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October 2020 Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
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New initiative moves university inventions from campus to farm 


Gov. Brian Kemp and state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black joined GRA in middle Georgia this month to roll out a new initiative that shapes more companies around university inventions benefiting agribusiness. Called Greater Yield, the initiative leverages the success of GRA’s venture development program to help farmers and food producers be more efficient and productive. Six university projects — with technologies ranging from sensors that lessen machine damage to blueberries to a modular system that grows mushrooms out of ag waste — were announced as the first cohort of “companies in the making.” Said Gov. Kemp: “This project will put a special focus on research that benefits our state’s top industry. I’m very excited about the impact this program will have — not only on our farmers, but also for entrepreneurs.” The rollout was held Oct. 22 at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry, Ga. • Get the scoop on Greater Yield >More about the first cohort of projects >

GRA helps recruit top scientists to Emory

An internationally known HIV and cancer immunologist and a leading expert in lung disease are joining Emory as the newest recruits to GRA-designated positions. Rafick-Pierre Sekaly arrives from Case Western Reserve University as a GRA Eminent Scholar in immunology and infectious diseases; and Louise Hecker was recruited from the University of Arizona as a GRA Distinguished Investigator in pulmonary fibrosis and aging. Emory President Gregory Fenves said Sekaly will “accelerate ongoing collaborations aimed at a cure for HIV infection.” And he praised Hecker’s “strong record of high-impact science and entrepreneurship.” • Read a release on the latest recruits >

Quest for new COVID-19 tests will expand

NIH is awarding an additional $18.2 million to a trio of Atlanta institutions evaluating high-potential tests for diagnosing COVID-19 at home or at the point of care. Led by Wilbur Lam of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory, the group has been spearheading a national effort to speed development of the tests, with a special focus on microsystems technologies. The team, which includes Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, will also advise NIH on the best populations to participate in clinical studies to evaluate new kinds of tests. • More on the new funding >

Emory Scholar spots lupus, COVID-19 similarities

An Emory team led by GRA Eminent Scholar Ignacio (Iñaki) Sanz has spotted similarities between the “exuberant” immune responses in patients with severe COVID-19 and the immune responses in people who have lupus. Published in the Oct. 7 journal Nature Immunology, their work centers on the body’s activation of B cells, which defend against infection but can produce autoantibodies that end up attacking cells. The team’s findings could help determine which COVID-19 patients should be treated with drugs that modulate the immune system — therapies like dexamethasone, the steroid used to treat President Trump. Sanz is a leading expert on autoimmune diseases, with much of his work focusing on lupus. • Details on Sanz’s research >

NIH grant advances Emory exploration into
immune response to COVID-19

Iñaki Sanz’s work on B cell responses to COVID-19 (above story) will continue on, along with two additional projects led by other GRA Eminent Scholars at Emory — all thanks to a five-year, $9.9 million NIH grant announced in October. Part of a National Cancer Institute initiative, the grant aims to advance knowledge of how the immune systems of people with cancer or autoimmune diseases respond to COVID-19. Madhav Dhodapkar and Rafi Ahmed will lead a project on regulating immunity to SARS-CoV-2 from cancer patients; and newly named GRA Eminent Scholar Rafick-Pierre Sekaly will study the diversity and longevity of COVID-19 immune responses. The collective expertise of the Scholars and their colleagues about how the immune system fights diseases is expected to deepen understanding of the body’s response to COVID-19. • More on the big NIH grant >

Margulies elected to second national academy

It’s a major accomplishment to be elected by peers to any of the three national academies — but to be named to two is a rarity. In October, GRA Eminent Scholar and GRA Trustee Susan Margulies had the distinction of being elected to a second national academy this year. Chair of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, a joint department of Emory and Georgia Tech, Margulies was elected this month to the National Academy of Medicine for having demonstrated “outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.” Last February, the National Academy of Engineering elected Margulies to its membership, making her the first Emory faculty member to join that group. (Recently appointed Emory President and GRA Trustee Gregory Fenves is also a member.) The national academies “provide independent, objective advice to inform policy with evidence, spark progress and innovation, and confront challenging issues for the benefit of society.” • More on Margulies’ latest election >

GRA Venture Fund invests in Lucid Scientific

Production, sales and marketing of Lucid Scientific’s technology platform to continuously monitor cell culture plates will expand aggressively, thanks to a $3 million financing round that includes investment from GRA Venture Fund. Introduced last spring, Lucid’s RESIPHER platform (above) gives researchers insight into cellular metabolism by converting standard cell culture plates into smart handheld readers. “This financing enables Lucid to dramatically expand access to RESIPHER for basic researchers and the drug discovery teams whose work directly impacts human health,” says Walker Inman, president and CEO of Lucid Scientific. • Read the release >

GSU Scholar lasers in on coronavirus targets

The journal Science this month published a massive study spanning six nations and 200+ scientists, all working to determine what the SARS-CoV-2 virus has in common with other deadly coronaviruses. GRA Eminent Scholar Chris Basler and colleagues at Georgia State played a role in the effort, screening more than 300 host cell proteins known to interact with SARS-CoV-2 proteins. “We wanted to gauge the capacity of each host cell protein to promote the growth of the virus,” Basler says. Their exploration identified at least 20 potential targets for drug treatments. The global study also analyzed the medical records of more than 700,000 patients with SARS-CoV-2 to identify drugs approved for other medical conditions that also have the potential to treat COVID-19. • More on Basler’s work >

NIH grant will advance MRI agent from InLighta

A chemical developed by InLighta Biosciences that can help detect liver fibrosis, the formation of scar tissue in the liver, could advance into clinical study soon. NIH awarded InLighta a grant to speed development and clinical evaluation of the chemical, an imaging agent used in MRI scans of the liver. The current way to identify liver fibrosis is by invasive biopsy, which typically detects the disease only in later stages; but because the InLighta agent binds with collagen, it can spot the disease much earlier. Launched out of Georgia State University by Jenny Yang, who engineered the imaging agent, InLighta received seed investment from GRA’s venture development program. • Learn about the InLighta breakthrough >  

Young companies pitch to ATL investor forum

Congrats to three GRA-backed startups for being named “showcase companies” invited to present to 2020 Venture Atlanta, the region’s largest venture conference. AtherAxon, MapHabit and WEAV3D all pitched investors at the 13th annual gathering, which was held virtually this year. The conference brings together innovative companies, technologies and investors. • Browse the portfolio of GRA-backed startups >

In celebration of the Georgia Cancer Center

We continue our monthly salutes to GRA-related people, programs and enterprises to mark our 30th anniversary — and that includes the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University. Led by GRA Eminent Scholar Jorge Cortes, the GCC takes a multidisciplinary approach to reduce the burden of cancer in Georgia and around the world. Currently, the center has 23 Ph.D. research scientists and 19 clinical faculty for medical oncology training. Thank you GCC for playing a vital role in the quality of cancer care in Georgia! • Visit GCC’s website >

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