To go organic or not: reactions to a recent Stanford study

Recently Stanford University released a systematic review of the published literature regarding the health effects of organic foods compared with their conventionally grown counterparts.  Their study found that, in general, organic products did not have significantly beneficial health effects.  However, of the 237 research results they examined, only 3 actually commented specifically on clinical health outcomes and all of the rest were nutrient- or pesticide-specific studies.  The average difference in pesticide presence between organic and conventionally grown produce was approximately 30%, with organic produce exhibiting less residue.

The public has had strong reactions to the study; for reactions to the Stanford review, please see the following NY Times article:



Cancer and terrorism: the continued aftermath of 9/11

As the eleventh anniversary of the 2001 attacks against the World Trade Center in New York city ticks closer, an additional 58 cancers were added to the list of Federal coverable conditions as a result of exposure to toxins near Ground Zero.  While the visible damage has been replaced by a memorial, for thousands the lasting effects of the situation continue to bear down.  The World Trade Center Health Program provides benefits to numerous people individuals, including first responders, volunteers, survivors of the attacks, and those living near the site.

For additional details about the World Trade Center Health Program and its history, see this CNN news article:


Levering the immune system against depression


An Emory University research team led by Andrew H. Miller, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, recently released the results of a study proposing a novel treatment target for difficult cases of depression.  Inflammation is the body’s innate reaction to a wound, but has also been observed in patients with depression and chronic inflammation is associated with depression cases that do not respond to typical medications and treatments.  In the study, participants with chronic inflammation and depression received infliximab, a drug used to treat inflammatory and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, or a placebo in addition to a prescribed anti-depression regimen. Infliximab was found to improve the treatment outcomes for depressed individuals with high levels of inflammation, and is a promising tool leveraging the immune system in the treatment of psychiatric conditions.
For more information about the study, please visit:

Potential link between PFCs and obesity in later life

An Emory University research team led by Dr. Michelle Marcus recently explored the association between exposure to polyfluoralkyl compounds (PFCs) during fetal development and body weight at age 20 months.  Their results indicated that the infants of 447 women who had increased PFC exposures during pregnancy were smaller than average at birth, and by 20 months of age were larger than average.  This research adds to the wealth of literature documenting the effects of environmental exposures on future health, and in particular adds to a growing body of evidence that points towards a connection between obesity and PFC exposure.  For more information about the study, please visit:

“Sugars” and cancer

Researchers across Emory are participating in numerous projects that examine the different relationships between “sugars” and cancer.

First, Emory was recently awarded two grants totaling $2.5 million dollars over five years from the National Cancer Institute to study the sugary coatings of cancer cells.  Novel diagnostic methods and anticancer treatments  are expected to come from this research.  Read more at:

Second, Emory researchers continue to investigate cancer cell’s “sugar cravings”.  Cancerous cells use up more glucose than healthy cells, as they turn off the mitochondria which are typically responsible for producing energy and instead rely on glucose.  In the video below, Jing Chen, PhD, associate professor of hematology and medical oncology at Emory University School of Medicine and Winship Cancer Institute, explains how his team is examining whether anticancer therapies can target this mis-appropriation of glucose.  To read more about the research, please visit:

Emory is tobacco free

Emory University kicks off the 2012-2013 school year by fully implementing a tobacco-free policy on campus.  Watch this video interview with Dr. Jeff Koplan, Director of Emory’s Global Health Institute and former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn more about why the campus should be proud of this recent policy change.


If you need smoking cessation support, please visit: Additionally, you can anonymously report violations of the tobacco-free policy by going to:

Sleep improves working memory for patients with Parkinson’s disease

Researchers from the Department of Neurology, Program in Sleep Medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine investigated the role of sleep in improving the working memory of patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD).  Reduced memory capacity is a lesser known symptom associated with PD, which is more commonly associated with visibly slow movements and tremors.

The research team examined how PD patients with and without sleep apnea, a condition where the airway is obstructed and blood oxygen levels decline during sleep, performed on working memory tests after a nights’ rest.  The patients without sleep apnea performed better on the tests, and PD patients also taking dopamine-enhancing medications had improved outcomes over those not taking the medications.  For more information about the study, including comments form the first author, postdoctoral fellow Michael Scullin, please visit:


leep apnea, the disruption of sleep caused by obstruction of the airway, interfered with sleep’s effects on memory. Study participants who showed signs of sleep apnea, if it was severe enough to lower their blood oxygen levels for more than five minutes, did not see a working memory test boost.

While the classic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include tremors and slow movements, Parkinson’s can also affect someone’s memory, including “working memory.” Working memory is defined as the ability to temporarily store and manipulate information, rather than simply repeat it. The use of working memory is important in planning, problem solving and independent living.

The findings underline the importance of addressing sleep disorders in the care of patients with Parkinson’s, and indicate that working memory capacity in patients with Parkinson’s potentially can be improved with training. The results also have implications for the biology of sleep and memory.

The results were published this week in the journal Brain.

“It was known already that sleep is beneficial for memory, but here, we’ve been able to analyze what aspects of sleep are required for the improvements in working memory performance,” says postdoctoral fellow Michael Scullin, who is the first author of the paper. The senior author is Donald Bliwise, professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine.

The performance boost from sleep was linked with the amount of slow wave sleep, or the deepest stage of sleep. Several research groups have reported that slow wave sleep is important for synaptic plasticity, the ability of brain cells to reorganize and make new connections.

The original antigenic sin: overcoming a barrier to flu vaccination

Emory Vaccine Center researchers are exploring ways to overcome the “original antigenic sin”, a process in which the immune system produces the wrong antibodies after it has encountered multiple strains of the same virus.  Using a mouse model, the team has been able to demonstrate that an vaccine adjuvant can be utilized to overcome the “original antigenic sin” with the flu virus.  For more information about the discovery, please visit:


The science behind why we overindulge


While food is obviously required for survival, overeating can lead to poor weight control and has been a contributor to the growing obesity epidemic.  This video provides a basic introduction to the innate body chemistry that is at play when we overeat.

Diseases with ancient roots that still impact us today

Today when one thinks of the health conditions that they are most likely to encounter within their lifetime, diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer come to mind.  These conditions are often described as modern ‘lifestyle diseases’ but there are a host of others that have risen to prominence over the course of human history and traditionally referred to as ‘diseases of civilization’ due to their development as lifestyle practices changed (e.g., settlement and farming styles) and populations became increasingly dense.

Many of these enduring diseases, such as gonorrhea, malaria, cholera, and tuberculosis, continue to impact a large proportion of the global population and represent a significant challenge to public health.  For example, whooping cough (also known as pertussis) has risen in prominence in the United States in recent years, in part due to vaccination avoidance.  For more information about these killers with ancient roots, visit: