March 2017 Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
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UT neuroscientist moving research to Augusta University

Accomplished neuroscientist Dr. Xin-Yun Lu is moving to Augusta University as the newest GRA Eminent Scholar. Lu has been exploring how two hormones found in fat cells factor into psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Her findings could point the way to new drug treatments for these common yet challenging disorders. Lu joins the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University from the University of Texas, and her current research is supported by three NIH grants totaling $3.6 million. • More about Xin-Yun Lu >

New investment powers Urjanet expansion 

The meteoric rise of Urjanet continued this month as the GRA Ventures company announced a $20 million round of investment to expand its technology and geographic footprint. Launched out of Georgia Tech, Urjanet provides a cloud-based service that aggregates and analyzes utility records and bills, helping large organizations better manage their energy usage and spending. The company — which earlier received investment from GRA Venture Fund, LLC — will use the investment to add to its data network of 4,000 utilities and to launch applications in financial services. • More about Urjanet’s Series C round >

GRA Eminent Scholar targets Ebola virus

What made the 2014 outbreak of Ebola the worst in the virus’ 40-year history is the absence of drugs to treat infected people. NIH took another step this month to correct that by awarding GRA Eminent Scholar Chris Basler (above) a $4.1 million grant to develop a treatment for Ebola infection. To inform the drug development strategy, Basler — one of the world’s leading experts on the virus — and his Georgia State University colleagues will further explore how Ebola copies its genome. Georgia State is one of very few universities in the nation with a special high containment laboratory that makes it possible to safely study deadly pathogens. • More on the project >

Emory discovery helps clarify how to make
some cancer-fighting drugs more effective

Emory Vaccine Center scientists may have figured out a reason “checkpoint inhibitor” drugs aren’t more widely effective in treating cancer. The FDA-approved drugs release the brakes on the body’s immune cells (T cells) so that they can fight some forms of cancer. However, the tumor-specific T cells still need a boost to expand their numbers — a boost that can come from co-stimulating the molecule CD28, the researchers found. GRA Eminent Scholar Rafi Ahmed (above), who heads the vaccine center, is lead author on a paper published this month in the journal Science that describes the findings. • Read the news release from Emory >  • See the paper in Science >

WSB-TV program spotlights GRA's impact

GRA took center stage in a segment of WSB-TV’s new “Georgia GameChangers” series, which profiles people and organizations that “make our community, our nation and our world a better place.” Broadcast March 23 in prime time, the program featured an interview with GRA President Mike Cassidy and spotlighted the ingenuity of Quest Renewables, a GRA Ventures company. WSB General Manager Tim McVay invited viewers to “get inspired by people who live right here in our hometown. They show us all how we, too, can make a difference.” Above: the QuadPod solar canopies invented by Quest. • Watch the program on > 

SE Conference selects GRA Eminent Scholar for 2017 Faculty Achievement Award

Top academic officers at the 14 universities in the Southeastern Conference this month chose GRA Eminent Scholar Roberto Docampo, recruited to Georgia in 2005, as the 2017 recipient of the esteemed Faculty Achievement Award. Docampo, who conducts research in the University of Georgia's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, is renowned for his work on malaria and neglected parasitic diseases such as sleeping sickness. His research has led to the discovery of a previously unknown organelle — a tiny biological machine carrying out a specific task within a cell — that plays a role in the coagulation of blood. Said UGA Provost Pamela Whitten: "Dr. Docampo is advancing research with implications for millions of people around the world while also educating and mentoring students who themselves will go on to improve global health." • More on Dr. Docampo's award >

Looking for inspiration for innovation?
Make plans to come to Rome, Ga. April 13-14

Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson has been tapped to keynote a two-day conference of “inspiration, innovation and motivation” in Rome, Georgia in April. Titled “Confluence,” the conference is designed to generate ideas for innovation among area companies and industries and help cultivate a start-up community in the region. Attendees will also gain insights into emerging trends in innovation. Planned and staged by the Rome Chamber of Commerce, Confluence will be held April 13-14 at the DeSoto Theater in downtown Rome. • Learn more and get tickets >
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