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January 2020 Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
 
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Scholar’s discovery
is a step closer to HIV/AIDS cure


The National Institutes of Health has announced that a discovery by GRA Eminent Scholar Guido Silvestri has played a role in moving humankind closer to a cure for HIV/AIDS. The Emory scientist developed a way to safely awaken the dormant virus in animal models — a crucial first step in a current strategy to eliminate the virus from the body for good. The larger strategy involves attacking the newly awakened virus with drug combinations; until now, however, scientists had no systemic way of activating the “latently infected immune cells.” While more studies are needed, “These new findings sustain our cautious optimism that an HIV cure is possible,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci of NIH. Silvestri’s study was published this month in Nature, as was a related study from another scientific team. • Read about the research >A good (short) report on the breakthrough >

Gene-editing expert arrives at Augusta U

A leading expert in the gene-editing method CRISPR is now on board at Augusta University as a GRA Eminent Scholar. Lin Gan (above, right) brings more than two decades of research in neuroscience and regenerative medicine to Georgia. His current  exploration focuses sharply on identifying genes and genetic pathways that could unlock blindness and deafness. The fast-developing CRISPR technique involves replacing mutations in genetic code with healthy genes in an effort to cure ailments. At the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, Gan will use CRISPR in mouse models to advance understanding of human health. Two of Gan’s colleagues at the University of Rochester, Joseph Giano (above, left) and Xiaochun Long, joined him in Augusta. • Here's a good article about Gan’s current work >

2020 Academy: Great minds exchange ideas

An afternoon spent with brilliant scientists never fails to yield fascinating insights, as evidenced by this year’s Academy of GRA Eminent Scholars. A series of presentations brought new findings ranging from the future of electric power to gene editing technology to salt-sensitive hypertension. The Scholars also got sage advice on how to get inventions out of the lab and into the market from a panel of Georgia scientists who have launched companies. Toward the end of the day, Eminent Scholars Susan Margulies and Art Edison rolled out an initiative to engage their colleagues in a new mentoring initiative to strengthen diversity in Georgia’s university research corps. • See our notes from the gathering >

Fraudscope grew business and ROI last year

2019 was a good year for Georgia Tech startup Fraudscope. An update from the company — which develops technology to investigate and reduce healthcare fraud, waste and abuse — reports that it analyzed insurance claims for more than 24 million people. That brought tens of millions of dollars in savings to new and existing health plan clients. Fraudscope also strengthened its artificial intelligence-assisted platform and added a number of product enhancements. GRA and GRA Venture Fund both invested in Fraudscope at crucial points early in the company’s history. • Get the company’s update >Visit the Fraudscope website >

Emory to lead major effort to fight diseases

NIH announced a new seven-year, multi-million-dollar effort to fight infectious disease this month — and named Emory University to lead it. Emory is one of nine institutions nationwide that will diversify ways to prevent, treat and evaluate vaccines and therapies for infectious disease. Key to the effort is the Emory Vaccine Center, led by GRA Eminent Scholar Rafi Ahmed, and the center’s Hope Clinic, which tests and evaluates vaccines. Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt are among the other nationwide partners in the effort, which is expected to bring nearly $30 million to new research projects. • More on the announcement >

UGA Scholar, startup gain widespread notice

The pioneering work of Steve Stice to use neural exosomes to heal the body is continues to generate interest. Neural exosomes are molecules that carry messages to the brain, and the University of Georgia Eminent Scholar is exploring their potential in his research — and advancing their use through his company, ArunA Bio. This month, Technology.org reports on a study showing that the exosomes can promote recovery from stroke. And last November, another study revealed that neural exosomes can help lessen the progression of traumatic brain injury. At year’s end, the Atlanta Business Chronicle named ArunA’s July 2019 common stock financing — $13 million — to its “Top 25” VC deals of the year. • More about exosomes and stroke >More on exosomes and brain injury >

Mercer discovery yields new clue to Epstein-Barr

Scientists at Mercer University have discovered a protein that’s key to making the Epstein-Barr virus infectious. Epstein-Barr is one of the herpes viruses known to cause cancer in humans, and it contributes to a number of other illnesses. Using a high-powered electron microscope funded in part by GRA, Robert Visalli and his colleagues are the first to discover the protein, called the portal. The protein is essential to transporting genetic material from the virus into a particle, which renders the virus infectious. “It’s interesting because if there is no portal, there is no infectious virus,” Visalli says. The discovery could open the door to new treatments for ailments caused by the virus. • See Mercer’s news release on the discovery >

Georgia leaders join GRA’s Board of Trustees

The start of a new year brings new members to GRA’s Board of Trustees. Our warm welcome to Bob Crutchfield, managing director at BrightEdge Ventures; Chad Gregory, region president for Greater Georgia, Wells Fargo; Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T Georgia; Sam Holmes, vice chairman of CBRE; Bea Perez, SVP and chief of communications, public affairs, sustainability and marketing for The Coca-Cola Company; and Claude Wade, head of client experience and Atlanta Innovation Hub leader at BlackRock. Great to have them aboard!

GaTech Scholars honored by engineering peers

This month, we celebrate GRA Eminent Scholars Stanislav Emelianov and Vivek Sarkar for being named IEEE Fellows, the international society’s highest membership honor. Emelianov is one of the leading explorers of biomedical imaging and nanoagents for imaging and therapy; he developed a form of imaging that inspects both anatomical and biochemical properties of human tissue. And Sarkar is one of the world’s foremost experts in parallel computing. He develops programming models to enable computing speeds that are currently impossible. • Read the news release >

Emory scientist’s work nets national honor

We also congratulate GRA Distinguished Investigator Bill Wuest, of Emory, for an esteemed award in medicinal chemistry: The David W. Robertson Award. Wuest is the 11th recipient of the prize, which recognizes “seminal contributions by young scientists to medicinal chemistry.” • Check out this GRA feature about Wuest >

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