UNC-Chapel Hill initiative will combat opioid use disorders and overdose deaths

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For immediate use

 

UNC-Chapel Hill initiative will combat opioid use disorders and overdose deaths

 

New project will increase medication-assisted treatment in rural North Carolina

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Feb. 15, 2017) — A new research initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill will seek to combat the opioid epidemic by helping to reduce barriers to rural physicians treating opioid use disorders in North Carolina. The project is the first focus of a new effort to increase North Carolinian’s access to specialty care through an innovative medical education model that gives rural health practitioners access to training, experts and resources not usually available to them.

 

The UNC Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes for Rural Primary Care Medication Assisted Treatment (UNC ECHO for MAT), in collaboration with University of New Mexico Project ECHO, will reduce barriers to primary care providers offering medication assisted treatment (MAT) to persons with opioid use disorders and reduce deaths from accidental overdose in North Carolina, which exceeds the national average and has been steadily increasing over the past 10 years.

 

“One effective way to combat opioid addiction and thereby opioid overdoses is MAT,” said Sherri Green, a research fellow at the Sheps Center for Health Services Research and assistant professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. “There is both a shortage of MAT providers, especially in rural counties, and a need to support MAT providers through case-based learning, practice supports, and a collaborative community response with treatment and other social and medical supports for patients receiving MAT.”

 

The UNC-ECHO for MAT will seek to better understand what prevents primary care providers from offering MAT in their practices, evaluate strategies to overcome those barriers, and work closely with providers and community and state partners to expand access to MAT with associated community supports in 22 rural and underserved counties. Furthermore, the UNC ECHO for MAT will serve as a venue for Project ECHO capacity building in North Carolina. The three-year, $2.9 million project is funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

 

Some of the barriers to physicians providing MAT include lack of training for primary care providers, concerns about a patient’s ability to follow through with treatment, workload practice resource limitations, isolation or lack of support for the practitioner, difficulties in connecting patients with community treatment resources, and stigma associated with substance use disorders and use of MAT. The UNC ECHO team will collaborate with Local Management Entity-Managed Care Organizations for mental health and substance use disorder services (LME/MCO) staff and providers, Community Care of North Carolina, the Governors Institute, AHECs and the NC Harm Reduction Coalition to address these concerns.

 

The project will offer participating providers continuing medical education (CME) credits to be certified as MAT providers, physician to physician case consultation, CME through tele-trainings and tele-case conferences to help implement a MAT program, as well as practice based office staff support. The research team will track how many practitioners prescribe MAT and the effectiveness of provider level interventions to reduce barriers to providing MAT. Medicaid and Blue Cross Blue Shield claims data and a robust systematic qualitative research plan will help the team evaluate the intervention.

 

“AHRQ has provided North Carolina with a unique opportunity to leverage the good work and knowledge of many partners working across systems in the state, from behavioral health to public health, concerned about and invested in finding solutions to this public health crisis,” said Green.

 

The Centers for Disease Control estimated the national opioid overdose death rate for 2014 to be 9.0 per 100,000. In 2014, 45 counties in North Carolina had overdose death rates over 9.0 per 100,000. According to the North Carolina Division of Public Health, 1,101 people died in 2012 from unintentional poisoning in the state, with 92 percent of all unintentional poisoning deaths being drug or medication related.

 

— 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

 

Sheps Center contact: Sonya Sutton, (919) 608-0480, ssutton@unc.edu

 

 

Media invited to join UNC-Chapel Hill at celebration honoring next School of Nursing dean on Feb. 9

 

 

Media invited to join UNC-Chapel Hill at celebration honoring next

School of Nursing dean on Feb. 9

 

Newly announced dean will address North Carolina’s nursing shortage.

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Feb. 7, 2017) — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will celebrate its newly announced dean of the School of Nursing, Dr. Nilda Peragallo Montano, on Thursday, Feb. 9. Chancellor Carol L. Folt, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost James W. Dean Jr. and Peragallo Montano will address Carolina students, faculty, staff and University guests during the event at 3:30 p.m. in Alumni Hall at the Carolina Club.

 

As the nation braces for a nursing shortage, with some estimates reporting 1.2 million vacancies to emerge for registered nurses between 2014 and 2022, Peragallo Montano will address how Carolina can play a critical role in addressing that need to serve the people of North Carolina. She will also talk about the important role nurses can play in expanding access to care in rural and underserved areas in the state where access to a physician may be limited.

 

Before coming to Carolina, Peragallo Montano was the dean and a professor of the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies. A nationally and internationally recognized nursing scientist specializing in health disparities, she has devoted her research and academic career to improving the health status of minorities and other medically underserved groups.

 

Thursday, Feb. 9

3:30 p.m.

Carolina Club, Alumni Hall

150 Stadium Dr.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

 

Media Check-In: Media must check in no earlier than 3:00 p.m. at the reception area outside of Alumni Hall, on the second floor of the Carolina Club. Thania Benios (917-930-5988, thania_benios@unc.edu) will be the on-site contact.

 

Media Parking: Media can park in the Rams Head Parking Deck, whose approximate GPS address is 33 Ridge Road. We will not be able to reserve any parking spaces for the event, but parking vouchers will be available at media check-in.

 

— 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 University Communications contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu

School of Nursing contact: Kelly Kirby, (919) 843-8566, kkalmond@email.unc.edu

 

Media invited to join UNC-Chapel Hill at celebration honoring next School of Dentistry dean on Feb. 3

Media advisory:

 

For immediate use

 

Media invited to join UNC-Chapel Hill at celebration honoring next

School of Dentistry dean on Feb. 3

 

New dean to reveal his vision for the school, emphasizing innovation, accessibility to care and positioning the school as a global leader in dentistry

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Feb. 1, 2017) —The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will celebrate its newly announced dean of the School of Dentistry, Dr. Scott De Rossi, on Friday, Feb. 3. Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost James W. Dean Jr. and De Rossi will be addressing Carolina students, faculty, staff and University guests during the event, which will begin promptly at 3:30 p.m. in the West Lobby of Koury Oral Health Sciences Building.

 

De Rossi will reveal his vision for the dental program, emphasizing the need for expanding translational research and the school’s entrepreneurial capacity, while adapting to shifting demographics of disease and emerging technologies to reduce health disparities across the state, nation and world.

 

Earlier that day, the UNC School of Dentistry will host its fourth, on-site, student-led Give Kids a Smile event, a nationally organized effort that will provide free dental care, health education and activities for local children in need and in communities across the country. De Rossi will attend and be available to media at the event, which will be held in the atrium of the Koury Oral Health Sciences Building from 9 a.m. to noon.

 

Before coming to Carolina, De Rossi held joint faculty appointments at Augusta University as professor oral medicine in the department of diagnostic sciences at the Dental College of Georgia – the state’s only dental school – and professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery and dermatology at the Medical College of Georgia. He is an adjust professor of oral medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine.

 

Friday, Feb. 3

3:30 p.m.

Koury Oral Health Sciences Building, West Lobby

385 S. Columbia Street

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

 

Media Check-In: Media must check in no earlier than 3:00 p.m. for the dean announcement and no earlier than 9 a.m. for the Give Kids A Smile event at the entrance of Koury Oral Health Sciences Building, at the corner of Manning Drive and S. Columbia Street. Joanne Peters (919-962-8431, joanne.peters@unc.edu) and Thania Benios (917-930-5988, thania_benios@unc.edu) will be the on-site contacts.

 

Media Parking: A limited number of spaces will be available in the patient drop-off circle on Manning Drive. Media can also park in the Dogwood Deck, whose approximate GPS address is 318 Mason Farm Road. We will not be able to reserve any parking spaces for either event.

 

— 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 University Communications contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596, thania_benios@unc.edu

School of Dentistry contact: Tiffany Brannan, (919) 264-6277, tiffany_brannan@unc.edu

Revolutionary approach for treating glioblastoma works with human cells

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For immediate use:

 

Revolutionary approach for treating glioblastoma works with human cells

 

UNC-Chapel Hill researchers reach critical milestone for treating brain cancer

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Feb. 1, 2017) — In a rapid-fire series of breakthroughs in just under a year, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have made another stunning advance in the development of an effective treatment for glioblastoma, a common and aggressive brain cancer. The work, published in the Feb. 1 issue of Science Translational Medicine, describes how human stem cells, made from human skin cells, can hunt down and kill human brain cancer, a critical and monumental step toward clinical trials – and real treatment.

 

Last year, the UNC-Chapel Hill team, led by Shawn Hingtgen, an assistant professor in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, used the technology to convert mouse skin cells to stem cells that could home in on and kill human brain cancer, increasing time of survival 160 to 220 percent, depending on the tumor type. Now, they not only show that the technique works with human cells but also works quickly enough to help patients, whose median survival is less than 18 months and chance of surviving beyond two years is 30 percent.

 

“Speed is essential,” Hingtgen said. “It used to take weeks to convert human skin cells to stem cells. But brain cancer patients don’t have weeks and months to wait for us to generate these therapies. The new process we developed to create these stem cells is fast enough and simple enough to be used to treat a patient.”

 

Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are the standard of care for glioblastoma, and that hasn’t changed in three decades. In months, the tumor comes back in almost every single patient, invariably sending tiny tendrils out into the surrounding brain tissue. Drugs can’t reach them, and surgeons can’t see them, so it’s almost impossible to remove all of the cancer, explained Ryan Miller, a coauthor of the study and neuropathologist at UNC Hospitals and associate professor at the UNC School of Medicine.

 

“We desperately need something better,” said Hingtgen.

 

The key to Hingtgen’s treatment is “skin flipping,” a technology for creating neural stem cells from skin cells that won a Nobel Prize in 2012. The first step is to harvest fibroblasts — skin cells responsible for producing collagen and connective tissue — from the patient and reprogram those cells to become what are called induced neural stem cells, which have an innate ability to home in on cancer cells in the brain.

 

But by themselves, stem cells can only find a tumor and bump up against it – not kill it – so the team had to engineer stem cells that could carry therapeutic agents that the cells can launch at the tumor to kill it.

 

Hingtgen’s stem cells can carry a protein that activates an inert substance called a prodrug that is given to the patient. The cells can then generate a small halo of drug that is located just around the stem cell, rather than it being circulated throughout the patient’s body, reducing unwanted side effects.

 

“We’re one to two years away from clinical trials, but for the first time, we showed that our strategy for treating glioblastoma works with human stem cells and human cancers,” said Hingtgen. “This is a big step toward a real treatment – and making a real difference.”

 

— 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.

 

Note on Clinical Trials: Those with questions about brain tumor treatment or clinical trials at UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina Cancer Hospital can contact Simon Khagi, director of the University of North Carolina Brain Tumor Program, at 919-966-3856 or skhagi@med.unc.edu.

 

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

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

 

UNC-Chapel Hill researchers discover shadow detector in plants

UNC-Chapel Hill researchers discover shadow detector in plants

 

A key protein provides plants the ability to make minute-by-minute decisions about light to maximize efficiency of capturing it and to increase agricultural yield.

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Jan. 24, 2016) — Plants live under a constantly fluctuating world of light. Clouds come by. Shadows move. Light flickers. Now researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have discovered, for the first time, that plants can detect shadows and have identified how they do it, revealing a never-before-understood mechanism for how plants maximize the efficiency of capturing light and by extension, agricultural yield – an increasingly important topic as estimates show that by 2050, the world will have 9.7 billion people to feed.

 

The work, led by Alan Jones, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Biology, also suggests a level of plant intelligence that goes well beyond simply detecting light from dark. Plants can distinguish variations of light throughout the day, minute-by-minute, via a complex communication system that measures intervals of light, intensity and timing to regulate how efficiently plants undergo photosynthesis: the process of capturing photons from the sun and converting them to sugar.

 

“When shadows form, plants need to show restraint,” said Jones, whose work appears in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. “If they increase the efficiency of photosynthesis and photons pour in right away, then boom, when the sun comes out from the shadows they’ll burn up. So plants need to wait and make an interpretation. Is this the end of the day or should I ignore it.”

 

In their work, Jones and colleagues at Michigan State University show that a protein called RGS1 detects changes in light and measures changes in glucose to control how efficiently photosynthesis works. Amazingly, RGS1 can tell the difference between the transient darkness caused by a shadow and the more long-term darkness that accompanies dusk.

 

To understand the role of RGS1, Jones and his team placed plants in a special chamber to mimic natural changes of light throughout the day. Plants engineered to lack RGS1 were perfectly able to adjust their photosynthesis when the light mimicked, for example, the open prairie, where the sun rises and sets with no transient changes in light. They stayed healthy and thrived.

 

“At first, we were surprised by that finding,” said Jones. “But it all started to make sense when we introduced periods of darkness, mimicking cloud cover or flickering light. Then the plants went crazy.” The plants could not adjust in response to transient shadows or flickering light, overreacting to brief changes in light intensity and eventually burned up.

 

The stimulator also revealed exactly what plants consider a shadow. The chamber had to go dark for four minutes before the plants realized there’s a shadow. If it went dark for less than four minutes, the plants would ignore the change in light.

 

Jones and colleagues used mathematical modeling to reveal that plants detect the rate at which different molecular components decay in plant leaves and this decay signals whether a change in light is a shadow or not. RGS1 has the ability to count the number of these molecules and decide how efficiently to take in photons and undergo photosynthesis.

 

Almost all plants have RGS1, but grasses, based on genomes that have been sequenced, lack it.

 

“Think about grasses of the U.S. prairie,” said Jones. “They don’t live in canopies. They live in the open where there are no shadows. The pampas grass of Patagonia; there are no trees growing in Patagonia. Rice lacks it. Rice grows in water. So the plants that lack the shadow detector are plants that have evolved to grow only in bright light without shadow.”

 

– 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 awarded $19 million to study atherosclerosis risk in communities

For immediate use

 

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

For immediate use

 

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

For immediate use

 

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

For immediate use

 

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

News Release:

 

For immediate use

 

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