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April 24, 2017

Georgia State Researchers Get $2.8 Million Grant to Study Cause of Diabetic Cardiomyopathy

By LaTina Emerson, Georgia State University
Researchers from Georgia State University’s Center for Molecular & Translational Medicine have received a four-year, $2.8 million federal grant to study diabetic cardiomyopathy, diabetes-related changes in the structure and function of the heart muscle.

Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes enlarged, stiffened, thinned out or filled with substances that don’t belong in the heart, reducing the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body. This can lead to irregular heartbeats, the backup of blood into the lungs or rest of the body and heart failure. Diabetes is linked to a higher risk of cardiomyopathy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Zhonglin Xie, associate professor, and Dr. Ming-Hui Zou, director of the center and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Molecular Medicine, will use the grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to investigate whether mitochondrial dysfunction in cardiomyocytes, cardiac muscle cells, is a central event in the development of diabetic cardiomyopathy. Mitochondria generate energy for cells.

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April 10, 2017

UGA and GRA: A Strong Partnership

By The University of Georgia
When Dennis Kyle, one of the nation's leading infectious disease researchers, arrived on the University of Georgia campus in January, he became the institution's 17th Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar.

Since its establishment in 1990, GRA has partnered with Georgia's research universities to recruit world-class scientists who foster science- and technology-based economic development. At UGA, the addition of such researchers has led to major advances in research capabilities and impact.

Kyle is the GRA Eminent Scholar in Antiparasitic Drug Discovery and the new director of UGA's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, established in 1998. His research focuses on the mechanisms of anti-malarial drug resistance and discovery of new anti-parasitic drugs for a variety of infectious diseases, including malaria and visceral leishmaniasis, the world's first and second deadliest parasitic infections, respectively.

Kyle is not the only GRA Eminent Scholar who joined UGA in the past year. Karen Norris, one of the nation's leading infectious disease researchers, joined the faculty in the College of Veterinary Medicine's infectious diseases department as the GRA Eminent Scholar in Immunology and Translational Biomedical Research. Her research focuses on infectious and chronic diseases, including HIV, pulmonary diseases, inflammatory diseases and diabetes. She has developed a number of highly relevant disease models, which she uses to understand the basic mechanisms of disease susceptibility and progression and to test interventions that treat or prevent disease.

"Through the support of the Georgia Research Alliance, the University of Georgia continues to recruit premier scientists to tackle some of the grand challenges of our time," said President Jere W. Morehead. "And the strong partnership between these two organizations is producing tremendous benefits to individuals and communities across our state, nation and world."

In addition to recruiting leading scientists, GRA invests in technology to facilitate the work of their Eminent Scholars; helps encourage the growth of university-derived startup companies; and facilitates collaboration among academia, business and government. By expanding university research capacity and by seeding and shaping startup companies, GRA plays a crucial role in the growth of Georgia's economy.

"The state is looking to create more high-value, knowledge-based jobs, and that requires the development of new industry based on research outcomes from our universities," said C. Michael Cassidy, president and CEO of the Georgia Research Alliance. "We're building the pipeline of pre-eminent research that will generate ideas that can be launched into new companies that will create jobs and build the economy for the state."

Eminent Scholars on the UGA campus bring expertise in subjects ranging from bioinformatics to crop genomics to vaccines and viral immunity. They establish major programs like the Center for Molecular Medicine, led by Steve Dalton, GRA Eminent Scholar of Molecular Cell Biology. And students benefit tremendously from the high-caliber learning environments created in the Eminent Scholar laboratories, where they have opportunities to contribute to important advances.

Norris is the fourth and Kyle is the fifth GRA Eminent Scholar recruited to UGA since 2015; such rapid growth has contributed to a greater than 20 percent cumulative increase in research expenditures during the past two fiscal years, said David Lee, UGA vice president for research.

"Our Eminent Scholars are performing state-of-the-art research and pushing the boundaries of knowledge in ways that benefit human health and well-being," he said. "Their work attracts significant external funding from federal, private and nonprofit sources."
Recruiting researchers worthy of the GRA Eminent Scholar designation takes substantial resources, and the university is willing to make the investment, Lee said.

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March 27, 2017

Neuroscientist exploring the therapeutic potential of fat-derived hormones in depression, PTSD is new GRA Eminent Scholar at MCG

By Toni Baker, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University
Dr. Xin-Yun Lu, an established investigator pursuing the potential of two fat-cell derived hormones as novel therapies for depression and PTSD, has been named professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Translational Neuroscience.

Lu, a pharmacologist, molecular behavioral neuroscientist and professor at the School of Medicine of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, comes to MCG June 1.

“Dr. Lu brings to MCG and AU not only her exciting studies on novel therapeutic approaches for common and potentially disabling mental disorders, but new directions for a variety of major disease states – from diabetes to cancer – in which leptin and adiponectin appear to be a common denominator,” said Dr. Lin Mei, chairman of the MCG Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Neuroscience. 

“There is no doubt Dr. Lu will be a great collaborator in MCG’s fight on many fronts against diseases that impact the well-being of our state and nation,” said Dr. David C. Hess, interim dean of MCG and interim executive vice president for medical affairs and integration at AU. “We very much appreciate the partnership of the GRA in bringing her to MCG and to the GRA Eminent Scholar Academy.”

For 26 years, the Georgia Research Alliance has built greater collaboration among the state’s research-intensive universities to expand scientific discovery and launch new companies in Georgia. In fiscal year 2016, the GRA Eminent Scholar Academy was responsible for bringing in $527 million in competitive research grants and the scholars employed more than 1,250 in their labs.

“GRA is proud to welcome Dr. Lu to the GRA Academy and believe she will be an excellent addition to our Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine communities,” said Michael Cassidy, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Research Alliance. “Her innovative research has the potential to pave the way for new treatments for mood disorders, depression and PTSD.”

Lu’s research focus includes adiponectin, a signaling hormone made by fat cells and secreted into the bloodstream that helps regulate glucose levels by increasing the breakdown of fatty acids, which reduces insulin resistance. Low adiponectin levels are associated with diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Lu has established connections between low levels of the hormone and depression as well as PTSD, and identified adiponectin as a therapeutic target for both. Additionally, Lu studies the satiety hormone leptin, also secreted by fat cells, that appears to also impact emotion. Her scientific team has evidence in an animal model that chronic stress raises levels of stress hormones and decreases leptin levels. Her research suggests that giving leptin has a similar effect as an antidepressant.

Lu’s work is currently supported by three grants from the National Institutes of Health; she has been consistently funded by the NIH for more than a decade and is corresponding or first-  author on nearly 40 peer-reviewed journal articles.  She is a regular member of the NIH Neuroendocrinology, Neuroimmunology, Rhythms and Sleep Study section. She is a founder and visiting professor of the Institute for Metabolic & Neuropsychiatric Disorders at her medical school alma mater in China.

Lu is guest associate editor of PLOS Genetics, academic editor of PLOS ONE and guest field editor for the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. Lu’s honors include an Independent Investigator Award from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression. She is an avid educator and mentor for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
She earned a medical degree from Binzhou Medical College in China; a doctorate in pharmacology from Washington State University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Mental Health Research Institute of the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. She joined the University of Texas faculty and moved to San Antonio in 2003.

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