August 2019 Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
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New Eminent Scholar at UGA works to fight drug-resistant bacteria 

A celebrated pioneer in the intricate world of carbohydrate chemistry has moved his research to Georgia with the aim of expanding his work in drug design. David Crich is the newest GRA Eminent Scholar at the University of Georgia, and he chose to make the move primarily because of UGA’s strength and reputation in exploring carbohydrates, the most abundant biomolecules on the planet. Crich is pursuing new types of antibiotics to treat a group of pathogens tied to drug resistance, and his goal is to develop therapeutic agents that mimic carbohydrates. In 2015, he co-founded a biotech company, Juvabis AG, which is scheduled to begin a phase 1 clinical trial later this year for a compound that targets drug-resistant bacteria. Crich joined UGA from Wayne State University. • Meet the new Scholar >

CAU cancer research to advance with NIH grant 

Over the past two decades, scientists at Clark Atlanta University have built one of the nation’s most comprehensive research and prevention programs for prostate cancer. They will now expand that work after the NIH announced a $10.6 million grant to CAU’s Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development. Led by GRA Eminent Scholar Shafiq Khan (above), the center will enhance current research, modernize its infrastructure and expand community engagement. Notably, the center has advanced understanding of prostate cancer in African-American men, who are more than twice as likely to die from the disease as white men, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. • More on the award > 

ArunA Bio adds $13M to drive development

New and existing investors in UGA-launched ArunA Biomedical have added  $13 million in common stock financing to advance the company’s drug development work. Proceeds from the financing will help ArunA Bio continue validating its platform for delivering neural exosomes, which have been described as “molecular satchels” that aid in communication among cells. Drug therapies from ArunA Bio’s platform target ALS, Huntington’s Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. GRA Eminent Scholar Steve Stice founded ArunA Bio, and the company’s neural exosomes “cross the blood-brain barrier, providing an opportunity for drugs to target diseased cells.” • See the news release >Read about the promise of neural exosomes >

Ga. Tech: ‘Nano-bottles’ could battle cancer

The medication in cancer infusion therapy could someday be safer and more precise, thanks to a drug-delivery technique engineered by GRA Eminent Scholar Younan Xia at Georgia Tech. Xia and colleagues packed hollow spheres only 200 nanometers in size — a fraction of the width of a human hair — with an anticancer drug, fatty acids and infrared dye. These silica-based “nano-bottles” functioned as a kind of time-release mechanism: a laser absorbed by the dye melted the acids, and drugs were released through a hole in the sphere. The researchers say the new mechanism will interact better with the human body than delivery vehicles made from other substances. Xia’s research was published in an international journal this summer. • Read a good story on the nanotech marvel >

GSU study: Zika can be kept from replicating

The Zika virus doesn’t capture headlines like it did three years ago, when outbreaks led the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency. But with no definitive treatment, Zika remains a serious threat. In August, some encouraging news about the virus came out of Georgia State University: Researchers there discovered that a mix of amino acids can inhibit the virus’s ability to replicate. GRA Eminent Scholar Julia Hilliard and other scientists created conditions in cells to allow the virus to replicate at high levels. When they introduced their formulation of three amino acids, they found them to be “enormously successful at suppressing Zika virus replication,” according to Hilliard. She and colleagues are now seeking new research funding to build on their work. • Details on the findings >

UGA: Inside your cells, a clock is ticking...

Circadian rhythm, the process of regulating the cycle of waking and sleeping, is an example of collective behavior, an emerging area of research shaped by scientists from many disciplines. The study of collective behavior has been limited by what can be learned about a person or organism — but now, a team of University of Georgia scientists has advanced exploration all the way down to the cellular level. They’ve uncovered the first evidence that individual cells have clocks, a finding that opens the door to better understanding the synchronization that drives behavior. The team is led by Jonathan Arnold and includes GRA Eminent Scholar Art Edison, who is investigating chemical signaling inside cells. • Learn about UGA’s study of cellular clocks >

National medical nonprofit honors Rafi Ahmed

Rafi Ahmed added to a long list of career accolades in August when the nation’s leaders in academic medicine honored the lifetime work of the GRA Eminent Scholar. The Association of American Medical Colleges announced that in November, Ahmed will receive the 2019 Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences. “One of the world’s foremost immunology researchers, Ahmed is credited with answering some of the most pressing questions regarding the crucial roles of T-cells and B-cells,” the organization said in its announcement. Ahmed is the first and only director of the Emory Vaccine Center, regarded as the world’s largest university-based enterprise for vaccine research. • More on the honor >    

Pew poll: More Americans are trusting scientists

Public confidence in scientists continues to grow, according to a poll released this month from the Pew Research Center. Eighty-six percent of Americans say they have either a “fair amount” or “great deal” of confidence in scientists to act in the public interest. That’s 10 points higher than in 2016, and the poll shows confidence has increased each year since. • See the results >

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