15 Good Minutes: Nathan Jui

For Emory Assistant Professor Dr. Nathan Jui, the inspiration for his career in organic chemistry evolved in part from interests in cooking and building. Jui enjoys working on both of these in day to day life and sees similarities with his chemistry interest. Despite the complicated nature of his work, Jui believes that chemistry is similar on to these tasks as it similarly involves manipulating matter, just on a much smaller scale. In his research career, Jui uses this basic chemistry principle for groundbreaking scientific research in areas from cancer drugs to gene expression.

“Life is a bunch of molecules that interact with energy and do things that are really important,” Jui said. “But at the very bottom, basic level it’s all chemistry, and I thought it was really cool to be able to manipulate things on that fundamental level that can have impacts on all levels, from the materials that we deal with to the drugs that we take, to the way that we communicate with each other.”

Jui has been at Emory since 2014, where he runs a lab researching organic chemistry. He attributes his decision to come to Emory to the University’s strong reputation in chemistry, as well as its history of research and innovation. Jui’s lab is currently working on several groundbreaking projects. One notable area Jui is currently focusing on is in cancer research, where he and his team are looking into drugs that could override cancer cells’ ability to evade the immune system, utilizing the body’s natural machinery to destroy cancer. This stands in contrast to existing treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy, which essentially poison areas of the body to target cancer.

Another project Jui is currently pursuing is a new diagnostic tool to establish whether drugs will work in patients without requiring patients to try out the drug. This tool could be helpful in preventing unnecessary side effects from drugs by predicting efficacy before the drug is administered.

“We’re trying to use chemistry and a slew of other disciplines to help us make a tool that will figure out if drugs will work beforehand,” Jui said. “It’s a question we don’t have an answer to right now and that no one in the world has an answer to right now”

While Jui has yet to commercialize his research, he is working on several projects that he believes could eventually be commercialized. Jui says his field is open and collaborative by nature, oftentimes making commercialization unnecessary. However, in some instances, commercialization can be advantageous, although challenging.

“You have to make sure before commercializing a given project it’s going to work and it has to have a competitive advantage over everything else that’s been done in the same area with the same purpose,” Jui said. “So, the challenge is really getting something worth commercializing.”

Despite these challenges, Jui is optimistic that some of his innovations could eventually have commercial potential. He says that his relationship with Emory’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) will be a key component in this effort. Jui works with OTT on the patent and licensing processes for innovations discovered through his academic research.

“OTT is pretty responsive and pretty interested in commercialization of technology,” Jui said.  “And they’ve done it well in the past, and so hopefully some of the products I’m involved with will follow along those lines.”

Nathan Jui: https://www.juigroup.com/

OTTer Fun Facts

 

Otters LOVE Rocks: Otters often have a favorite rock to open their shellfish! Each otter stores a favorite rock in its chest pouch that is unique to them and their preference. The otter loves to keep this tool close when gathering food. Every otter has a pouch for storing food, that is not super noticeable, but an important part of the otter’s body. Source: The Little Book of Otter Philosophy.

Otters Have a Unique Smelly Poop: Weird fact of the day is Otters have a particular stink to their feces. So much so, that this poop is coined, “Spraints.”

Otter Pregnancy: Otter gestation can last up to two months, but otters do not begin to breed until they are at least five years old. In fact, otter pregnancy is unique to this animal. The otter can have a delayed implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus. Therefore, a baby otter can be born up to a year after fertilization has occurred. A female otter can have one up to six babies per litter. Baby otter births typically will occur from the months of November to May.

Otter Fur:  Did you know otters have the thickest fur of any mammal? Otters have up to 850,000 to one million hairs per square inch. Source: The little Book of Otter Philosophy, Home and Environment.

Otters are Nocturnal Animals! Typically, otters will hunt at night. Source: The Little Book of Otter Philosophy, Work and School.

Otters are Team Players: Did you know otters love to relax in a group setting? In fact, researchers from Alaska have observed otters in groups of over one thousand floating in the water. These friendly creatures can be seen relaxing in groups from ten to hundreds. Source: The Little Book of Otter Philosophy.

One Big Breath! Otters have massive lung capacity. Depending on the type of otter they can hold their breath for up to eight minutes. [Source: The Little Book of Otter Philosophy]

It’s All About Looking Good: The sea otter will spend much of its time grooming itself. In fact, looking this good can take up to six hours! However, the reason that otters will spend time cleaning themselves is so that their fur will remain buoyant (keeping them afloat) and dry.  Source: The Little Book of Otter Philosophy.

CIA Agent or Otter?  Recently, declassified records from the 1960’s, found that the CIA studied otters in the 1960’s. Known as the, “MK Ultra Project.” This project designed an otter harness. The reasons are still unknown, but believed to be so that otters could deliver explosives or microphones to sensitive areas to create an otter dossier. Source: The Little Book of Otter Philosophy.

Otters Love to Chase Their Own Tails: Check out this link!

Otter Cafes: In Japan or areas of Asia, “Otter Cafes” have become a popular commodity. Clients pay to pet and play with otters. This idea venture, while cute, is questionable due to the endangered subset of populations.

 

15 Good Minutes: Hee Cheol Cho

Issues surrounding cardiovascular health and disease are personal for Dr. Hee Cheol Cho. Dr. Cho lost his father to a heart attack, and his father lost his siblings to heart attacks. “The topic of cardiovascular disease is embedded in my family and blood,” Dr. Cho said.

Hee Cheol Cho, Ph.D. is a stem cell and cardiology researcher, Urowsky-Sahr Scholar in Pediatric Bioengineering, and Associate Professor at the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Pediatrics at Emory and Georgia Tech. Dr. Cho’s research focuses on cardiac pacemaker cells and developing a gene-and cell-based treatment for cardiac arrhythmia. His “biological pacemaker” is a minimally invasive alternative treatment for cardiac arrhythmia.

Hee Cheol Cho, Ph.D.

Hee Cheol Cho, Ph.D.

Cardiac arrhythmia refers to irregular heartbeats that can cause fatigue and, in more severe cases, unconsciousness. To correct the heartbeats, an electrical pacemaker is often implanted. This implanting of electric pacemakers is not considered suitable for pediatric patients, and it is an invasive procedure. There are also several drawbacks of the device, including battery replacement, dislodging of the lead wire, and risk of infection. Dr. Cho and his research team have developed a device-free pacemaker, using a small molecule to convert heart muscle cells to pacemaker cells to restore natural heart rhythm.

Dr. Cho’s research also addresses myocardial infarction. Myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, is an abrupt blockage of the heart vessel that supplies the blood to the heart.  When the circulation is cut off, then the heart vessel will begin to die within hours. The heart cannot regenerate itself, and once the muscle begins to die it will be replaced with fibrotic tissue that leaves a big scar.

In the lab, Dr. Cho and his team pursue knowledge and understanding of how stem cells arrive at heart muscle cells and what kind of growth factors we can add or subtract so that we get the heart muscle cells that we want to replace the damaged muscles.

“We are at the point where we can reasonably specify which road the stem cells will take to become either atrial or ventricular heart muscle cells. In our latest discovery, we found a way to make these stem cells become left or right ventricular cells and that’s important because when the myocardial infraction happens and the damage is in the left ventricle, then we want to implant in the left ventricle. We have arrived at a point where we can specify this.”

Beyond his personal connection, Dr. Cho has many other inspirations and influences for entering this line of work. “My parents and my family have been the initial influencer of my career, but the proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ applies to me as well,” Dr. Cho said.  “In the early years of my training, my Ph.D. supervisor and post-doctoral mentor all have given me such excellent training and mentorship to form me as a scientist. Now that we have this research team, my young and talented, and seasoned scientists all influence me. Their dedication, work, and their exciting discoveries are all humbling to me and give me such great satisfaction as they grow. These past few years I have also developed relationships with patients and their families. When I speak and communicate with young people with cardiac pacemakers and want to play sports again and see how our research gives them hope, it is a motivation to me and my career.

As Dr. Cho described his work, he had a few words of advice for aspiring scientists and his past self: “If I could rewind 20 years from today, then I think I would tell myself to ‘be the best version of yourself.'”

Meet the 2021 Annual Celebration Awardees

Each Spring, Emory’s Office of Technology Transfer hosts an Annual Celebration of Technology and Innovation. Though we weren’t able to gather in person to celebrate this year, we are extremely proud of the 2021 awardees. We took time to interview several of this year’s awardees to learn more about their technologies and their reaction to winning an award!

2021 Innovation of the Year – Serological Test for SARS-CoV-2; John Roback, MD, Ph.D.

Can you introduce yourself?

John Roback, MD, Ph.D.

“John D. Roback, MD PhD.  I am a Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Medical Director of Emory Medical Laboratories, and Executive Vice-Chair for Clinical Operations in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.”

What did you enjoy about winning an award?

“It is a wonderful recognition of a team science initiative to rapidly implement SARS-CoV-2 serology testing in Emory Medical Laboratories at the start of the pandemic.  The short time from test development in the research laboratory (Drs. Wrammert, Suthar, and Ahmed) to validation, FDA authorization, and clinical implementation was a testament to the collegial team work between this group and their colleagues during the process.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology that you received the award for?

“The team led by Drs. Wrammert, Suthar, and Ahmed began developing a COVID-19 serology assay (a test to detect antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus) early in 2020. The test was transitioned to Emory Medical Laboratories where I led a team that produced the clinical data resulting in FDA Emergency Use Authorization and subsequent clinical use of this test to identify patients who were exposed to the virus and/or vaccinated.”

What does this award mean for your lab or your family?

“From my perspective, the leadership and staff of Emory Medical Laboratories was very proud to have made such an important clinical impact early in the course of the pandemic through the implementation of this serology assay.”

What are the next steps for this technology?

“We are continuing to offer it in Emory Medical Laboratories to positively impact patient care.”

2021 Deal of the Year – Phaeno, Inc. – A Method for Full-Length RNA Deep Sequencing with Existing Next-Generation Technology; William Agnew, Ph.D. & Mark Emerick, Ph.D.

Can you please introduce yourselves?

Mark Emerick, Ph.D.

Dr. Agnew: “My name is William Agnew. I have come from academia – I was trained in UCLA at the Molecular Biology Institute and was on the faculty of Yale for a number of years in the Medical School in the department of cell and molecular physiology. Then I moved to Johns Hopkins University, where I was the Chair of Physiology for about 13 years, as well as a professor of physiology and neuroscience. Around 2009, I stepped down from the chairmanship and went on as a visiting professor at Emory to pursue to development of a new technology. My background is in molecular neurobiology, which led us into a very interesting area which resulted in us developing the technology that represents the intellectual property that we’ve licensed from Emory and Johns Hopkins.”

William Agnew, Ph.D.

Dr. Emerick: “I’m Mark Emerick. I have been at Emory for a long time. I have a PhD from Yale in Physiology and Molecular neuroscience and a postdoc at Hopkins. I hooked up with Bill in the early 2000s and we were working on a project about ion channel structural diversity and the mechanisms that generate diversity in cells, which led to the project of sequencing the full length of the transcriptome of cells, and then moved to Emory and developed this sequencing technology with Bill.”

Can you describe the technology for which you won the award?

Dr. Agnew: “In the past 20 years – this has really been the era of the genome – one of the technical triumphs has been the fact that whereas the first genome took 10 years and close to $3 billion to sequence, we can now sequence an individual’s genome in about 2 hours for a wholesale cost of about $600. The result of having this ability to pull out a patient’s genome is to look at the constellation, the family of genes that that person might have inherited from their parents, plus any mutations that may have accumulated during their development. Every cell has in it a group of molecules that are the molecular machinery of the cell – these are the proteins and they control everything in the cell. All of those properties are dictated specifically by the group of proteins that the cell expresses. There are about 25,000-30,000 of these and they are different for every type of cell, called the proteome. To understand the cause of disease, to diagnose it properly, understand the mechanisms, identify the targets for drugs or other molecular interventions, you need to know the proteome. The idea is that we take a snapshot of the proteome to understand what makes a cancer cell a cancer cell, what makes an Alzheimer’s neuron an Alzheimer’s neuron. That can’t be deduced by sequencing the genome. What we did is we took the technology instruments that are used to sequence a whole genome at a very low cost, and changed the chemistry that is used a little bit so that now we can sequence all of the messages in a cell – and that’s the advance. One of the other big things we are looking at is we need to have national-scale surveillance of whole viral genomes and this technology can do that. We are pretty excited about the prospect, optimizing it so that you can sequence ground water samples from 1,000 communities every two days and spot the emergence of any viruses and you would even be able to do sophisticated analysis to track their migration and development. As hard as it has been to move this forward, and it has been a long process, this is a golden moment to make a contribution to human health and demonstrate the full power of this technology.”

What are the next steps for this technology?

Dr. Agnew: “The basic technology was proven in proof of concept studies. That allowed us to write patents with Emory and Johns Hopkins … Where we are now is we want to demonstrate the technology at full scale, and we are getting to the point where we want to optimize the synthesis of the reagents and steps into what are called deliverables – which are kits of reagents and also the data pipeline so that these can be sold or licensed to a genome center. We hope that around this time next year, we will be able to hand out beta kits so that they can go and exploit this. This could also get surged because of possible applications for COVID. We are well positioned to have a big impact.”

What prompted you to start a biotech company?

Dr. Agnew: “Mark basically invented the core trick that goes into this stuff and we did a huge amount of work inventing the supporting technology and analysis and then we decided – we might want to protect that! We wrote the patents and Emory and Johns Hopkins were really supportive, and it just turned out that it would be best if we formed our own company, took ownership of the rights of the technology and then we could license it to another company to develop or develop some of the core elements and license the products. It would just give us a lot more flexibility to go to a wide variety of people whose problems could potentially be solved with it and make sure that it is disseminated in the best way possible. We also have a bunch of other innovations and we thought if we could generate the revenue, we could put that out for public benefit as well. Forming a company seemed like a good mechanism.”

What does winning this award mean to you personally?

Dr. Agnew: “The amount of support we had, in this kind of competitive environment was spectacular and can never express our gratitude for giving us the freedom to do what we were trying to do and believed in us and there was a time a few years ago when I went to one of these award ceremonies, and I remember the person who got up had won something similar to this, and gave a speech and I thought wow, that is really cool, and maybe someday we will be talking to folks about this. So it’s huge, and Emory and Johns Hopkins have been so supportive. To get recognized for what we have been trying to do, which has been very hard, quite frankly – it has required a lot of tenacity – is another gift from the University. It’s pretty humbling, it’s really cool.”

Dr. Emerick: “I would confirm that. The last 20 years have been rather difficult to get support for what we have been working on. We had a bit of trouble making money, so the funds from people were very helpful, and Emory was certainly very helpful. Just in the past few weeks I have been doing literature reviews, and people have been republishing our results with great fanfare, the results that we had trouble getting published 15-20 years ago. This is the kind of confirmation that shows what we knew at the time that we are on the right track. It’s only now that it is beginning to build traction, and now with this award, it is a great confirmation of that.”

Do you have one word to describe your feeling winning this award?

Dr. Agnew: “I was so surprised – we got this announcement and we’d had a pretty good set of things happen over the course of about a week, and then this announcement came in and it was just the icing on the cake, tremendously exciting. One word would be ‘thrilled.'”

Dr. Emerick: “I was completely unaware. I was completely unprepared for this. It wasn’t on my radar, so when it arrived, I was like ‘That’s really nice!’”

2021 Significant Event of the Year – Aligos Therapeutics, Inc. – Initial Public Offering; Raymond F. Schinazi, Ph.D.

Can you introduce yourself?

Raymond Schinazi, Ph.D.

“My name is Dr. Raymond F. Schinazi. I am a professor of pediatrics at Emory University. I’ve been at Emory for about 40 years. The focus of my work is HIV, HBV, HCV and emerging viruses. That’s what I do for a living. I am interested in particular in the discovery and development of drugs for these viruses.”

Can you talk about the specific technology that you won the award for?

“Viruses in general are made up of different components, which includes of course the genetic material of the virus, which, in the case of Hepatitis B is DNA. The DNA is protected by something called the capsid. We have been focused on the capsid, because if we can destroy the capsid or alter its shape, we can allow the enzymes in the body to destroy the DNA of the virus. Only viruses have capsids, so you can target the capsid and by doing that, for example, you can open it up and expose it to the elements and it will degrade, because the DNA will no longer be protected. Its shield will be gone. We have been interested in compounds that specifically target the capsid. We call them capsid effectors.

These drugs that we have been working on target very specifically the hepatitis B capsid. The capsid also contains something called cccDNA, a latent form of DNA. By interfering with the cccDNA with capsid effectors, you can basically stop cccDNA from producing new variants or viruses and that is a big advantage. Now, even if you use regular antiviral agents, you can prevent the production of new viruses, but they can come back. You need to tackle the reservoir, which is found in the cccDNA.”

What is the current standard of care for Hepatitis B, and how can this be a game changer?

“The current standard of care is basically taking these drugs forever. They are known to prevent or delay the development of cancer of the liver. The only way to solve that problem is to have a liver transplant, there is no drug that can work. We are trying to eliminate the virus with these capsid effectors in combination with regular antivirals. You can suppress the virus to very low levels and also hit it with the new drugs and tackle the reservoir of the virus so that you don’t have a reactivation. Eventually with time – about a year of treatment – you clear the virus completely. There are markers for that. One of the clinical markers to determine if you have cleared the virus, is that if you stop therapy, the virus doesn’t come up again. That’s called a functional cure. When you have a functional cure, you are cured. You don’t need to take any more drugs, and you stop the process of getting liver cancer completely.”

How did your collaboration with Aligos Therapeutics come about?

“I have known the CEO of the company – his name is Dr. Larry Blatt – for a long time. He is a colleague and friend. [When starting Aligos Therapeutics] he needed assets, and at the time we had discovered this drug but didn’t have any suitors. With Emory’s help, we were able to license this technology to this small biotech company start up in California. Together we came up with an even better compound than the one in the original patent. They developed the compound with us, did all the preclinical work, and decided to put it in people who are not infected with hepatitis B to make sure it is safe and get data on the pharmacokinetics – how long the drug persists in the body. Then they went into infected patients. The results are preliminary and just being provided to the public that at a 100 mg dose – the lowest dose they have used so far – they were able to clear the virus in half the patients after only two weeks of treatment. This doesn’t mean that it has been cleared from the body completely, there was just none in circulation after only two weeks of treatment at a 100 mg once a day, so that’s pretty impressive. You can imagine what would happen after say 4 weeks, or 6 months, or a year. The question is whether they will rebound after you stop therapy. There are many questions to be answered, but at least the preliminary results so far are encouraging. And of course, the work will continue. What we would like to see is a decline in virus and we would also like to see that when you stop therapy, the virus doesn’t pop back up immediately.”

What are the next steps?

“We need to find the best dose that will give the biggest impact safely. That’s what we are aiming for. Safety is paramount, efficacy is second, and long-term effects are also important. And remember, you are clearing a virus that has been there for 20 to 50 years in the body. It is a big challenge, because if one is left, the virus will expand.”

What does this award mean to you?

“OTT works in partnership with people like myself and getting this award is a way to say thank you to the inventors. It’s not just me, my group helped me immensely. And they are really the heroes in my lab. Drs. Sebastien Boucle, Franck Amblard, Leda Bassit. We have people from many nationalities in our lab, and you saw people from diverse background coming together to work for the common good. It is a big deal to be recognized for participating in something that could cure a major disease. It is an amazing opportunity and to be recognized by our university is a good thing. It’s nice to be recognized by peers at your university, and that’s what this award does.”

Is there one word you would use to describe how you feel winning this award?

“Gratitude.”

2021 Significant Event of the Year – Aligos Therapeutics, Inc. – Initial Public Offering; Leda C. Bassit, Ph.D.

Can you introduce yourself?

Leda Bassit, Ph.D.

“I am an Assistant Professor in the department of Pediatrics at Emory University, with 28 years of experience in virology and viral diagnosis working with HIV, hepatitis B and C, West Nile, Dengue, Chikungunya, Yellow fever, Zika viruses, and most recently coronaviruses, including the variants of SARS-CoV-2 strains. My extensive know-how focuses on the studies of antiviral agents against HBV and other relevant viral pathogens, cell culture systems, drug-drug interactions, antiviral drug resistance, toxicities (mitochondrial DNA and glutathione), and neutralization assays using several cell systems (organoid systems), such as primary human hepatocytes or hepatoma cells, kidney (Vero), neuron, fibroblast, myelogenous leukemia, primary human macrophages, pulmonary, colon cells, among others.”

What did you enjoy about winning an award?

“To be able to contribute on the development of a novel antiviral drug that has the potential to cure chronic hepatitis B virus infection which affects ~300 million people worldwide.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology that you received the award for?

“HBV nucleocapsid plays an essential role in the viral replication cycle that includes HBV genome packaging, reverse transcription, intracellular trafficking of relaxed circular DNA (rcDNA) into the nucleus and maintenance of chronic infection. Our drug is a capsid assembly modulator (CAM) with a unique glyoxamidopyrrolo backbone, which has shown substantial in vitro and in vivo effects in HBV DNA replication.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“I am glad to be part of a team that is focused on the development of safer antivirals that target the HBV replication cycle and have the potential to prevent the nearly one million human deaths annually due to liver diseases associated with hepatitis B.”

Can you use one word to describe winning an award?

“Appreciated.”

One Year Later: Interviews with 2020 Annual Celebration Awardees

Each Spring, Emory’s Office of Technology Transfer hosts an Annual Celebration of Technology and Innovation. In preparation of announcing the 2021 awardees, we spoke with several award recipients from 2020 about their experience with OTT’s Annual Celebration.

2020 Innovation of the Year – Autonomic Formation of Large-Scale Wireless Mesh Networks; Sergio Gramacho, Ph.D.

Can you introduce yourself?

“I am Sergio Gramacho, an avid learner and applier who had the opportunity to formally study Electrical Engineering (BS), Business (MBA) and Computer Science (Master, PhD) in different moments of my career.”

What did you enjoy about winning an award?

Sergio Gramacho, Ph.D.

“This award was crucial for me and my project partner, Dr. Avani Wildani. Dr. Wildani was my Ph.D. advisor, and the news of this award came about 2 months before my Ph.D. defense. Together with positive feedback from recent paper submissions, it was the final sign that I was ready for defending my research.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology that you received the award for?

“We conceived, designed, and proved practical the formation of wireless mesh networks by independent and autonomous agents, organized in controlled partitions. Also, by design, the solution is resilient to changes in the network nodes over time (self-healing characteristic). This technology has the potential to create large telecommunication networks without large companies using simple (low reliability) network nodes. The solution technology is heavily based on software, for maximum adaptation to different settings. We hope that this innovative mode of network creation will allow networking underserved regions of the world, including areas of the U.S.”

Did the award have any impact on your lab or family?

“My family was ecstatic about the news. We were in the expectation of having my Ph.D. defense, and the award came as a critical recognition of the value of my research. One person, however, was especially happy: my father-in-law. He was on travel, staying with us in December 2019 when I was actively working with OTT. He gave me multiple suggestions regarding potential applications if the patent was granted.”

What has happened since the award?

“In partnership with the Office of Transfer Technology, we have a patent application that has moved to its final phase.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“I really enjoyed the opportunity of working with OTT. They made something that seemed extremely difficult to execute and distant for us, a patent application, seamless. I strongly recommend to other researchers and students this experience.

Can you use one word to describe the event?

“Realization.”

2020 Innovation of the Year – Autonomic Formation of Large-Scale Wireless Mesh Networks; Avani Wildani, Ph.D.

Can you introduce yourself?

“I am Dr. Avani Wildani. I am a fifth year Assistant Professor in Computer Science, formally computer science and math. I primarily work in computer systems now and essentially how information is understood and represented in different spaces can be biological and mathematical spaces that allow us to work in different areas. I do a lot of work with public health, particularly, environmental health recently on transferring knowledge modules between different areas. Also, we do some work in understanding and moving some information around between different storage devices.”

What did you enjoy about winning an award?

Avani Wildani, Ph.D.

“I was very happy for Sergio, who is the main person on this project, this was a project he was passionate about when I first met him. Seeing Dr. Sergio Gramacho’s hard work come to life was very rewarding for me.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology that you received the award for?

“At a high level, we tried to build a mesh network. So, a mesh network when you put together the internet and wires and connections can become complicated. In some places, such as a festival or sports stadium or even in disadvantaged areas of the world, that can be a lot of overhead. What we want to do is allow computers to come together. The problem with this is there is a lot of overhead where the computers communicate asking one another, “are you still alive? Yes! I am still alive.”  Because of overhead, as you add more and more computers the network becomes slower and slower due to asking one another if they are still alive. This is a concept called negative scaling. The goal of this project was to diminish negative scaling by creating clusters that individually communicate and essentially creating a virtual network or a software designed network over this mesh. That allows a super-linear scale, rather than a sublinear scaling, allowing a larger network.”

Did the award have any impact on your lab or family?

“The glory of this project goes to Dr. Sergio Gramacho and he ended up accepting a job at Emory University as a software engineer within our department.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“I think the Emory Office of Technology Transfer is very nice, it allows technology to be more directed to an applied world. When Dr. Sergio Gramacho was working with Emory Office of Technology Transfer, he had some great ideas of how to translate his work into an applied span and this was very helpful for him.”

Can you use one word to describe the event?

“Efficient.”

2020 Innovation of the Year – Software to Derive Brand Insights from Mobile Location Data; David Schweidel, Ph.D.

Can you introduce yourself?

“My name is David Schweidel. I am a professor in marketing in Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. I received my B.A. in mathematics, M.A. in statistics, and Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Pennsylvania.”

What did you enjoy about winning an award?

David Schweidel, Ph.D.

“I enjoyed many things. We were surprised initially, but it was a nice recognition. Especially, giving the breadth of work that happens at Emory University and be included amongst this group of award recipients.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology that you received the award for?

“Mobile Location Analytics (MLA) is a type of customer intelligence that works to track smartphone locations. This geo-technology can then be matched to locations of interest such as other retailers. Today, people are more familiar with mobile location data than ever before. All of the apps on our phone ask us permission to access our camera or even microphone and, in some cases, a mobile application will ask if it can use your location. Thus, we partnered with a company that provides location services for many of those apps. That allows us to gain access to location history and anonymize data. With that, we can follow the same device and see if it goes to a particular restaurant or venue, or what types of businesses in general.  This data was obtained without having to find who owns this particular device.”

Did the award have any impact on your lab or family?

“This was validation of our early work with this company. Since this award, we have continued to work on projects with them and are in the process of doing a larger study. At this moment, we are preparing the manuscript from data that they have given of devices collected in the year 2020 in the state of Georgia. We are looking at how COVID-19 impacted people, but also businesses. Despite the shelter in place order being lifted in the state of Georgia, people have decreased frequency of going to retailers and other businesses. Now we are looking at the economic impact of COVID-19 has had in the state.

We are also doing a different project and how COVID-19 may have changed our social interaction. This project is an emphasis on the social network structure within metro Atlanta. Asking the question, “how are people socializing with each other?” We plan on looking at that social interaction data as a precursor to COVID-19 spreading or maybe individuals considering socializing less. The field of marketing has fundamentally changed more and has become much more data driven. This is a new source of data we are seeing becoming more available to marketers.”

Can you use one word to describe the event?

“Impressive. If you look at the range of work being conducted at Emory University, we have the healthcare side of Emory, and there are other divisions making a great impact.”

2020 Innovation of the Year – Software to Derive Brand Insights from Mobile Location Data; Daniel McCarthy, Ph.D.

Can you introduce yourself?

“My name is Daniel McCarthy, and I’m an Assistant Professor in the marketing department at Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business.”

What did you enjoy about winning an award?

Daniel McCarthy, Ph.D.

“It means a lot when a project you’ve spent a considerable amount of time working on gets some sort of external validation. For an award like this, it is a great indicator that the potential for the project to have an impact is high. As someone who is particularly interested in writing high-impact papers, this is important.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology that you received the award for?

“The technology is essentially an algorithm that allows us to infer customers’ preferences for brands from their geolocation data (i.e., data representing the raw pings that mark where a panel of consumers have been over time).”

What has happened since the award?

“The project continues to evolve. My co-author, David Schweidel, is using a very similar geolocation dataset to bring to life a much more sophisticated model for customer behavior, and in turn, is applying it to study the impact of COVID-19 across a variety of different product and service categories.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“I’m grateful to the Office of Technology Transfer for taking an interest in this work, and hope to come to them sometime soon as other technologies bubble up from my research!”

2020 Deal of the Year – Kodikaz Therapeutic Solutions – Circulating Tumor DNA for Targeted Cancer Therapeutics; Leon Bernal-Mizrachi, MD

Can you introduce yourself?

“Leon Bernal-Mizrachi, MD, I am the Associate Professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine and Chief of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute at Grady Campus and Co-Director of the fellowship program.”

What did you enjoy about winning an award?

Leon Bernal-Mizrachi, MD

“I was not expecting it, I did not know I was nominated. It was a very pleasant surprise. This project has been a hustle and it has overcome a lot of obstacles, and starting to see recognition for the work was very encouraging for our group. It was a pleasant surprise and provided me with fuel.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology that you received the award for?

“The discovery is based on an unknown phenomenon that occurs in cancer patients in which we demonstrated that cancer releases genetic material to the bloodstream. At the time, we did not know why. We found the reason was because it was a method of communication between cancer cells. We then took advantage of the mechanism that occurs and created a system to deliver cargo to cancer cells to kill them. An example or analogy of this would be a Trojan horse. We identified and we used that to deliver multiple different things to cancer therapy, such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, fluorescent dye, or killer genes that only goes to cancer cells-not other areas. This is because we are hijacking normal mechanisms of cancer cell communication and we are taking advantage to deliver a killer mechanism to cancer cells.”

Did the award have any impact on your lab or family?

“Unfortunately, this award was given to COVID, as Chief of Hematology I was very busy.  Sadly, this work did not have the sound or noise it deserved. It was a private enjoyment of family and friends, group, and lab. We have not had the opportunity to enjoy this award since the pandemic began.”

What has happened since the award?

“A company I founded with other colleagues has been awarded the Boehringer Ingelheim NYC Innovation Prize. We have been provided lab space for free on this award. Also, another important thing is we have secured investment from two venture capital groups. Our hope is that based on the results and speed we are moving, we will go for a major serious investment in a year or so. This will expedite maturing our technology and securing funding was crucial.

Since this award, as this is an unknown mechanism, we are trying to understand how it works. We are trying to identify two folds: one is the technology, how it is working and the normal biology of what occurs in the communication occurs within the cancer cells.  Thus, we are advancing on what is the receptor of the genetic material in the cancer cells that allows it to only target that cancer cell. On the technology side we have advanced and have started identifying the efficiency of what we see and identifying limitations of the technology and impact of the type of cargo we put inside Trojan horse. This is an exciting moment we are learning as we do experiments, and it has been an amazing experience. There is no data in the literature about this, so we are pioneering this technology.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“This has been a great experience. This is the second time I have the chance to partner with industry. The first experience was very pleasant and this experience has been even more pleasant and opened a new opportunity for me to get to know brilliant minds in the field of science and understand how they think.

The second is that I learned that academia and industry are different in the threshold of acceptance. In industry the aim is to take it to clinical applications. The level of certainty of any result must be extremely solid and vetted by many individuals. In academia you are in your own lab. In this case, we send the technology to multiple labs to validate what we have seen. This has been very interesting.  Finally, being exposed to the business side of technology and industry. This is an eye-opening experience for which as a physician or scientist you are not trained for.”

Can you use one word to describe the event?

“Persistence. This project has overcome the main obstacle for the fear of the unknown. Addressing something that is completely noble. People can discourage you or your results can discourage you. It is a matter of taking every result as a positive result. That has been the best thing. Keep your dream and be persistent and do not let anything stop you.”

2020 Start-up of the Year – Aligos Therapeutics, Inc. – Series B Financing; Raymond Schinazi, Ph.D.

Can you introduce yourself?

“I am the Frances Winship Walters Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University and Director of the Laboratory of Biochemical Pharmacology.”

What did you enjoy about winning an award?

Raymond Schinazi, Ph.D.

“We get recognized for our work globally, so it is nice when we can get some recognition at the local level. It takes a village to develop a drug, but usually the chemists and biologists in academia who made the initial discovery don’t always get the credit. I believe giving credit to the team for the hard initial work is critical to encourage other young scientists at Emory to innovate and discover new drugs that can treat or cure difficult infections like hepatitis B virus (HBV).”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology that you received the award for?

“We’ve worked successfully in the past to find treatment for HBV infection and two major drugs are now FDA approved from this work including lamivudine (3TC) and telbivudine (LdT). However, although these drugs are effective virus suppressors in the liver and peripheral circulation, they do not cure. The holy grail has been to find a cure for HBV. The drug’s potency not only in cell culture, but now in humans, make them the best in class for suppressing and possibly eliminating HBV in infected individuals. These are the most potent drugs for HBV today with activity in the low sub-nanomolar range.”

Did the award have any impact on your lab or family?

“This discovery was made by a team in our lab including Drs. Sebastien Boucle, Franck Amblard and Leda Bassit. They are the heroes and deserve a lot of the credit. This discovery forges lifetime friendships and camaraderie among the inventors and provides confidence and real importance for them.  Fortunately, my family is not affected by HBV since we were vaccinated many years ago. But there are over 400 million people who got the infection and that were not vaccinated that then go on to develop liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).”

What has happened since the award?

“The drug is now on the verge of entering phase 2 multinational clinical trials. The preliminary results to date in humans infected with HBV have been very encouraging.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“Many drugs fail, and there are large cemeteries of drugs that have failed. However, one should remember that it is the drug that fails, not the scientists. Our job is to put our best foot forwards and hope there are few or no unforeseen road bumps on the way to drug approval.”

Can you use one word to describe the event?

“Gratitude.”

2020 Significant Event of the Year – Meissa Vaccines, Inc. – License Agreement & Series A Financing; Christina Rostad, MD 

Can you introduce yourself?

“I am a Pediatric Infectious Diseases physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University. I do clinical and translational research in vaccine development, with a focus on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).”

What did you enjoy about winning an award?

Christina Rostad, MD

“This award was a much-appreciated honor, as there are many wonderful technologies being developed at Emory.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology that you received the award for?

“This award was for the development of RSV live-attenuated vaccine technology applied to boost immunogenicity and attenuate viral replication through targeted modifications of the RSV genome.”

Did the award have any impact on your lab or family?

“My laboratory continues to pursue innovative strategies to develop RSV live-attenuated vaccines, including developing single-cycle vaccines with stabilized pre-fusion F and de-shielding immunodominant epitopes through deglycosylation.”

What has happened since the award?

“This technology has been licensed to Meissa Vaccines, Inc., with Series A financing, and phase 1 clinical trials scheduled to begin later this year.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“I would like to thank Dr. Martin Moore, who was the principal investigator of this research and my mentor during fellowship. I would also like to thank the co-inventors, Drs. Christopher Stobart, Anne Hotard Lopez-Ona, Jia Meng, and Elizabeth Laikhter, in addition to my wonderful mentors, and colleagues who made this possible.”

Can you use one word to describe the event?

“Innovation.”

Annual Celebration: Where Are They Now?

Each Spring, Emory’s Office of Technology Transfer hosts an Annual Celebration of Technology and Innovation. In preparation of announcing the 2021 awardees, we spoke with several award recipients from previous years about their experience with OTT’s Annual Celebration.

2009 Innovation of the Year – Novel PET Imaging Agents; Mark Goodman, Ph.D. 

Can you introduce yourself?

“I am Mark Goodman; I am a professor of Radiology and Imaging Sciences. I have secondary appointments in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology. I am the Emory Endowed Chair in Imaging Science.”

Fred Sanfalippo, Exec. VP Health Affairs; Mark Goodman, inventor; Cale Lennon, case manager; David Wynes, VP Research Admin.

What did you enjoy about winning an award/attending the reception?

“It was most gratifying to be recognized for developing translatable technologies that can help manage diseases. Also to recognize my colleagues who participated and helped bring the technology to the point where OTT recognized it as something that was important and deserved an award. And of course, I enjoyed having my family there as well. I have been married for 42 years and when you embark on an academic career you have to have the support to be able to put in the time and the effort to accomplish something.”

Can you tell us about the award you received and how you felt when you learned you were receiving an award?

“The first one I received was in 2009. It was an award that recognized a new technology. It was an imaging agent for cancer that would use nuclear medicine imaging. It felt quite wonderful to have the University and OTT pick that achievement as something they wanted to recognize.”

 Did the award have any impact on your lab or family?

“It impacted my lab because it gave us more notoriety amongst our peers. That work enabled us to secure NIH funding in that area, several grants. That helped fund scientists and staff in the laboratory. It helped maintain the lab and secure people’s futures. I have had funding every year for 27 years, so I am quite fortunate in that regard. The award helped me further build my program.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“The celebration was very nice, you got to see colleagues who also received awards. Their labs and families attended. You get to talk and mingle, and sometimes you end up meeting future colleagues in the event. It’s also nice to have your family there to celebrate and share the honor with you. It is a certainly a very lovely celebration.”

Can you use one word to describe the event?

“The words I choose are ‘gratification’ and ‘appreciation’. Gratification for receiving the award and then appreciation for Emory and OTT to actually recognize faculty.”

2017 Innovation of the Year – Frog Skin Peptides as Inhibitors Of Influenza & Zika Virus; Joshy Jacob, Ph.D.

Can you tell us about the award you received and the innovation it was for?

“We looked at peptides from the skin of frogs to see if any of those peptides can inhibit viruses that infect humans. There are small peptides called antimicrobial peptides that are found in all lifeforms, and they have very broad reactivity. We just wanted to know, if any of these peptides that the frog makes in its skin be cross utilized to human viruses. Using this method, we have found peptides that can kill not just influenza, but Zika and Dengue viruses as well.  A peptide is a small run of amino acids. If you took individual amino acids put them like beads on a string, and you have a short piece of them, it would be a peptide. The full string would be a protein.”

Jonathan Lewin, Executive VP Health Affairs; Joshy Jacob, David Holthausen, Song Hee Lee, inventors; Justin Burns, case manager

What did you enjoy about winning an award/attending the reception? 

“Winning the award came as a surprise. I was actually very excited about it because it gave us the acceptance that people think that this is important work. Attending the celebration was actually a lot of fun because I got to meet a lot of fellow innovators at Emory University. Also, there were a lot of people there that were like venture capitalists. It’s always good to see any of the people from Emory University that I have worked with closely.”

 Did the award have any impact on your lab or family? 

“The impact was that it was given to me, my Ph.D. student, and my post-doc. All of us got to go up there and stand on the stage and receive it which was very joyful. And my student was overjoyed and so was my post-doc, so that made me happy.”

What has happened since the award?

“We have extended those studies with peptides. Then COVID-19 came about and then we stopped all that and moved into COVID work. When it calms down, we are going to go back again to the frog peptide story.”

Can you tell us a little about the COVID work that you are doing right now?

“We have tried to find a peptide that can actually inhibit the SARS coronavirus. We looked across animals that have coronavirus in them naturally, or those that cannot be infected by the SARS coronavirus. We picked one family of peptides so that we could cover a whole lot more animals. We looked at 40 different animals and we screened 300 different peptides. We have two that actually inhibit coronavirus, and I have filed an invention disclosure with OTT.”

Can you use one word to describe the event?

“Joyful.”

2018 Start-Up of the Year – EMRGE, LLC; Monte Eaves, MD

Can you introduce yourself?

“I am Monte Eaves; I am a plastic surgeon. I used to be a professor at Emory in the division of Plastic Surgery in the Department of Surgery. As of September 1, with some changes associated with COVID and with our company becoming commercially active, I left Emory and now I practice part-time with my wife in a practice called ME Plastic Surgery in Atlanta.”

What did you enjoy about winning an award/attending the reception?

“I think for me, the thing that struck me was the sense of community that came out of the reception. At Emory, we get a lot of support from Tech Transfer for multiple projects. It’s also wonderful when you can get all of these different groups together because you can see that even though we are all spread out, it is indeed a community. The other thing that was so exciting was that many people on my team were able to come for the ceremony. For them to see what we are doing through the eyes of Emory, Tech Transfer, and others in the Atlanta entrepreneurial community was very reassuring for them and showed them that we were on a good path and going in the right direction.”


David Wynes, VP of Research Administration; Monte Eaves, inventor; Kevin Lei, case manager

Can you tell us a little about the invention that you received the award for?

“The technology we developed is called a force modulating tissue bridge. The device is intended for non-invasive wound closure, but at the same time, it takes all of the tension off of the skin, so it is also designed to improve scar outcomes, as we know that the primary driver of poor scarring is tension. It can be reapplied in the healing period. It’s a very simple concept, but what is exciting is that there was a lot of engineering underneath it to get the different components to move and rotate right, and to figure out all of the manufacturing.”

Did the award have any impact on your lab or family?

“It was exciting. For my wife and kids, it was important that they see that what I was spending all my nights doing was moving somewhere; It’s not just a theory, it’s not a ‘maybe’ and it’s not just a pipedream. It was something that could come together and be a product, be a company, and make an impact for patients. It was reassuring for them in that way.  I think it’s also helpful later when fundraising, to show that you have been recognized as a company and as a startup. That gives potential investors some reassurance, it’s one of the many pieces of the puzzle.”

What has happened since the award?

“When we got the award, we had prototypes and we knew what we wanted to build but we had none of the manufacturing figured out. We spent a few years to get that developed because we had to design and validate our own custom manufacturing machinery. We had a product release in September of 2020, and it is now being used clinically. We had our first sale in January 2021. We are in the process of preparing for a full commercial launch and building up our inventory.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“The one thing I would share, especially for people interested in developing a product, is that Tech Transfer can be a tremendous resource, especially the way that Tech Transfer can make connections. For me, a critical connection originating from Tech Transfer was with GRA (Georgia Research Alliance) which has been a great supporter and has provided me with key mentorship. Tech Transfer can get people started and is really helpful.”

Can you use one word to describe the event?

“Affirmative. It provides you that sense of clarity and security that you are going down the right path. It really affirms what you are doing.”

2018 Innovation of the Year – Messenger RNA-Based Biopacemaker; Hee Cheol Cho, Ph.D.

Can you introduce yourself?

“My name is Hee Cheol Cho, I am an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics. I hold the title of Urowsky-Sahr Scholar in Pediatric Bioengineering and I am also the director of the Heart Regeneration Program at the Children’s Heart Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.”

What did you enjoy about winning an award/attending the reception?

“I was beyond excited to win the award of “2018 Innovation of The Year”. It was a huge honor to say the least, that our technology was picked as the best one. The award reception was one that I had never attended in that style. They gather all the up-and-coming technologies that are licensed from Emory University.  I got to meet a lot of entrepreneurs at the reception. Not only the people being awarded, but also awardees from previous years. Getting in that mix was a lot of fun and very insightful for me as our inventions are just getting into technology transfer and development.”

David Wynes, VP of Research Administration; Hee Cheol Cho, inventor; Raj Guddneppanavar, case manager

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technology that you received the award for?

“The title of the technology was “Messenger RNA-Based BioPacemaker.” The idea is to create a pacemaker using cells or genes. A few years ago, we found a way to pace the heart by injecting a natural human gene. Our gene technology was able to convert ordinary heart muscle into new cardiac pacemaker cells. These new biological pacemaker looked and functioned like the natural pacemaker that we are born with. To advance this technology into a therapy, we succeeded in developing messenger RNA-based gene therapy. mRNA is a perfect gene delivery platform for our biological pacemakers. We took advantage of the brief life time of mRNA, and demonstrated that the gene is no longer needed once the biological pacemakers are created. It is serendipitous that the safety of mRNA-based gene delivery is now confirmed with the Covid-19 vaccines. Our gene therapy invention delivers the pacemaker gene into the patients in the safest way possible. In the next 5-10 years, we are hopeful that we will provide alternative, device-free cardiac pacing therapy for patients who are dependent on pacemakers. We are particularly excited with the potential improvements in clinical care and outcomes with pediatric patients. Current pacemakers are far from ideal and at times inadequate for the newborns and infants who require a pacemaker.”

Did the award have any impact on your lab or family?

“Absolutely. For our lab, the award itself was the beginning of other opportunities that were presented to us. We have been able to secure three major NIH funding as well as a preclinical technology development award from the U.S. Department of Defense. The award has also attracted interests to eventually develop the technology into commercial products.”

What has happened since the award?

“The award also opened the door for more collaboration. Since we received the award, our collaborations have expanded beyond the labs at Emory and Georgia Tech. We have also started conversations with potential industry partners to plan for the road ahead in terms of the data needed for the first human trial. It is not an understatement to say that the award has been a huge windfall for advancing the technology to a clinical reality.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“The award was important because with that I was able to form a stronger bond with the OTT office. There had been a lot of interest from venture capitalists as well as other investors who are interested in taking our technology into the commercial product development pipeline. We are looking into that aspect as well. From technology development to ultimate translation into therapy, the award has been a key that connected those efforts.”

Can you use one word to describe the event?

“I can summarize my experience with the award as ‘catalyst’. We have worked hard to get to the point to win the award, and after the award a lot of opportunities were presented to us. We took advantage of those opportunities and built our research portfolios even more. I think that the award and event was a definitive catalyst for our research.”

2019 Innovation of the Year – Alexidine and Analogs to Treat Lung Cancer; Adam Marcus, Ph.D.

Can You Introduce yourself?

“I am a professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology. I am also the associate director for basic research and shared resources at Winship, and currently serve as the interim executive director of Winship. On the lab side, my work is mainly as a cancer cell biologist where we look at how cancer cells metastasize and then determine how best to stop that metastasis using small molecule inhibitor strategies.”

 Can you tell us a little about the award that you received and the technology that it was for?

“A couple of years back, we were awarded the Innovation of the Year Award from OTT for the discovery of analogs of Alexidine. These alexidine analogs are modifications to the chemical structure of Alexidine to make it more potent by targeting the highly invasive cancer cells that spread. The analogs do this by changing the way that these cells process energy, to reduce their ability to metastasize and spread, as well as their ability to grow. The Innovation of the Year award was for the discovery and studies that test the efficacy of alexidine analogs in lung cancer, and especially lung cancer metastasis, which is the primary reason for patient mortality.”

Thota Ganesh, inventor; Sarah Wilkening, case manager; Deborah Bruner, SVP for Research; Adam Marcus, inventor

What did you enjoy about winning an award/attending the reception?

“It is exciting to get recognition for the work your team has done, being a part of the OTT process and getting to know everyone. The award gave us the opportunity to talk about our research in a large venue to people that have a variety of careers at Emory.”

How did you feel when you learned you were receiving an award?

“The award itself is recognition for the accomplishments and the amount of work that goes into this research from several different people. The work was conducted by a former graduate student, a chemist, and several other researchers in the lab. Receiving this award generates more momentum and excitement for this project.”

Did the award have any impact on your lab or family? What has happened since the award?

“Since receiving the award, our team obtained funding from Biolocity, which provides funds to Emory and Georgia Tech investigators. It has enabled us to test our compound in more clinically relevant scenarios, where we perform pre-clinical trials in mice and tested the compound to see if it works on lung cancer in a mouse. Those results have been very promising. On top of that, we recently found out that we received the Phase 1b award from the Georgia Research Alliance. We have been able to expand and further develop the compound, and we are excited for the future to see where we can take this. Ideally, in the future, we will have a Phase 1 trial in human patients.”

Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience?

“It’s always fantastic to get support from the university, and this research has had the university’s support from the start. Receiving the initial pilot awards has helped us become competitive for external funding. In fact, we have pending funding made possible by the team’s progress and recognition to date from the National Cancer Institute. It has been fantastic to receive the initial support, and to be recognized by the Office of Technology Transfer. It’s an exciting time for the lab and we are excited to push this forward.”

 Can you use one word to describe the event?

“Energy. The room was filled with excitement and enthusiasm for science all across Emory.”

All About Georgia OTTers

The otter is an amphibious mammal that can be found throughout the United States and other regions of the world. The good news is that these cute animals can be found in our home, Georgia. History reveals that the North American river otter (Lutra canadensis) is an amphibious playful member of the weasel family as are the mink and sea otter. The fur color of a river otter can be described as a dark brown to almost black.

In the United States, many states have experienced a gradual decline in the river otter populations in time. Despite this, otters are resilient creatures, as they were almost hunted to extinction in the late 1800’s, due to their luxurious fur. However, in the year 1911 the “International Fur Seal Treaty” banned the sale of otter fur. This period, in which fur trade was happening internationally, caused otters to be hunted almost to extinction.

Today, Georgia’s river otter population continues to remain fairly widespread throughout much of the state. These otters love to hunt, play, and sleep in rivers or streams in Georgia. The river otter thrives throughout the state of Georgia, including areas throughout north Georgia where its populations were once at risk for diminishing. A main factor that influences the population of river otters is pollution. For instance, in areas where water is very polluted there is a more limited otter population. Like many animals, the river otter abundance is directly dependent on habitat quality and availability. Otters will create dens with lots of vegetation present in various locations, such as near waterways, and these dens function to protect them from flooding or even protect from predators (Malzahn, Caven & Wiese, 2020).

In Georgia, there are several local places where residents and visitors have the chance to see river otters up close. The Georgia Aquarium is a wonderful place to see, interact, and even feed otters! This is a unique opportunity for individuals to touch, feed, and talk to sea otters with a professional trainer. Also, “The North Georgia Wildlife Park and Zoo” offers an interactive experience that is great to learn and see our native Georgia river otter. There are different experience options that include Otter Splash, Otter Experience, and VIP Otter Experience. Both of these places offer a great opportunity to learn more about river otters and how they behave in their natural habitats.

Facts about the River Otter

Resources

Malzahn, J. M., Caven, A. J., & Wiese, J. D. (2020). Characteristics of a river otter (Lontra canadensis) maternal den in the central Platte River Valley, NE.

An Introduction to OTTers

Otters

The otter is a resilient and fascinating animal that can be found throughout the United States, as well as throughout most continents. Otters can be found all over the world, from Asia to Alaska, these animals are globally loved. Their scientific name is Mustelidae. This adorable animal is a member of the weasel family, yet they are the only one within the family that can swim. Otters are described as tiny, with short ears, lengthened bodies, and very soft fur. These charming otters are small animals that average about four feet in length and can weigh up to 30 pounds. There have been 13 identified species in total of the otter. Otters live primarily on land that is very close to bodies of water, as they are amphibious. Their fur is dense and soft, and this remains important, as it can play a large role in insulating these animals when they are in water.

Environmental Impact and Otters

It is important to acknowledge that the environment’s health has a direct relationship to the health of many animals, including the otter. Today, many otter populations are still at risk! More importantly, as countries become industrialized, the wildlife can slowly but surely disappear (Duplaix & Savage, 2020). The history of the otter is very unique, because due to their luxurious fur, these animals were trapped, killed, and illegally sold throughout continents. These issues caused otters to have a period of major population loss during the 1960s and 1970s, paired with a slow-growing population recovery (Mason, & Macdonald, 2009).

How Otters Use Tools to Eat

Otters often use tools to eat, and it is important to note that the otter is an expert hunter. Otters are very innovative creatures and are one of the few animals that will use tools to obtain food. Their diet can vary depending on the season; however, they are considered opportunistic predators and thrive on fish. Despite their diet mainly being fish, this doesn’t stop otters from forming dens and adapting to their natural habitat. In fact, sea otters are able to open mussels by smashing them on stones. Click this link to see sea otters eating! Otter habitats can vary based on the species, but these animals thrive in both land and water.

Resources:

  • Duplaix, N., & Savage, M. (2020). The global otter conservation strategy. eScholarship, University of California.

  • Mason, C. F., & Macdonald, S. M. (2009). Otters: ecology and conservation. Cambridge University Press.

History of Ventilators

Ventilators are machines that can help patients breathe, or, in some cases, breathe for them. Doctors use ventilators on patients in very severe cases, when it is determined that the patient does not get enough oxygen from regular breathing or through increased oxygen supply. While on a ventilator, the patient’s lungs have the opportunity to start healing and receive much needed medications, until breathing can be restored. Ventilators are now a standard part of critical care and have significantly evolved in their technology over the last 100 years.

The earliest attempt to support breathing mechanically can be traced all the way back to the late 18th century. These early visions of ventilators relied on negative pressure that is also seen in the most widely used ventilation device of the 20th century, the iron lung (for more information on iron lungs visit https://www.futurity.org/ventilator-history-2335052/). During the polio epidemic of the early 20th century, children with paralyzed lungs were placed in these machines, which expanded and contracted to force air into and out of the lungs. This technique required a patient to be fully encased in the iron lung with only their head sticking out. In the 1960s, researchers started developing positive-pressure machines, which force air directly into the lung. This technology caught on fast, and nowadays all modern ventilators rely on positive pressure. These machines require the insertion of a tube into the patient’s trachea, while the patient is sedated (intubation), making them more invasive than negative pressure ventilators.

Modern mechanical ventilators are much more portable than their predecessors and provide many adjustable features that can facilitate air flow and adjust the pressure and rate according to the patient’s needs. The goal is to optimize the process for each patient, to ensure as much comfort as possible and have a better outcome. While they are generally computerized microprocessor-controlled machines, patients can also be ventilated with a simple hand-operated bag valve mask in case of emergency.

Given the importance of ventilators in hospitals, we expect that future developments will allow them to integrate even further with other components of critical care. This will likely be assisted by electronic means of communication between different bedside devices for a more efficient interaction. Other possible features are the incorporation of ventilator management protocols into the basic operation of the ventilator, displays with organized information instead of rows of unrelated data, and smart alarm systems. Doctors hope that these improvements will lead to better outcomes for the patient and a higher level of care.

(For a further depth study on the past, present, and future of ventilators visit: http://rc.rcjournal.com/content/56/8/1170)

Fats: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Fats are confusing. There are some good ones, a lot of bad ones, and it is hard to keep track of the ones you want and the ones you don’t. Hopefully, this article will help keep things straight.

The body contains three types of lipids. Lipids are a class of organic compounds that are insoluble in water. One of the least talked about but most important types of lipids in the body are phospholipids. Phospholipids are the main constituent of cell membranes and play an important role in determining what enters the cell and what is left out.

The second type of lipids are called sterols. Cholesterol is a sterol and is used by the body in the synthesis of hormones. Cholesterol is, of course, infamous for its links to cardiovascular disease. However, there are two types of cholesterol – “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. This classification is based on the type of lipoproteins in which the cholesterol is contained. Lipoproteins are essentially large droplets of fats. The core of lipoproteins is composed of a mix of triglycerides and cholesterol and this core is enclosed in a layer of phospholipids. There are five different types of lipoproteins, but the two types that are most known are low density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad cholesterol” and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good cholesterol.”

Bad cholesterol, in high quantities, accumulates in the walls of arteries, where LDLs are oxidized.           Oxidized LDL causes damage to the walls of arteries. This damage leads to inflammation which leads to a constriction of arteries (leading to high blood pressure) and to further accumulation of cholesterol, leading to the formation of plaques. These plaques further narrow arteries, decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen to tissues.

High density lipoproteins, or good cholesterol, on the other hand plays an important role in reverse cholesterol transport, a process by which excess bad cholesterol is transported to the liver for disposal. Good cholesterol also has anti-inflammatory and vasodilatory properties and protects the body from LDL-oxidative damage.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, fried food, fast food, processed meats, and sugary desserts lead to increased bad cholesterol levels while fish, nuts, flax seeds and – you guessed it! – avocados lead to increases in good cholesterol levels.

The final type of lipids in the body are triglycerides. Triglycerides are the fat in the blood. Any calories that are not utilized by the body are stored in the form of triglycerides. The effect of high levels of triglycerides on the heart have not been as well understood. Excessive triglyceride levels are typically accompanied by high (bad) cholesterol levels and research in the past couple of years has indicated a relationship between high triglyceride and risk for cardiovascular disease.

The fats that we consume, however, are not in the form of triglycerides. The fats that we consume are broken down and converted into triglycerides and cholesterol. The major dietary fats are classified into saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.

Saturated fats are fats whose molecules have no carbon-carbon double bonds. Saturated fats are fats to be avoided because they increase LDL levels by inhibiting LDL receptors and enhancing lipoprotein production. Saturated fats are solids at room temperature and are found in fatty beef, lamb, pork, butter, lard, cream, and cheese.

Trans fats are also bad fats. They are typically found in margarine, baked items, and fried food. They suppress chemicals that protect against the build up of plaques in artery walls, increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol.

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are fats that have one (mono) and many (poly) carbon-carbon double bonds in their molecules respectively. These fats are liquids at room temperature and are found in salmon, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. Polyunsaturated fats are associated with decreased bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Keeping track of which fats are found in which food can seem intimidating, but foods that lead to increased good cholesterol levels are foods that are typically considered healthy – nuts, seeds, fish, fruits, and vegetables, while foods that lead to excessive bad cholesterol are foods that we are taught to avoid in excess anyway – such as processed and fatty meats, processed food, and fried food.

Resources:
Contains both information on what various types of fats are and also food that contains the respective fats: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/
A guide to choosing healthy fats: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/choosing-healthy-fats.htm
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5577766/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5586853/