Undergraduate Research on Immigrant Health Strategies

Emory undergraduate Sandy Jiang recently presented the results of her summer research project at the SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Emory) research symposium. The SURE program provides research training opportunities for undergraduate students over the summer break. Sandy completed her research under the supervision of Dr. Cassandra Quave and the Center for the Study of Human Health. Sandy’s research project, entitled “A Comparison of Traditional Food and Health Strategies among Taiwanese and Chinese Immigrants in Atlanta”, examined traditional knowledge and practices related to food and health . Sandy plans to continue work on this project in the fall and submit a manuscript for publication.

Abstract from the study:

Introduction: Traditional knowledge (TK) systems can play a crucial role in local health strategies and outcomes, especially among migrant communities. The aims of this study are to (1) compare traditional knowledge and practices related to food and health of Taiwanese and Chinese immigrants in metro Atlanta; (2) evaluate how immigrants adapt to new medicinal frameworks; and (3) document the use of medicinal foods and local substitutes as they relate to human health in these communities.

Methods: Snowball sampling techniques were used to recruit 50 adult informants (≥ 18 years-old) from the Chinese and Taiwanese immigrant communities in metro Atlanta for participation in semi-structured interviews and structured surveys regarding the use of the local flora for medicinal and food purposes. Standard ethnobotanical methods were employed and prior informed consent was obtained for all study participants. Voucher specimens of quoted species were collected for deposit at the Emory University Herbarium.

Results: A total of 44 medicinal and/or “healthy” food plants were cited by informants as being central to their traditional health practices. Taiwanese were more likely to use Eastern medicine, plant their own food gardens, believe in the concepts of Yin and Yang, and use certain medicinal foods more than their Chinese counterparts.

Conclusions: TK concerning medical and nutritional practices of immigrant communities represents a fundamental aspect to the study of human health. Results from studies focused on the documentation and analysis of local health strategies can be used to facilitate better communication, bridging the gap between biomedical healthcare providers and users of Complementary and Alternative Medical (CAM) strategies in immigrant communities.

Dr. Cassandra Quave: Using local knowledge against MRSA

Dr. Cassandra Quave is prominent member of the teaching and research team at the Center for the Study of Human Health, provides information about all things ethonobotany on her personal website, co-creator of the bio-venture start up PhytoTEK, and most recently the recipient of a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to examine the potential for “Extract 134″, a compound from a European tree, to aid in the treatment of antibiotic-resistant staph.

Dr. Quave, a graduate from Emory College’s programs in biology and anthropology, represents a remarkable story of a young, female scientist who isn’t willing to let life’s obstacles prevent achievement.  To learn more about her research and how she was inspired to pursue a career in ethnobotany, please see her recent profile in Emory’s eScience Commons: http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2012/08/her-patient-approach-to-health-tapping.html.

Emory researchers move forward in developing a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease

Dr. William Hu, assistant professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine, in collaboration with researchers from Washington University at St. Louis, the University of Pennsylvania, and Bristol Myers Squibb have released the results of preliminary study aimed at developing a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease.  The disease is currently diagnosed through techniques like spinal taps or PET imaging, which can be uncomfortable and expensive for patients.  A blood test could not only reduce costs associated with diagnosis, but potentially offer earlier detection.

These results, based on a cohort of 600 individuals both with and without an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis or mild cognitive impairment, revealed four potential biomarkers of the disease that could be identified in blood samples: apolipoprotein E, C-reactive protein, B-type natriuretic peptide, and pancreatic polypeptide.  For more information on the study results, please visit: http://news.emory.edu/stories/2012/08/alzheimers_blood_test/campus.html.

Regulations on school snacks related to healthy childhood weight

In a large scale study examining the relationship between state laws regarding the types of snacks and drinks sold in public schools, researchers found that stronger laws limiting availability of unhealthy snacks were correlated with less weight gain over a 3 year period during late childhood/early adolescence.  For a review of the study, please visit the following website: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/13/health/research/study-links-healthy-weight-in-children-with-tough-snack-and-sugary-drinks-laws.html?_r=1&smid=fb-share.

Using electronic games to encourage healthy behaviors

“Screen time” activities like playing video games and watching TV have been described as key factors in the rising childhood and adult obesity epidemic.  However, companies like the nonprofit organization Hopelab are using the interest in technology to their advantage to promote healthy behaviors.

Their program Zamzee is designed to get kids moving by letting them log “pointz” that they can redeem for prizes.  Activity is logged electronically via an accelerometer worn by the child and transferred to the computer by USB, where the user can view their progress and activity in relation to other users in a virtual competition.

For more information about a variety of technology-backed approaches to engage kids and adults alike in healthy behaviors, see this story by CNN: http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2012/08/tech/gaming.series/obesity.html?hpt=he_c1.


Review discusses the role of European folk medicine in a new era of integrative health

A new review article in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine by Drs. Cassandra Quave, Manuel Pardo de Santayana, and Andrea Pieroni explores the relevance of field studies concerning traditional health practices as they relate to new and emerging trends in Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Europe. Click here to access the full open-access article.

Abstract from article: European folk medicine has a long and vibrant history, enriched with the various documented uses of local and imported plants and plant products that are often unique to specific cultures or environments. In this paper, we consider the medicoethnobotanical field studies conducted in Europe over the past two decades. We contend that these studies represent an important foundation for understanding local small-scale uses of CAM natural products and allow us to assess the potential for expansion of these into the global market. Moreover, we discuss how field studies of this nature can provide useful information to the allopathic medical community as they seek to reconcile existing and emerging CAM therapies with conventional biomedicine. This is of great importance not only for phytopharmacovigilance and managing risk of herb-drug interactions in mainstream patients that use CAM, but also for educating the medical community about ethnomedical systems and practices so that they can better serve growing migrant populations. Across Europe, the general status of this traditional medical knowledge is at risk due to acculturation trends and the urgency to document and conserve this knowledge is evident in the majority of the studies reviewed.

Microbiome changes over the course of pregnancy

The role of the microbiome in human health is of increasing interest in the scientific community.  A study led by Dr. Ruth Ley from Cornell University that analyzed fecal samples from 91 women across their gestational period identified that the maternal microbiome changes significantly over the course of pregnancy.  The women’s individual microbiomes became less diverse as pregnancy ensued, though as a group the total number of bacterial species present was greatest during the final trimester.  Additionally, the changes in gut microbiota during each stage of pregnancy were correlated with the degree of fat and inflammation exhibited by the women.

For additional commentary about the study, The Scientist provides a review of the study and interviews with the research team and other subject matter experts.  The scientific article was published in Cell.

Emory University Hospital named best hospital in metro Atlanta and Georgia

In their 2012 guide to “America’s Best Hospitals”, U.S. News & World Report named Emory University Hospital the best hospital in both metro Atlanta and in the entire state of Georgia.  Further, Emory University Hospital was ranked as a national care leader in five specialties: cancer; cardiology and heart surgery; geriatrics; neurology and neurosurgery; and psychiatry.

The full details about Emory University Hospital’s rating is available through the U.S. News & World Report website.

Research points to the early detection of lung cancer through a breathalzyer-like test

A joint study conducted by researchers at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology demonstrated the possibility of early diagnosis of lung cancer using a breathalyzer-like test.  The team identified 75 unique breath volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) that were different in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) compared to individuals without the condition.

To learn more about the study, as well as other lung cancer research conducted by the joint Emory University-Georgia Tech team, please read this article by the Emory News Center.

UN tightens regulations on food safety

On July 4th, 2012, the United Nations food standards body strengthened regulations related to food safety to protect the health of consumers across the world. In particular, new restrictions regarding the levels of melamine in liquid milk formula and alfatoxin in figs were created. Recommendations for safe hygienic practices for  the processing of melons and seafood were created and mandatory nutritional labeling practices were also part of the new plan. To learn more about action of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, please visit: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2012/codex_20120704/en/index.html