May 2019 Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
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Cracking the code: UGA opens the door to bigger, better peanuts

University of Georgia scientists and colleagues made history this month by mapping the genome of the modern peanut, a feat that will make it possible to grow larger peanuts and make them more resistant to drought and insects. GRA Eminent Scholar Scott Jackson co-chaired the international research initiative that generated the breakthrough, and GRA Distinguished Investigator David Bertioli was lead author of the Nature Genetics paper that detailed the genome sequencing. Both Jackson and Bertioli were key to sequencing the genomes of the peanut’s two wild ancestors in 2016; they built on that work to unlock the highly complex genome of the modern peanut. Georgia farmers produce half the entire U.S. crop of peanuts — nearly 2 billion pounds per year. • Read about the breakthrough >

Could body fat play a role in Alzheimer’s?

The older we get, the less efficient our fat cells are at producing a hormone called adiponectin. That may not seem like a big deal — except scientists have shown a connection between this hormone and neurons in the brain that are important to learning and memory. Adiponectin supports the growth and survival of these neurons, so a decline in the hormone might play a role in Alzheimer’s. GRA Eminent Scholar Xin-Yun Lu of Augusta University (above) has advanced scientific understanding of adiponectin, and this month, NIH awarded her and her colleagues a $3.5 million grant to further explore the relationship between the hormone and age-related cognitive decline. Lu says the amount of fat isn’t important; it’s the type of fat cells and the hormones they produce that could affect the risk of getting Alzheimer’s. • Details on Dr. Lu’s exploration >

Discovery could yield new sources of gas

Large reserves of raw natural gas around the world are untapped because the gas is “sour” — it has too much carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, making it hard to process. But technology engineered by GRA Eminent Scholar Bill Koros (above, right) may be able to improve sour gas. Working with colleagues at Georgia Tech and King Abdullah University of Science & Technology in Saudi Arabia, Koros developed special polymer membranes that provide “unprecedented separation performance” in removing hydrogen sulfide and another element, methane. Their findings were published this month in Science Advances by the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. Koros has pioneered membrane technology for decades, and his lab is regarded as the most sophisticated in the world for this kind of work. • Read about the breakthrough >

Neurotrack gets NIH grant to evaluate program 

A “digital lifestyle intervention program” developed by GRA-backed Neurotrack has captured the attention and support of the National Institute on Aging. Last month, the NIH division awarded Neurotrack a fast-track grant of up to $3.3 million to evaluate how the program affects memory health in people at risk for Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Neurotrack’s earlier study of its “digital therapeutic” — an app that helps people change their lifestyle to boost cognitive well-being — showed improvements in cognition. The NIH grant allows Neurotrack to expand that earlier assessment. Neurotrack was launched out of Emory University on novel eye-tracking technology that helps predict cognitive decline. • More on the NIH award >

Battling Ebola: Survivor immunity holds clues

It’s been five years since four people infected with the Ebola virus received care at Emory University Hospital, and scientists are still learning about the human body’s response to the deadly pathogen. An article this month reports on a study by the Emory Vaccine Centerled by GRA Eminent Scholar Rafi Ahmed, showing that antiviral antibodies produced by the survivors’ immune systems “continue to evolve and improve after recovery.” EVC scientists, working with other research colleagues, developed a system to examine how the “neutralizing” antibodies attack the virus at different points over time. The findings from their work are expected to play a major role in designing vaccines and therapies to fight Ebola. GRA is proud to have supported the launch and growth of EVC. Above: Ebola survivor Kent Brantly celebrates his release from Emory Hospital. • More on the discovery >


‘Print’ parts for electronics? TCPoly says yes

3D printing is a modern marvel for creating physical prototypes and parts, but it’s not yet suitable for producing objects on a mass scale. One reason is that the material used to print objects are plastic filaments with limited physical properties. But the startup company TCPoly has invented filaments to produce printed objects that have exceptional thermal properties. The digital news service Hypepotamus features TCPoly this month, noting that the company’s filaments have such high thermal conductivity, the resulting printed objects can “sit next to and inside electronics, lightbulbs or other high-heat devices and remain cool.” Launched out of Georgia Tech, TCPoly has received support from GRA’s venture development program. • Go to the Hypepotamus article >

Now featured: LymphaTech’s view of swelling

The online news source Global Atlanta has published an excellent feature on LymphaTech, a young company out of Georgia Tech that’s marketing technology to help manage the medical condition lymphedema. The article traces the origins of the company and describes its inventive technology, which measures the swelling of limbs from lymphedema by point-and-shoot imaging and software, rather than by a tape measurer or water displacement method. GRA’s venture development program supports LymphaTech, and the company is now rolling out its technology to treat lymphedema as well as other diseases involving swelling, such as elephantiasis. • Check out the feature >

UGA scholars work to shape futuristic medicine

Using the body’s human cells to cure disease holds great promise in medicine, and if you’re looking for a good introduction to the topic, check out a new feature on UGA’s website. “Collaborating with Purpose” provides an overview of cell therapies and highlights UGA’s role in developing this emerging area of medicine, including the work of GRA Eminent Scholars Steve Stice and Art Edison. UGA is part of a larger research consortium, headquartered at Georgia Tech, that’s leading efforts to make cell therapies more widely available. • Learn more about UGA’s role in advancing cell therapies > 

In ‘Healthcare Heroes’ nominees, a familiar face

Our congratulations to the prolific innovator Wilbur Lam, who was named a finalist this month in the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s annual roundup of “Healthcare Heroes.” Lam was recognized for serving as principal investigator in developing a smartphone app that identifies levels of hemoglobin in the blood; the app works by analyzing a photograph of a person’s fingernails. Lam is an associate professor in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory and is co-founder of Sanguina, a startup supported by GRA. • See the Business Chronicle’s story (paywall) >Watch a brief video of Wilbur Lam >

Copyright © 2019 Georgia Research Alliance, All rights reserved.

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