UNC-Chapel Hill awarded $19 million to study atherosclerosis risk in communities

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UNC-Chapel Hill awarded $19 million to study atherosclerosis risk in communities

 

Long-term atherosclerosis study addresses global public health need and possible connection to dementia

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Jan. 12, 2017) – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center at Gillings School of Global Public Health’s has been awarded a five-year, $19 million contract from the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to conduct the next phase of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study.

 

The 30-year study, led now by Sonia Davis, professor of the practice of biostatistics, offers one of the most comprehensive looks on the causes of atherosclerosis, a growing global public health concern characterized by hardening of the arteries. In addition, the study will continue to look at cardiovascular risk factors, medical care and disease by race, gender, location and date – as well as collect new data.

 

“With more than three million new cases of atherosclerosis diagnosed every year in this country alone, as well as the life-changing impact of high medical costs that continue to grow, it is essential that researchers continue and expand their research studies,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “This funding will help UNC investigators extend their work that is already producing the high-quality and detailed information essential to better understanding this disease and developing new diagnosis, prevention and treatment regimens.”

 

In 1987, more than 15,000 participants from four communities – Forsyth County, N.C.; Jackson, Miss.; Minneapolis, Minn. and Washington County, Md. – were selected randomly and enrolled in the study. To date, the project has resulted in more than 1,800 published articles in peer-reviewed journals and continues to be a strong training ground for young investigators.

 

Over the next 30 years, investigators expanded research goals to characterize stages of heart failure, identify genetic and environmental factors leading to ventricular dysfunction and vascular stiffness and assessing longitudinal changes in pulmonary function, including identifying determinants of its decline.

 

“It’s impossible to define the center without acknowledging the atherosclerosis risk in communities study front and center,” Davis said. “It has been an honor to be the long-time data coordinating center for this highly impactful study. Now we are excited about the unprecedented opportunity the study provides us to assess prospectively mid-life risk factors of age-related conditions such as dementia.”

 

The sixth examination of the remaining living participants in the atherosclerosis study is currently underway and the new funding, by the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, supports a seventh examination that will begin in January 2018 and last 18 months.

 

The funding will allow investigators to collect data and new specimens and fund continued storage of all study specimens at three labs across the country: Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the universities of Minnesota and Texas Health Science Center at Houston. It also provides resources for a pilot study comparing the current manual surveillance process to a computerized process involving extraction of data from electronic health records.

 

“We’ve been part of valuable research that has continued over a long period and the study is still producing high-quality research, even after all this time,” said David Couper, clinical professor of biostatistics at the Gillings School, deputy director of the center and principal investigator of the coordinating center. “The cohort is such a valuable resource.”

 

—Carolina—

 

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill



The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 110 master’s, 64 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s 317,000-plus alumni live in all 50 states and 156 other countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

UNC Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu

 

Scientists use light to control the logic networks of a cell

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Scientists use light to control the logic networks of a cell

 

New technique illuminates role of previously inaccessible proteins involved in health and disease

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Jan. 5, 2017) — Proteins are the workhorse molecules of life. Among their many jobs, they carry oxygen, build tissue, copy DNA for the next generation, and coordinate events within and between cells. Now scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a method to control proteins inside live cells with the flick of a switch, giving researchers an unprecedented tool for pinpointing the causes of disease using the simplest of tools: light.

 

The work, led by Klaus Hahn and Nikolay Dokholyan and spearheaded by Onur Dagliyan, a graduate student in their labs, builds on the breakthrough technology known as optogenetics. The technique, developed in the early 2000s, allowed scientists, for the first time, to use light to activate and deactivate proteins that could turn brain cells on and off, refining ideas of what individual brain circuits do and how they relate to different aspects of behavior and personality.

 

But the technique has had its limitations. Only a few proteins could be controlled by light; they were put in parts of a cell where they normally didn’t exist; and they had been heavily engineered, losing much of their original ability to detect and respond to their environment.

 

In their new work, published recently in Science, Hahn, Dokholyan and Dagliyan expand optogenetics to control a wide range of proteins without changing their function, allowing a light-controllable protein to carry out its everyday chores. The proteins can be turned on almost anywhere in the cell, enabling the researchers to see how proteins do very different jobs depending on where they are turned on and off.

 

“We can take the whole, intact protein, just the way nature made it, and stick this little knob on it that allows us to turn it on and off with light,” said Hahn, Thurman Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology and a UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center member. “It’s like a switch.”

 

The switch that Hahn, Dokholyan and colleagues developed is versatile and fast – they can toggle a protein on or off as fast as they can toggle their light. By changing the intensity of light, they can also control how much of the protein is activated or inactivated. And by controlling the timing of irradiation, they can control exactly how long proteins are activated at different points in the cell.

 

“A lot of aspects of cell behavior depend on transient, fast changes in protein activity,” said Hahn. “But those changes have to happen in exact locations. The same protein can cause a cell to do different things if it’s active in different places, building flexible logic networks in different parts of the cell, depending on what it is responding to.”

 

To make their breakthrough, Hahn and Dagliyan used a computational approach to identify which parts of a protein could be modified without changing the protein’s normal operation, and showed that loops of protein structure commonly found on protein surfaces can be readily modified with different ‘knobs’ to control proteins with light, or even to respond to drugs.

 

Imagine sticking a video camera on a bus; put it on the gas pedal and it will obstruct its function, so the bus will not drive properly. But put it on the hood, and the bus will continue to drive just fine. The new computational approach pointed the researchers toward each protein’s hood.

 

Because the tools keep the natural protein function intact, the new technique allows scientists to study proteins in living systems, where proteins normally live and work in all their natural complexity. This ability to manipulate proteins in living systems also provides an opportunity to study a wide range of diseases, which often arise from the malfunctioning of a single protein.

 

“In order to understand what’s happening you need to see the parts moving around,” said Hahn. “It’s that dynamic behavior that you need to know to understand what’s going on.”

 

— Carolina —

 

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill



The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 110 master’s, 64 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s 317,000-plus alumni live in all 50 states and 156 other countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

UNC Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu

 

UNC Catalyst initiative aims to create, share tools to fight rare diseases

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UNC Catalyst initiative aims to create, share tools to fight rare diseases

 

Eshelman Institute for Innovation commits $2 million to pharmacy school effort to create, share tools to jump start studying rare diseases typically ignored in research funding

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. — Jan. 5, 2017) — Freely giving researchers the tools and knowledge to tackle rare and orphaned diseases is the mission of UNC Catalyst, a new endeavor the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has launched with a $2 million grant from the Eshelman Institute for Innovation. UNC Catalyst will provide patient groups and rare-disease organizations with the knowledge and research tools to train scientists to create new treatments.

 

“Science has cracked the human genome, but translating that knowledge into new medicines has been painfully slow,” said Bob Blouin, director of the Eshelman institute and dean of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. “This is especially true for rare diseases, which suffer from a lack of visibility, resources and research expertise. UNC Catalyst will create and freely share the tools and the basic expertise currently missing in the study of many rare conditions.”

 

According to the National Institutes of Health, a rare or orphan disease in the U.S. affects fewer than 200,000 people. There are more than 6,800 rare diseases. Many are genetic, often caused by a single-gene mutation and include conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease and muscular dystrophy.

 

Over the past decade, the DNA mutations associated with many rare diseases have been identified, but there has been little success moving from knowledge of the gene to a treatment. Other factors include a lack of high-quality research tools available for these diseases and too few researchers trained to work in the field.

 

UNC Catalyst will partner with the international Structural Genomics Consortium and rare disease groups, such as the Genetic Alliance, to recruit, train and fund research scientists. These scientists will create tools needed to study the physical effects these genetic mutations have on the body and create a framework for designing a new treatment. To magnify and accelerate the impact of this initiative, researchers across the globe will have unrestricted access to the research tools generated by UNC Catalyst.

 

“The hundreds of rare disease advocacy organizations in Genetic Alliance’s network will benefit greatly from this partnership,” said Sharon Terry, president and CEO of Genetic Alliance. “We have long worked for an open-science scalable approach to build research tools and support the necessary talent to accelerate solutions to ultimately ameliorate suffering in the millions of individuals affected by rare diseases. This answers that need, and we are delighted to work with these partners.”

 

Working in partnership with the Structural Genomics Consortium and Genetic Alliance, the UNC Catalyst for Rare Diseases will create a dedicated laboratory and data hub at UNC-Chapel Hill.

 

–Carolina–

 

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 110 master’s, 64 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s 317,000-plus alumni live in all 50 states and 156 other countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

About the Eshelman Institute

The Eshelman Institute for Innovation provides a mechanism for faculty, staff and students at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy to seek funding for bold, transformative ideas and also provides opportunities to educate and train students and postdoctoral fellows; foster collaboration, creativity and innovation; and stimulate commercialization of intellectual property and entrepreneurial development. The institute was created by a $100 million gift from school alumnus Fred Eshelman made in December 2014.

 

About the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy

The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy at UNC-Chapel Hill is one of the world’s leading schools of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences. The school is ranked number one by U.S. News & World Report and ranks second in total research funding among the nation’s pharmacy schools. The school’s research enterprise has spawned 20 companies in the past 20 years.

 

About Genetic Alliance

Genetic Alliance engages individuals, families and communities to transform health. Founded in 1986, it is the world’s largest nonprofit health advocacy organization network. Genetic Alliance’s network includes more than 1,200 disease-specific advocacy organizations, as well as thousands of universities, private companies, government agencies and public policy organizations. For more information about Genetic Alliance, visit www.geneticalliance.org.

 

About the Structural Genomics Consortium

The SGC is a non-profit precompetitive public-private partnership that accelerates research in human biology and drug discovery by making all of its research output freely available to the scientific community. To achieve its mission, the organization is building an open and collaborative network of scientists: the SGC has active research facilities at six leading academic institutions across the globe including UNC-Chapel Hill. SGC scientists collaborate with more than 300 researchers in academia and industry. For more information, visit www.thesgc.org.

 

Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu

Eshelman School of Pharmacy contact: David Etchison, (919) 966-7744, david_etchison@unc.edu

 

UNC-Chapel Hill researchers use light to launch drugs from red blood cells

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UNC-Chapel Hill researchers use light to launch drugs from red blood cells

 

Technique could drastically reduce drug level needed to treat disease, side effects

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. — Jan. 4, 2017) — Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a breakthrough technique that uses light to activate a drug stored in circulating red blood cells so that it is released exactly when and where it is needed.

 

The work, led by Fred Eshelman Distinguished Professor David Lawrence in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, has profound implications for the field of drug delivery by using red blood cells to carry drugs and then using light to release them in precise locations. The technique, which overcomes a decades-long scientific hurdle, could drastically reduce the amount of a drug needed to treat disease and thus side effects.

 

“Using light to treat a disease site has a lot of benefits beyond the isn’t-that-cool factor,” said Lawrence, whose work is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie. “Those benefits could include avoiding surgery and the risk of infection, making anesthesia unnecessary and allowing people to treat themselves by shining a light on a problem area, such as an arthritic knee.”

 

Lawrence and his team attached a drug molecule to vitamin B12 and loaded the compound into red blood cells, which can circulate for up to four months, providing a long-lasting reservoir of medicine that can be tapped as needed. They then demonstrated their ability to overcome a longtime technical hurdle: using long-wavelength light to penetrate deep enough into the body to break molecular bonds; in this case, the drug linked to vitamin B12.

 

Here’s the rub: Long-wavelength light can penetrate much more deeply into the body, but it doesn’t carry as much energy as short wavelength light, and cannot typically break molecular bonds. To activate the drug with long-wavelength light, Lawrence and his team had to figure out how to do it in a way that required less energy.

 

“That’s the trick, and that’s where we’ve been successful,” said Lawrence.

 

Lawrence’s team solved the energy problem by introducing a weak energy bond between vitamin B12 and the drug and then attached a fluorescent molecule to the bond. The fluorescent molecule acts as an antenna, capturing long wavelength light and using it to cut the bond between the drug and the vitamin carrier.

 

Lawrence pointed to some complex and deadly cancers where physicians might have a better chance of helping the patient if a wide array of anti-cancer agents could be used.

 

“The problem is when you start using four or five very toxic drugs you’re going to have intolerable side effects,” he said. “However, by focusing powerful drugs at a specific site, it may be possible to significantly reduce or eliminate the side effects that commonly accompany cancer chemotherapy.”

 

Lawrence has also created a company in partnership with UNC, Iris BioMed, to further develop the technology to be used in humans. Lawrence is a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and School of Medicine.

 

– Carolina –

 

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill



The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 110 master’s, 64 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s 317,000-plus alumni live in all 50 states and 156 other countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

UNC Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu

 

Eshelman School of Pharmacy contact: David Etchison, (919) 966-7744, david_etchison@unc.edu

 

 

 

Carolina to lead one of five national transportation centers, focus on road safety

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Carolina to lead one of five national transportation centers, focus on road safety

 

Up to $15 million in funding for new center that will build upon successes in reducing vehicular fatalities and injuries

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Dec. 6, 2016) – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Highway Safety Research Center has been selected to run a National University Transportation Center funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The University will receive $2.8 million in the first year, and up to $15 million in grant funding over five years, to create and manage the Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety (CSCRS) – an opportunity for UNC-Chapel Hill to lead and influence the future of transportation safety research for the nation.

 

The CSCRS will accelerate progress in reducing injuries and fatalities on the nation’s roads by offering a new paradigm for how to understand and address traffic safety issues. The center will conduct collaborative, multidisciplinary research and education and technology transfer activities to improve road safety in the U.S.

 

“We must build a smarter, safer transportation future with dynamic travel choices, capacity, and infrastructure for all road users,” said Rep. David Price, ranking member of the U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for transportation and housing. “The Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety will make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of how best to do so.”

 

Led by the Highway Safety Research Center in collaboration with the University’s department of city and regional planning and the Injury Prevention Research Center, the CSCRS unites leading transportation research, planning, public health, data science and engineering programs at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, Florida Atlantic and the universities of California, Berkeley and Tennessee, Knoxville.

 

“This significant grant will assist the world-class UNC Highway Safety Research Center to continue its collaborative, groundbreaking work that has saved countless lives and prevented injuries,” said Chancellor Carol Folt. “Over its 50-year history, investigators at the center have conducted research at the state and national level that has translated into programs and policies that have been implemented in North Carolina and the nation, making all of our highways safer.”

 

HSRC Director David Harkey will serve as the CSCRS director and lead a multifaceted team of national and international experts.

 

“It is time to rethink our approach to road safety,” said Harkey. “The CSCRS provides an opportunity to find new ways to address legacy safety issues, such as impaired driving and speeding, which continue to claim the lives of thousands of road users each year. At the same time, we will explore how today’s research can help us prepare for the challenges that tomorrow will bring, such as traffic safety problems brought on by changes in technology or sociodemographic shifts.”

 

With more than $2.8 million in the first year, this grant is one of 32 five-year awards and one of five national centers that will be awarded to lead consortia under the University Transportation Centers program to advance research and education programs that address critical transportation challenges facing the nation. Subsequent awards using federal fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2020 funding will be made annually, subject to availability of funds and grantee compliance with grant terms and conditions.

 

View the comprehensive award announcement on the USDOT website, www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/dot15016.

 

– Carolina –

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 110 master’s, 64 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s 317,000-plus alumni live in all 50 states and 156 other countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

About the UNC Highway Safety Research Center

The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center is working hard to help shape the field of transportation safety. HSRC is committed to excellence in sound research, and safety is the preeminent goal – every day and in every project staff undertakes. Birthplace of innovative national programs like Click It or Ticket, graduated driver licensing and Walk to School Day, the center’s mission is to improve the safety, sustainability and efficiency of all surface transportation modes through a balanced, interdisciplinary program of research, evaluation and information dissemination. Learn more at www.hsrc.unc.edu.

 

HRSC contact: Caroline Mozingo, (919) 962-5835, mozingo@hsrc.unc.edu

Communications and Public Affairs contact: Mike McFarland, (919) 962-8593, mike_mcfarland@unc.edu

Researchers use genes as early warning system for harmful algae blooms

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Researchers use genes as early warning system for harmful algae blooms

 

New technique can help researchers forecast the appearance of a harmful algal bloom, providing communities time to mitigate economic distress from fish kills and poor water quality

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Dec. 2, 2016) – In one of the most comprehensive studies to date, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have sequenced the genes of a harmful algae bloom, unveiling never-before-seen interactions between algae and bacteria that are thought to propagate their growth. The work also opens up the possibility of forecasting the appearance of a bloom and taking measures to prevent it – work that can save millions, even billions of dollars, in economic losses worldwide.

 

“This technique has given us one of the most detailed looks to date into the strategy algae use to grow uncontrollably, leading to devastating consequences in our coastal communities,” said Adrian Marchetti, who led the research in UNC’s department of marine sciences. “It is also one of the first efforts to get the algae to tell us what’s going on in their natural environment, which wasn’t possible to this degree before. Now, states have the potential to be more prepared than ever to warn the public about the potential of a harmful bloom and mitigate their effects.”

 

Harmful algal blooms occur when colonies of algae—simple plant-like microorganisms that live in the sea and freshwater—grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, oysters and other shellfish, marine mammals and birds. Algae can grow uncontrollably when too many nutrients overload the water system, making conditions ripe for a bloom especially when combined with increased temperatures and a dry spell after a heavy rain.

 

In the past decade, harmful algal blooms have increased not only in the Neuse River Estuary, off the coast of North Carolina where the study took place, but have been reported in every U.S. coastal state. In the U.S. alone, experts estimate that harmful algae blooms have been responsible for more than $82 million in annual economic losses due to fish kills and poor water quality that makes water undrinkable and limits recreational use. With climate change, harmful algal blooms are anticipated to rise, further affecting our coastal and lake communities.

 

“There isn’t a way to prevent these blooms just yet, but the ability to predict them opens up that possibility, should future technologies or strategies arise that allow researchers and state officials to do so,” said Weida Gong, a graduate student who led the research with Marchetti.

 

Gong, Marchetti, an assistant professor in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, and colleagues, including Hans Paerl, one of the world’s foremost experts on algal blooms, sequenced a harmful bloom in the Neuse River Estuary, which empties into Pamlico Sound, and compared it to algae in an area of the estuary that were not experiencing a bloom. The comparison allowed the researchers to see which genes algae (specifically the blooming dinoflagellates, the main driver of this bloom) express when growing rapidly against the genes they express under normal conditions.

 

Marchetti, Gong, Paerl and colleagues found that, when in bloom, algae ramp up the expression of genes that help facilitate the exchange of vitamins and other nutrients with bacteria in what may be a mutually beneficial relationship. For example, the algae expressed genes that make their surfaces sticky, making it easier for the bacteria to attach and acquire nutrients from the algae and vice versa. The exchange is also a lot more intimate than ever known to be before, such that the algae appear to produce nutrients in the form that bacteria can absorb and vice versa.

 

Until now, methods to understand microbial interactions within an algae bloom have been very limited. In order to see how algae respond to increased nutrients, researchers had to take the algae out of their natural environment and test them in a lab. They would also have to test which species are present and how each was affected, a very time intensive process that still did not provide much information about how algae were interacting with other microorganisms in their environment. With these new sequencing techniques, all the researchers have to do is sequence the microbes in the water, which tells them which species are present and how they respond.

 

“That’s the power of this technique,” said Paerl, a distinguished professor at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences. “It gets the algae to tell us how they respond to changes in their natural environment – and that’s the best way for us to understand the cause and effect relationship that is going to help intervene in targeted and meaningful ways to protect our communities.”

 

The work will appear in the Dec. 2 issue of The ISME Journal: Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology.

 

– Carolina –

 

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 113 master’s, 68 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s more than 308,000 alumni live in all 50 states and 150 countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

YouTube video of Adrian Marchetti: Watch here

 

Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu

 

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kosorok elected AAAS fellow

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UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kosorok elected AAAS fellow

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Nov. 21, 2016) – Michael R. Kosorok, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill biostatics professor, has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science.

 

With this announcement, Carolina now boasts 72 fellows among its current faculty.

 

Election as a fellow, a tradition that began in 1874, is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers for their efforts toward advancing science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.

 

Kosorok, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, was honored for his distinguished contributions to biostatistics, in survival analysis, empirical processes and semiparametric models, statistical learning theory and personalized medicine, and for extraordinary administrative service.

 

Kosorok has led a number of National Institutes of Health grants, including a Big Data to Knowledge in Biomedicine grant to train students from multiple disciplines to develop career-long relationships with big data. He co-leads the National Cancer Institute’s Statistical Methods for Cancer Clinical Trials to develop new methods for the design and analysis of cancer clinical trials.

 

Since 2006, he has become the chair of biostatistics, professor of statistics and operations research and member of the University’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. He serves as director of the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute’s biostatistics core and as research fellow at the Cecil B. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

 

Among his honors are fellowship in the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and American Statistical Association and numerous invitations to give distinguished lectures throughout his career.

 

The AAAS will honor Kosorok and 390 other fellows on Feb. 18 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during its 2017 annual meeting in Boston.

 

—Carolina—

 

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 113 master’s, 68 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s more than 308,000 alumni live in all 50 states and 150 countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

UNC Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health: David Pesci, (919) 962-2600, dpesci@email.unc.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Study finds disparities in drinking water quality in Wake County, N.C.

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Study finds disparities in drinking water quality in Wake County, N.C.

 

Predominantly black neighborhoods excluded from municipal water service have poorer quality drinking water than nearby neighborhoods with access to municipal services.

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Nov. 17, 2016) – A new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reveals inequities in water quality in central North Carolina.

 

In Wake County, some predominantly African-American neighborhoods completely lack access to the municipal water system. As a result, residents are exposed to notably higher quantities of microbial contaminants via well water.

 

The study’s corresponding author is Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her co-author is Frank Stillo, an alumnus of the same department who currently works in UNC’s Department of the Environment, Heath and Safety.

 

The researchers’ findings, titled “Drinking Water Quality and Health Disparities in North Carolina Neighborhoods Excluded from Municipal Water Service,” were published online Nov. 10 by the American Journal of Public Health.

 

In previous studies, MacDonald Gibson and colleagues identified neighborhoods in Wake County that depend on private wells for drinking water. In many cases, these neighborhoods are home to largely African-American populations, but are surrounded by mostly-white neighborhoods that do have municipal water access.

 

After identifying these neighborhoods, researchers went on to determine that residents are more likely to visit an emergency room for acute gastrointestinal illness than are individuals from nearby neighborhoods with public water system connections.

 

Continuing the investigation, the most recent study shares the results of direct water quality surveys conducted by the research team in these same areas. Laboratory testing revealed that residents are indeed being exposed to significantly higher quantities of microbial contaminants, including bacteria associated with human fecal waste.

 

Nearly 30 percent of the 171 private well water samples tested positive for coliform bacteria, and more than six percent tested positive for E. coli. In samples from households on the municipal system, results for both contaminants were only a fraction of one percent.

 

Based on these findings, the study’s co-authors estimated that more than one-fifth of the underserved communities’ 114 annual emergency department visits for acute gastrointestinal illness could be prevented if municipal water service were extended.

 

—Carolina—

 

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 113 master’s, 68 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s more than 308,000 alumni live in all 50 states and 150 countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

UNC Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health: David Pesci, (919) 962-2600,

dpesci@email.unc.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scientists discover method for sculpting how chemicals spread in fluid flows

 

For immediate use

 

Scientists discover method for sculpting how chemicals spread in fluid flows

 

Solely adjusting the aspect ratio of a pipe – regardless of its shape – precisely controls how medicine, pollutants, nutrients and chemicals travel down it and hit their target

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Nov. 17, 2016) — Art was created with proportions in mind so spaces would make mathematical sense. Now two mathematicians from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and their team have created art of their own: a method that precisely sculpts how fluids spread chemicals as they travel to hit their target.

 

The work, to appear in the Nov. 17 advance online issue of Science, has profound implications in fields such as medicine, chemistry and environmental management, for example, where having the ability to precisely control how drugs, chemicals and pollutants approach their destination is potentially critical for optimizing their effect, potency and lifespan.

 

“You might want a chemical, for example, to hit its target all at once or you might want it to build up gradually,” said McLaughlin, chair of UNC-Chapel Hill’s department of mathematics. “Until now, scientists had little control on the exact way for a chemical to do that. This work gives them a simple method so that they can achieve either of these goals — or anything in between.”

 

McLaughlin and his colleague, Roberto Camassa, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, revealed that the secret to such control lies solely in the relative dimensions of the tube, not the properties of the fluid or the chemical dissolved within it. Specifically they showed that the relationship between a pipe’s width and height — or aspect ratio — governs the shape of the chemical spread as it flows with the fluid down the tube.

 

A circle and square are just as wide as they are tall, while an ellipse and rectangle are wider in one dimension than the other. By squishing the tube away from being a perfect circle, the researchers showed that they can change the way that a solute reaches its target: Solute traveling down a skinny pipe barrages its target fast, but if the same solution travels down a fat pipe, the solute crawls slowly upward to its target until the big punch hits at the end.

 

They found that precisely the same effect occurs in rectangular ducts, such that in skinny ones, solute arrives at the target strong, like a heavy punch; if you stretch the rectangle into a square, the solute reverses its approach, arriving in a slow and gradual upward swing.

 

“That was the big surprise,” said Camassa. “We stumbled upon this incredible disconnect between two different geometries. It’s one of nature’s universal principles governing the shape of solute spreading and it can be used to optimize results in many industries that deal with chemicals dissolved in fluid flows.”

 

The implications reach far and wide, particularly in microfluidic devices, which contain miniaturized components for routing and processing very small amounts of fluids. They are used in health care for making small, biological test kits or for precisely manufacturing drugs. This new work can be used to optimize microfluidic devices for any particular goal. For example, researchers can potentially optimize the delivery of cancer drugs or antibiotics to minimize damage to surrounding tissues and thus minimize side effects.

 

Economics also play a big role, explained McLaughlin and Camassa, who are both in UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences.

 

Precision elliptical pipes may be difficult and expensive to manufacture. But the new work shows that rectangular pipes, which are easier and cheaper to produce, can do the same job, delivering a fluid with calculated precision given the right aspect ratio. As a bonus, rectangular ducts stretch solute much less than ellipses, an effect that can be important in delivering more highly concentrated substances, another factor when considering cost and shape of a pipe.

 

The team, including graduate students Manuchehr Aminian and Francesca Bernardi, and postdoctoral scholar Daniel Harris, has revealed one of nature’s universal principles governing how fluids spread solute in microfluidic environments.

 

“It’s sort of a slam dunk, having analysis, computation and experiment, all these approaches confirming each other, ” said McLaughlin. “It says that this phenomenon is really there and can be used for far-reaching applications.”

 

–Carolina–

 

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 113 master’s, 68 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s more than 308,000 alumni live in all 50 states and 150 countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

UNC Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu

 

 

 

 

UNC-Chapel Hill scientists devise more accurate system for predicting risks of new chemical products

News Release: [URL]

 

For immediate use

 

UNC-Chapel Hill scientists devise more accurate system for predicting risks of new chemical products

 

A new structural alert system could reduce years and millions of dollars from bringing a new drug or product to market

 

(CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Nov. 15, 2016) — The approach used by regulators to initially screen new chemical products for toxic effects is wrong almost half the time, according to scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They have proposed an improvement that could increase accuracy to as much as 85 percent, saving millions of dollars and years of development time for new drugs and other products while improving safety.

 

Regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, that are charged with evaluating new drugs and other chemical products rely on an initial screening of a product’s molecular structure. Any groups of atoms that are believed to be linked to chemical toxicity trigger a structural alert. A product that generates a structural alert is sent back for more testing.

 

Researchers led by Alex Tropsha, K. H. Lee Distinguished Professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, determined that structural alerts are accurate in predicting toxicity only about 50 to 60 percent of the time. They developed a computational approach that uses statistical analysis to determine how trustworthy an alert is. Their improvement augments the simple-but-often-wrong thumbs up or thumbs down currently provided.

 

“A lot of chemicals are incorrectly identified as potentially toxic even though in the end they are not toxic and that could have been predicted,” Tropsha said. “Companies are forced to run a lot of unnecessary and costly experiments, and because companies run these checks themselves before submitting their products to regulators, there are products that never see the light of day because they are flagged as toxic when they are not.”

 

However, some make it to market after the alerts have been later deemed nontoxic. For example, Lipitor, the best-selling drug of all time that treats cholesterol, has five elements in its molecular structure that are flagged as structural alerts, but is not toxic.

 

By layering a technique called quantitative structure-activity relationship, or QSAR, modeling over the existing alerts system, the UNC-Chapel Hill researchers are able to account for the structure of the entire chemical molecule and assign a numerical value to the chance that an alert is accurate. Their innovative strategy is published in the journal Green Chemistry.

 

“Structural alerts are a convenient system, but there are few consequences for being wrong even though the stakes are potentially very high,” Tropsha said. “If the alert is right, then it’s ‘we told you so.’ If it’s wrong, ‘well, it was just a warning anyway.’ But unfounded alerts unnecessarily add years and millions of dollars to the cost of bringing a new drug or product to market without improving safety. That is unacceptable, we think.”

 

Tropsha’s group plans to make their system freely available to regulators and scientists as web-based computer software.

 

“We want to alarm regulators that structural alerts over-predict toxicity while missing truly toxic substances, and offer them much more accurate tools to support regulatory decisions,” Tropsha said.

 

– Carolina –

 

 

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 113 master’s, 68 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s more than 308,000 alumni live in all 50 states and 150 countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.

 

UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy contact: David Etchison, (919) 966-7744, david_etchison@unc.edu

UNC Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu