Anti-inflammatory drug can prevent neuron loss in Parkinson’s model

An experimental anti-inflammatory drug can protect vulnerable neurons and reduce motor deficits in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease, researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have shown.The results were published Thursday, July 24 in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.The findings demonstrate that the drug, called XPro1595, can reach the brain at sufficient levels and have beneficial effects when administered by subcutaneous injection, like an insulin shot. Previous studies of XPro1595 in animals tested more invasive modes of delivery, such as direct injection into the brain.”This is an important step forward for anti-inflammatory therapies for Parkinson’s disease,” says Malu Tansey, PhD, associate professor of physiology at Emory University School of Medicine. “Our results provide a compelling rationale for moving toward a clinical trial in early Parkinson’s disease patients.”The new research on subcutaneous administration of XPro1595 was funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF). XPro1595 is licensed by FPRT Bio, and is seeking funding for a clinical trial to test its efficacy in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.”We are proud to have supported this work and glad to see positive pre-clinical results,” said Marco Baptista, PhD, MJFF associate director of research programs. “A therapy that could slow Parkinson’s progression would be a game changer for the millions living with this disease, and this study is a step in that direction.”In addition, Tansey and Yoland Smith, PhD, from Yerkes National Primate Research Center, were awarded a grant this week from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation to test XPro1595 in a non-human primate model of Parkinson’s.Evidence has been piling up that inflammation is an important mechanism driving the progression of Parkinson’s disease. XPro1595 targets tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a critical inflammatory signaling molecule, and is specific to the soluble form of TNF. This specificity would avoid compromising immunity to infections, a known side effect of existing anti-TNF drugs used to treat disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.”Inflammation is probably not the initiating event in Parkinson’s disease, but it is important for the neurodegeneration that follows,” Tansey says. “That’s why we believe that an anti-inflammatory agent, such as one that counteracts soluble TNF, could substantially slow the progression of the disease.”Postdoctoral fellow Christopher Barnum, PhD and colleagues used a model of Parkinson’s disease in rats in which the neurotoxin 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) is injected into only one side of the brain. This reproduces some aspects of Parkinson’s disease: neurons that produce dopamine in the injected side of the brain die, leading to impaired movement on the opposite side of the body.When XPro1595 is given to the animals 3 days after 6-OHDA injection, just 15 percent of the dopamine-producing neurons were lost five weeks later. …

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Asian elephants reassure others in distress: First empirical evidence of consolation in elephants

Asian elephants console others who are in distress, using physical touches and vocalizations, finds a study to be published in the open access journal PeerJ. The findings are the first empirical evidence of consolation in elephants, says lead author Joshua Plotnik, who began the research as a graduate student of psychology at Emory University.”For centuries, people have observed that elephants seem to be highly intelligent and empathic animals, but as scientists we need to actually test it,” he says.Consolation behavior is rare in the animal kingdom, with empirical evidence previously provided only for the great apes, canines and certain corvids.”With their strong social bonds, it’s not surprising that elephants show concern for others,” says co-author Frans de Waal, an Emory professor of psychology and director of Living Links at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center. “This study demonstrates that elephants get distressed when they see others in distress, reaching out to calm them down, not unlike the way chimpanzees or humans embrace someone who is upset.”Plotnik received his Ph.D. from Emory in 2010 and is currently a lecturer in conservation biology at Mahidol University in Thailand and CEO of Think Elephants International, a non-profit focused on education and conservation. His main research interest is convergent cognitive evolution: The independent evolution of similar features of intelligence in species of different lineages.While Plotnik was still at Emory, he and de Waal provided evidence that elephants can both recognize themselves in a mirror — a test of self-awareness passed only by some apes, dolphins and magpies — and problem-solve cooperatively.”Humans are unique in many ways, but not in as many ways as we once thought,” Plotnik says.The current study focused on a group of 26 captive Asian elephants spread over about 30 acres at an elephant camp in northern Thailand. For nearly a year, the researchers observed and recorded incidents when an elephant displayed a stress reaction, and the responses from other nearby elephants.The initial stress responses came from either unobservable, or obvious, stimuli: Events such as a dog walking past, a snake or other potentially dangerous animal rustling the grass, or the presence of another, unfriendly elephant. “When an elephant gets spooked, its ears go out, its tail stands erect or curls out, and it may emit a low-frequency rumble, trumpet and roar to signal its distress,” Plotnik says.The study found that nearby elephants affiliated significantly more with a distressed individual through directed, physical contact following a stress event than during control periods. As a typical example, a nearby elephant would go to the side of the distressed animal and use its trunk to gently touch its face, or put its trunk in the other animal’s mouth.The gesture of putting their trunks in each other’s mouths is almost like an elephant handshake or hug, Plotnik says. “It’s a very vulnerable position to put yourself in, because you could get bitten. It may be sending a signal of, ‘I’m here to help you, not hurt you.'”The responding elephants also showed a tendency to vocalize. …

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Packaging stem cells in capsules for heart therapy

Oct. 11, 2013 — Stem cell therapy for heart disease is happening. Around the world, thousands of heart disease patients have been treated in clinical studies with some form of bone marrow cells or stem cells. But in many of those studies, the actual impact on heart function was modest or inconsistent. One reason is that most of the cells either don’t stay in the heart or die soon after being introduced into the body.Cardiology researchers at Emory have a solution for this problem. The researchers package stem cells in a capsule made of alginate, a gel-like substance. Once packaged, the cells stay put, releasing their healing factors over time.Researchers used encapsulated mesenchymal stem cells to form a “patch” that was applied to the hearts of rats after a heart attack. Compared with animals treated with naked cells (or with nothing), rats treated with the capsule patches displayed increased heart function, reduced scar size and more growth of new blood vessels a month later. In addition, many more of the encapsulated cells stayed alive.”This approach appears to be an effective way to increase cell retention and survival in the context of cardiac cell therapy,” says W. Robert Taylor, MD, professor of medicine and director of the cardiology division at Emory University School of Medicine and professor in the Wallace H. …

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Vietnam vets with PTSD more than twice as likely to have heart disease

June 25, 2013 — Male twin Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were more than twice as likely as those without PTSD to develop heart disease during a 13-year period, according to a study supported by the National Institutes of Health.This is the first long-term study to measure the association between PTSD and heart disease using objective clinical diagnoses combined with cardiac imaging techniques.”This study provides further evidence that PTSD may affect physical health,” said Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., director of the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which partially funded the study. “Future research to clarify the mechanisms underlying the link between PTSD and heart disease in Vietnam veterans and other groups will help to guide the development of effective prevention and treatment strategies for people with these serious conditions.”The findings appear online today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and in the September 10 print issue.Researchers from the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, along with colleagues from other institutions, assessed the presence of heart disease in 562 middle-aged twins (340 identical and 222 fraternal) from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry. The incidence of heart disease was 22.6 percent in twins with PTSD (177 individuals) and 8.9 percent in those without PTSD (425 individuals). Heart disease was defined as having a heart attack, having an overnight hospitalization for heart-related symptoms, or having undergone a heart procedure. Nuclear scans, used to photograph blood flow to the heart, showed that individuals with PTSD had almost twice as many areas of reduced blood flow to the heart as individuals without PTSD.The use of twins, identical and fraternal, allowed researchers to control for the influences of genes and environment on the development of heart disease and PTSD.”This study suggests a link between PTSD and cardiovascular health,” said lead researcher Viola Vaccarino, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the department of medicine at Emory University and chair of the department of epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health. “For example, repeated emotional triggers during everyday life in persons with PTSD could affect the heart by causing frequent increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and heartbeat rhythm abnormalities that in susceptible individuals could lead to a heart attack.”When researchers compared the 234 twins where one brother had PTSD and the other did not, the incidence of heart disease was almost double in those with PTSD compared to those without PTSD (22.2 percent vs. 12.8 percent).The effects of PTSD on heart disease remained strong even after researchers accounted for lifestyle factors such as smoking, physical activity level, and drinking; and major depression and other psychiatric diagnoses. Researchers found no link between PTSD and well-documented heart disease risk factors such as a history of hypertension, diabetes or obesity, suggesting that the disease may be due to physiologic changes, not lifestyle factors.Affecting nearly 7.7 million U.S. adults, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops in a minority of people after exposure to a severe psychological trauma such as a life-threatening and terrifying event. …

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