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Nov/Dec 2020 Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
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Georgia Trend covers GRA’s 30 years of impact


The foresight of Georgia leaders in launching the Georgia Research Alliance 30 years ago has paid off in the current COVID-19 pandemic, according to the November cover story of Georgia Trend magazine. “Up for the Challenge” traces GRA’s history to the present-day response to the pandemic, noting that Georgia has become a major center for COVID-19-related research, with scientists and universities receiving more than $120 million in grants. The article’s author writes: “Much of this activity is attributable to the GRA, a 30-year-old union of government, business and academic interests that works to enhance the state’s research capability.” Featured in the article is GRA Eminent Scholar Ted Ross, who leads UGA’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology, and several GRA member universities. • Read the piece >

Carbice nets big investment round

A $15 million Series A funding round for Carbice, announced in November, will allow the thermal materials pioneer to add sales and marketing professionals as well as scale production. The company’s Carbice Carbon® material — “the highest heat conducting material in the world” — lowers the temperature of electronic devices and dissipates heat. Currently, the material is used inside satellites as well as other devices. GRA was an early investor in Carbice, and later on, GRA Venture Fund added investment. The current round was led by UK-based Downing Ventures, with additional funding provided by Toyota AI Ventures. • More on the announcement >

GSU finds Emory drug works on COVID-19

An antiviral drug discovered and developed at Emory — and now being tested in human clinical trials — was shown by Georgia State University scientists to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in ferrets. A team led by Richard Plemper (above) administered the drug, Molnupiravir, to ferrets infected with the coronavirus; when the infected animals were co-housed with non-infected animals, none of the healthy animals became infected. Ferrets were chosen for the study because they readily spread SARS-CoV-2. GRA made strategic investments in the effort, supporting initial development of Molnupiravir through the Emory Institute of Drug Development as well as in experimental work on the drug class at Georgia State. Current clinical trials on Molnupiravir are set to be completed next year. • Read about the big discovery >

Augusta U., UGA study human COVD-19 defense

How protected are people who’ve had COVID-19 from becoming re-infected by the coronavirus? That crucial question is at the center of a major study led by GRA Eminent Scholar Ted Ross and involving Augusta University researchers. Called SPARTA and funded by a $1.9 million NIH grant, the study encompasses four projects in Georgia, Tennessee and California. In Georgia, scientists are frequently testing and evaluating hundreds of essential workers in healthcare and other industries, both for the virus and for the antibodies that defend against it. “We are trying to identify those individuals, understand their antibody-making mechanism and see whether we can reproduce that in the lab to help others,” says Ravindra Kolhe, vice chair for translational research at the Medical College of Georgia’s pathology department at Augusta U. Above: Kolhe (front and center) and his Augusta U team • Visit the SPARTA website >More about Augusta U’s role >

Emory factors into new Moderna vaccine

A celebration was in order at Emory University in mid-November after biotech company Moderna announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is 94.5% effective. That’s because Emory’s Hope Clinic played a key role in evaluating the vaccine in human clinical trials. The clinic administered the vaccine to more than 700 trial participants at three Georgia locations. Nationally, only five of 15,000 participants who received the vaccine developed COVID-19, none of whom became seriously ill. • GPB reports on Emory’s testing role >

Gimme unlocks high-tech wireless adapter

Those who service food automation machines outfitted with inventory management technology from startup Gimme have a rugged new tool available to them. In late November, Gimme started taking orders for its new wireless DEX adapter; when plugged into a Gimme-equipped machine, the adapter transmits data about the machine and its contents to a tablet device. Branded as Gimme Key Pro, the adapter — which resembles a hybrid of car key and headphone jack — has longer battery life and more powerful processing than the company's earlier key. It’s also built to last: a new video shows the wireless device withstanding a clothes dryer and ice block. • Read the product announcement >

Mercer advances research with NIH grants

Two National Institutes of Health grants will allow Mercer University scientists to advance their exploration into critical health issues. Ajay Banga (above), who co-directs Mercer’s Center for Drug Delivery Systems, is developing and testing topical treatments for arsenic-based chemical warfare agents. The agents cause severe burns and can destroy a person’s respiratory tract and lead to death. Also, Clinton Canal and colleagues in Mercer’s School of Pharmacy received a three-year grant to investigate new cellular targets for treating fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder causing intellectual disability. No medications are currently approved for the disease. • More on Banga’s research >Read about Mercer’s fragile X grant >

Georgia State scientists take on plastic threat

Beakers filled with a murky brew of melted plastic populate the Georgia State University lab of Eric Gilbert. Inside each, yeast microbes devour the plastic, filling themselves with fatty acids that are later harvested for possible use. This promising sequence of events — turning plastic into something useful — is the topic of a fascinating feature article in the latest edition of Georgia State Research Magazine. Gilbert and colleague Bryan Stubblefield got the idea a decade ago after discussing the giant garbage patch floating in the Pacific Ocean. Their research into “upcycling,” the transformation of discarded materials into more valuable materials, has shown success in the lab; now, they’re looking at how to scale it in the real world. GRA has funded some of the exploration. Above: Bryan Stubblefield, Eric Gilbert and Merhawi Mihreteab. Photo by Steven Thackston. • A good read right here >

Augusta U. finds clue to cervical cancer treatment

The odds of surviving cervical cancer may improve when treatments factor in certain proteins secreted by “senescent” cells that no longer divide, a team at Augusta University has found. In a study of hundreds of women who have either stage 2 or stage 3 cervical cancer, GRA Eminent Scholar Jin-Xiong She and colleagues learned that low levels of 10 proteins produced by the cells meant a higher survival rate, compared to patients who had high levels of the proteins. “You want to manage senescence to improve therapy for cervical cancer,” She concludes, and a class of drugs called senolytics could help do just that. Conducted at Augusta U.’s Medical College of Georgia, the study was published in the journal Cancers. Above: Jin-Xiong She (left) and colleague Sharad Purohit. • Details on the findings >

GT Scholar aims to improve essential materials

GRA Eminent Scholar Rampi Ramprasad and colleagues have applied an artificial intelligence technique, machine learning, to help design an important class of materials faster, cheaper and easier. The materials, metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), are used to help purify water, store gases, deliver drugs to the body and perform other functions. Their properties, however, are affected by exposure to moisture. The new research, published in Nature Machine Intelligence, describes how machine learning uses data from hundreds of previous experiments to predict which MOFs will be stable around water, without need for the time-consuming task of synthesizing, and then experimenting, on the materials. Ramprasad says the model could be used to predict properties in MOFs beyond water stability. Above: Metal-organic frameworks in vials; inset: Rampi Ramprasad.More on Ramprasad’s work >

Georgia Tech-invented gel could treat glaucoma

Two GRA-supported scientists at Georgia Tech have teamed up to develop what may be a groundbreaking new treatment for glaucoma. Ross Ethier, a GRA Eminent Scholar, and Mark Prausnitz, a trailblazer in microneedle technology, developed a hydrogel that relieves glaucoma-induced pressure inside the eye. The hydrogel forms when a polymer is injected, by microneedle (above), into an area close to the surface of the eye; it then opens a channel that allows fluid to drain. The procedure worked in animal models, and the duo published a paper in the Dec. 7 journal Advanced Science. If successful in clinical studies, the procedure would be the first long-acting therapy for glaucoma that doesn’t involve surgery or daily eyedrops. • Read about their breakthrough >

Ross Ethier celebrated by academic peers

This has been a good autumn for GRA Eminent Scholar Ross Ethier: In addition to his breakthrough work on glaucoma (see above), Ethier was recognized by peers for his major contributions to the field of bioengineering. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers notified Ethier that he was named the 2021 recipient of the ASME H. R. Lissner Medal for his work on the biomechanics of the eye in treating glaucoma, as well as for mentoring biomechanical engineers and for “internationally recognized leadership” in the field. The presentation of the award is scheduled for June. Congratulations to Ross for a well-deserved honor! 

And while we’re congratulating...

Our best wishes and deep admiration go out to Vijay Balasubramaniyan, the co-founder, CEO and CTO of Pindrop. In November, Vijay and four colleagues received the “Test of Time” Award at the annual conference of the Association for Computing Machinery. Pindrop, which received early investment from GRA, is one of the greatest success stories in university research and entrepreneurship in Georgia: The company is now an industry leader in technology to defeat voice fraud. Joining Vijay in receiving the award were his faculty mentor and Pindrop co-founder Mustaque Ahamad, as well as colleagues Aamir Poonawalla, Michael Hunter and Patrick Traynor. Cheers to all of you!

Please think of GRA this month

As the 2020 year comes to a close, you may be planning to make a year-end gift to your favorite causes. Please consider GRA among them: While we invest state dollars, our operations are funded by the generosity of donors. And because we’re a lean enterprise, you can be sure that your gift will be put to good use. • Take a minute to give online (and thank you!) > 

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