cells. They discovered the heterogeneity, or difference among the cells, is largely determined by the cell cycle. 

"Since our study shows that heterogeneity may be a normal part of stem cell growth, this may not be that big of a deal anymore," said Singh, who is a researcher in the Franklin College department of biochemistry and molecular biology. "Also, since the cell cycle controls developmental genes, seeing a certain level of heterogeneity in the cells you want to transplant may also be normal."

The idea that stem cells are heterogeneous, or that the cells making up a population are not all identical, emerged in the mid-2000s, and the reason has remained a mystery. Stem cells grow as a population of 1 to 2 million cells per culture dish because cells need to be surrounded by neighboring cells to survive. However, cells next to each other may be at different stages of development, which makes them appear like different cell types.

Great work from our labs - and terrific reporting from public affairs staff. As the release points out, understanding the cell cycle's effect on the early stages of biological development offers new avenues for future research. Our faculty continues to collaborate on the big issues and produce insights with wide implications. 

PREMED Magazine


Pre_med full.pngWe've written previously about PreMed magazine, a student organization designed to help pre-medical students at UGA achieve success in the medical field. It's a truly outstanding effort by students in the Franklin College and elsewhere on campus who already have a great deal on their plates. Covering important issues that do not stop at the undergraduate major door, their December 2013 issue is out:

This month's issue is all about health and medicine in Georgia. Our features delves into Georgia's growing physician shortage, the GRU/UGA Medical Partnership, and examining the state of medicine in Athens. Our writers explore local internships in Athens for yiu to get involved and opinions about the controversial issue of providing healthcare to undocumented immigrants.

Just as any good publication should - though not enough do - PreMed Magazine is taking on the prickly subjects in service to informing the public. Great job. Check it out.

NIH grant helps fund new map of human brain


DICCCOL-brain-map.jpgUGA research continues to build in the study of dementia and leading indicators for Alzheimer's disease. Following a recent study from psychology researchers, news of a National Institutes of Health grant to to computer science:

supported in part by a five-year $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, [the project] compares the function of normal brains with those of patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, a condition characterized by declined memory or thinking ability.

"Not surprisingly, we have observed that healthy brains function in a much more consistent, predictable way than those with disease," said Tianming Liu, lead researcher for the project and associate professor of computer science in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "But each MCI patient might have a different pattern of brain network disruption, so if we determine how all these networks are related to a person's health, we can create new diagnostics and open new avenues for therapies."


Liu's approach is built upon years of painstaking research that identified more than 350 unique landmarks throughout the cerebral cortex using diffusion tensor imaging, an advanced neuroimaging technique. Each of these landmarks represents a physical connection in the brain related to memory, vision, language, arousal regulation and other fundamental operations.

The connections, which Liu has named "dense individualized and common connectivity-based cortical landmarks," or DICCCOL, are present in every normal brain, so they can be used as a basis of comparison for those with damaged brain tissue or altered brain function.

Multiple, simultaneous research efforts on related aspects of a condition illustrate the power of a comprehensive research university. The ability to bring a wide range of expertise to an issue, independently and over a period of years, could be replicated in another sector of society - but no entity is set up explicitly for this purpose quite like the modern research university. And it should be noted that alongside these important results, teaching is happening all the while. New cadres of graduate students are being trained during and as part of this work - perpetuating the investigative acumen of future researchers. Congratulations to Liu and his team.

Image: figure shows 15 resting state brain networks in the DICCCOL system. Color-coded brain landmarks on the cerebral cortex connect to perform particular functional activities, such as language or sight.


New Imaging capabilities reported in study from cell biologists


cilia_slide.jpgPolycystic kidney disease is one of the most common life-threatening genetic diseases, affecting an estimated 12.5 million people worldwide, and but one of multiple conditions researchers have connected to defective cilia. UGA researchers recenty published a study describing how cilia are constructed, findings based on new protein-level observations:

Led by Karl Lechtreck, assistant professor in the department of cellular biology, a team of researchers utilized Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence microscopy to analyze moving protein particles inside cilia of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a widely used unicellular model for the analysis of cilia. Results of the study were published in the online version of Current Biology on December 5.

The interdisciplinary team included researchers from the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering, Dartmouth College and the University of Minnesota.

"Because cilia are very complex and their construction requires the transport of hundreds of different proteins, direct evidence at the molecular level requires a very sensitive imaging technique," said Lechtreck, who is a member of the Integrated Life Sciences Program.

In TIRF microscopy, laser light is reflected to generate an evanescent field that allows for the imaging of single proteins. "That field is very thin-30 to 300 nanometers in thickness-and flagella have a thickness of 200 nm, approximately 500 times thinner than a human hair. TIRF allows us to now precisely see what is going on inside the flagella of living cells," Lechtreck explained.

Terrific collaborative work that is going to affect the model of how cilium development is understood. Fundamental developments like these have real effects on entire fields of medical science and eventually disease treatments themselves. Not one without the other.

Image: specimen observation chamber during TIRF illumination, courtesy of Lechtreck research group.

Groundwork for better dementia diagnosis


UGA psychology research may lead to earlier, better diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s


New research from UGA’s department of psychology may one day lead to a better biomarker for earlier detection of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the leading predictor of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.

With nearly 36 million people estimated to have dementia currently, and that number expected to double every 20 years, finding and identifying dementia earlier shows promise for interventions in the future. 

Psychology professor and Bio-Imaging Research Center director Stephen Miller, along with former graduate student Carlos Faraco, used fMRI brain scans—scans that give researchers not only a visual picture of the structure of the brain but also information about blood flow within the brain—to test the working memory of adults with normal healthy adult brains against those showing signs of mild cognitive impairment. The research was recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

While researchers have looked at stored memory in dementia research, working memory is a relatively new area of research in the fMRI research realm. 

Initial results from the fMRI study show hyperactivity in the lateral temporal lobes, the area of the brain associated with working memory. Hyperactivity here means that the brain is exerting more energy to complete a task, which may be a biomarker for developing dementia.

To test working memory, Miller and his research partners tested both older adults with MCI and older adults with normal functioning brains using a series of complex working memory tasks. They tasked participants with using working memory in two tasks—clicking on the correct color dot and remembering a sequence of letters—with one working memory task interrupting the next. At the end of the tasks, participants then had to recall information from those tasks.

Researchers then used scans to examine brain activity when participants were completing working memory tasks and at the end when participants were recalling information.

The findings could lead to better biomarkers for dementia, as other studies using fMRI scans testing stored memory are more difficult to read due to their placement next to sinus air passages that often makes imagery blurry.

The complete journal article is available at