UNC Health Care CEO, Medical School Dean Bill Roper Plans to Step Down in 2019

For immediate use

 

UNC Health Care CEO, Medical School Dean Bill Roper Plans to Step Down in 2019


Dr. Roper led expansion efforts in education, research, and clinical care that improved health for all North Carolinians

 

 

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.  – May 31, 2018 ­– Dr. William L. Roper, who has helped transform UNC Health Care and the UNC School of Medicine into one of the nation’s top academic medical institutions, plans to step down as CEO and dean in May 2019.

 

“It has been a high honor to serve with so many talented and committed people. I know that our team is well equipped to continue taking on the challenges of a rapidly evolving medical and health care landscape,” Roper said. “Our mission, our patients and our providers are in good hands.”

 

Roper joined UNC-Chapel Hill as dean of the School of Public Health in 1997. In 2004, he became CEO of UNC Health Care, dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs. In those roles, he has expanded the reach of the health care system and medical school and helped improve the health of all North Carolinians. He’s also been a passionate advocate for health issues that affect residents of North Carolina at the state and federal levels.

 

“Dr. Roper has championed a broad range of innovative teaching, treatment and patient-care initiatives that have expanded and rippled across our state to provide patients with quality, accessible and affordable health care,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Bill has provided a remarkable record of leadership, always with the people of North Carolina in his heart and on his mind.”

 

Under Roper’s leadership, UNC Health Care has expanded into a statewide system with more than a dozen hospitals, more than 30,000 employees and nearly $5 billion in annual revenue. His commitment to teaching and training the next generation of physicians has improved access across the state, especially in rural areas.

 

“Without question, Dr. Roper has a proven track record of service to our state, our people and to our future health,” said Dale Jenkins, chair of the UNC Health Care Board of Directors. “Throughout a long career of public service, he has made an impact on health care nationally, but most importantly, he has elevated health care to new levels here in North Carolina.”

 

At the UNC School of Medicine, total research funding has increased more than 50 percent since 2004 to $441 million last year, making it one of the preeminent medical research programs in the country. Roper has spearheaded efforts to expand its footprint across the state. He has cultivated relationships with other medical leaders and opened doors for medical students to train in Asheville, Charlotte and Wilmington. Today, the medical school trains more than 2,400 inter-professional health care providers and medical students annually, including many who choose to practice in our state after their education. Roper also has helped expand and add numerous medical, teaching and research facilities at UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Health Care.

 

“Since Dr. Roper arrived at UNC, he has leveraged his expertise, experience and political acumen to guide this institution’s medical program and the state’s health care system into the 21st century,” said UNC System President Margaret Spellings. “His robust vision has ensured that we will be ready to meet the needs of our state’s aging and growing population.”

 

Roper, who turns 70 this summer, plans to step down on May 15, 2019. The University and UNC Health Care soon will begin a national search for his successor.

 

Photo of Roper: https://tinyurl.com/roper-william

 

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, 111 master’s, 65 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty, 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 323,000 alumni live in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 149 countries. More than 169,000 live in North Carolina.

 

About UNC Health Care

UNC Health Care is an integrated health care system comprised of UNC Hospitals and its provider network, UNC Faculty Physicians, UNC Physicians Network, the clinical patient care programs of the UNC School of Medicine. Additional hospital entities and health care systems include UNC REX Healthcare, Chatham Hospital, Johnston Health, Pardee Hospital, High Point Regional Health, Caldwell Memorial, Nash Health Care, Wayne Memorial, UNC Lenoir Health Care and UNC Rockingham Health Care.

 

University Communications contact: Audrey Smith, (919) 445-8555, audrey.smith@unc.edu

UNC Health Care contact: Alan Wolf, (919) 218-7103, alan.wolf@unchealth.unc.edu

 

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss hurricane season, which begins on June 1

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss hurricane season, which begins on June 1

 

Hurricane season officially begins on June 1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers and faculty are available to provide insight on storm surge and flooding, water quality, beach erosion and other storm-related issues, which can help communities prepare for the upcoming season.

 

Carolina experts are also available to discuss recovery-related research in the wake of hurricanes, especially Hurricane Matthew, which caused torrential rains, set a new storm tide record and killed at least 28 people in North Carolina in 2016.

 

 

If you’d like to speak with an expert, call (919) 445-8555 or email mediarelations@unc.edu.

 

Norma Houston is a lecturer in public law and government at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government. Houston is an expert on the laws and authorities related to emergency management, including state of emergency declarations, and is often on the front lines with North Carolina public officials during hurricanes. She works closely with the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management year-round to help local governments prepare for natural disasters and she curates an emergency management website for North Carolina public officials. Houston is also an expert in local government law and procurement and, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, has been helping local governments navigate federal procurement regulations around FEMA reimbursements. She can discuss what local governments are authorized to do during disasters, how they should prepare for scenarios like evacuations and debris removal, and federal regulations like FEMA contract requirements.

 

 

Rick Luettich is the director of UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, North Carolina and the lead investigator of the Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Resilience Center. He is a leading global expert on storm surge and is on the front lines when it comes to predicting a storm’s potential impact, as co-developer of ADCIRC, a system of computer programs used to predict storm surge and flooding. These prediction models are updated every few hours – the most recent model can be found here. Agencies and organizations including Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard and the emergency operations centers in several coastal states use Luettich’s model to assess risk, for design protection and to make decisions during storm events. He can discuss coastal risk, protection and forecasting storms.

 

Luettich’s research and ADCIRC model has also been used to design protection systems around New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and around New York and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy. Most recently ADCIRC provided extensive storm surge and flooding predictions for the major landfalling hurricanes during the 2017 hurricane season.

 

 

Rachel Noble is a distinguished professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences. Her research focuses on public health issues surrounding water quality, including stormwater, drinking water and extreme conditions like those following a tropical storm or hurricane event. Her current work highlights the use of rapid tests to protect public health from waterborne diseases. She can discuss how to protect human health by better understanding pathogens and the risk they pose to the public, particularly after storm events.

 

Noble’s research and rapid method tests have been used on both coasts and the Great Lakes to protect public health. She is currently working with the Environmental Protection Agency on the implementation of methods to rapidly test E. coli at beaches. She is actively working with municipal wastewater agencies in California, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland on improved approaches to protect the public from contamination events in a more timely manner.

 

 

Hans Paerl is a distinguished professor of marine and environmental sciences at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences. He is a water quality expert, focused on the harmful effects of toxic algae for both people and aquatic ecosystems. He can discuss the long-term impact of these blooms, including excessive nutrient inputs leading to algal blooms and their detrimental effects, including low oxygen (hypoxia), fish kills and toxicity of blooms, including digestive, liver and neurological impacts on human health.

 

Paerl’s recent study demonstrates that over the past 2 decades, tropical cyclones around the globe are increasing in both frequency and intensity. This has led to greater impacts to coastal watersheds including more fish kills, larger algal blooms, and larger low oxygen “dead zones.”

 

 

Carter Smith is a doctoral student at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences. She studies the benefits of living shorelines, an alternative to seawalls, as a solution to combat erosion and property loss during storms. Living shorelines are both more cost effective than seawalls in the long-term and are ecologically more sustainable. She can discuss how homeowners and property managers can better protect coastal properties from hurricanes.

 

 

 

 

Gavin Smith is director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Resilience Center and a research professor in the department of city and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill. He leads the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative, working with federal, state and local leaders on addressing community needs after the 2016 storm. Following Hurricane Katrina, he worked in the Mississippi Office of the Governor and provided policy change recommendations to improve the delivery of post-disaster recovery and reconstruction activities. He also previously served as the assistant director for hazard mitigation for the state of North Carolina. He can discuss the disaster recovery and hazard mitigation process, particularly the role of states.

 

 

P: (919) 445-8555  |  E: mediarelations@unc.edu

 

 

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss mosquito and tick-borne diseases

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss mosquito and tick-borne diseases

 

Diseases transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes and fleas – which include Lyme disease, Zika and West Nile virus – have tripled in the U.S., according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As warmer temperatures lead Americans to spend more time outdoors, it is important that people understand the risks and how to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes and ticks. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers and physicians are available to discuss the rise in vector-borne diseases, prevention recommendations and treatment options for these diseases, and meat allergies resulting from tick bites.

 

If you’d like to speak with an expert, call (919) 445-8555 or email mediarelations@unc.edu.

 

Dr. Ross Boyce is an infectious diseases fellow with the division of infectious diseases in the UNC School of Medicine. He studies malaria and dengue in East Africa. He can discuss prevention, diagnostics and treatment of vector-borne diseases as well as how climate change is impacting where these illnesses are found. He is currently studying tick-borne diseases in North Carolina.

 

 

 

Dr. Scott Commins is a professor of allergy and immunology in the UNC School of Medicine. He is a leading expert on alpha-gal meat allergy, which is believed to result from tick bites. He sees patients with this condition in the UNC Allergy and Immunology Clinic and he is one of a few experts in the U.S. who are conducting clinical research regarding this poorly understood yet often serious allergy. He is available to discuss alpha-gal.

 

 

 

Dr. Steve Meshnick is a professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and a professor of microbiology and immunology in the UNC School of Medicine. He has spent the last 30 years researching tropical infectious diseases. He can discuss malaria, including drug resistance, prevention and pregnancy. He also studies tick-borne diseases and was part of a research team that showed that treating clothing with the long-lasting tick repellent permethrin can protect outdoor workers in North Carolina from ticks.

 

 

Dr. David Weber is a professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and a professor of pediatrics and medicine in the UNC School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases and Department of Pediatrics. He is also a member of UNC Hospitals’ Zika Response Working Group. He can discuss the increase in tick, mosquito and flea-borne diseases in the U.S. and share a clinical perspective on Lyme disease, Zika and other vector-borne diseases, and recommendations for how to protect against insect bites.

 

 

 

P: (919) 445-8555  |  E: mediarelations@unc.edu

 

 

New study finds climate change threatens marine protected areas

For immediate release

 

New study finds climate change threatens marine protected areas

 

Expected levels of ocean warming will transform marine ecosystems worldwide, beginning as early as 2050

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C.— May 7, 2018) – New research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and collaborators found that most marine life in marine protected areas will not be able to tolerate warming ocean temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Marine protected areas have been established as a haven to protect threatened marine life, like polar bears, penguins and coral reefs, from the effects of fishing and other activities like mineral and oil extraction. The study found that with continued “business-as-usual” emissions, the protections currently in place won’t matter, because by 2100, warming and reduced oxygen concentration will make marine protected areas uninhabitable by most species currently residing in those areas.

 

The study, published today in Nature Climate Change, predicts that under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 emissions scenario, better known as the “business as usual scenario,” marine protected areas will warm by 2.8 degrees Celsius (or 5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

 

The study concludes that such rapid and extreme warming would devastate the species and ecosystems currently located in marine protected areas. This could lead to extinctions of some of the world’s most unique animals, loss of biodiversity, and changes in ocean food-webs. It could also have considerable negative impacts on the productivity of fisheries and on tourism revenue. Many of these marine species exist as small populations with low genetic diversity that are vulnerable to environmental change and unlikely to adapt to ocean warming.

 

The study also estimated the year in which marine protected areas in different ecoregions would cross critical thresholds beyond which most species wouldn’t be able to tolerate the change. For many areas in the tropics, this will happen as soon as the mid-21st century.

 

“With warming of this magnitude, we expect to lose many, if not most, animal species from marine protected areas by the turn of the century,” said John Bruno, lead author, marine ecologist, and biology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill. “To avoid the worst outcomes, we need to immediately adopt an emission reduction scenario in which emissions peak within the next two decades and then decrease very significantly, replacing fossil fuels with cleaner energy sources like solar and wind.”

 

Key takeaways include:

 

  • There are 8,236 marine protected areas around the world, although they only cover about 4 percent of the surface of the ocean.
  • The projected warming of 2.8 degrees Celsius (or 5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 would fundamentally disrupt the ecosystems currently located in marine protected areas.
  • Mean sea-surface temperatures within marine protected areas are projected to increase 0.034 degrees Celsius (or 0.061 degrees Fahrenheit) per year.
  • Marine protected areas in the Arctic and Antarctic are projected to warm especially quickly, threatening numerous marine mammals like polar bears and penguins.
  • The marine protected areas at the greatest risk include those in the Arctic and Antarctic, in the northwest Atlantic, and the newly designated no-take reserves off the northern Galápagos islands Darwin and Wolf.

 

“There has been a lot of talk about establishing marine reserves to buy time while we figure out how to confront climate change,” said Rich Aronson, ocean scientist at Florida Institute of Technology and a researcher on the study. “We’re out of time, and the fact is we already know what to do: We have to control greenhouse gas emissions.”

 

The research was conducted in collaboration with researchers at Florida Institute of Technology, Polar Bears International, University of Southampton, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Marine Conservation Institute, NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, University of Miami and the National Oceanography Centre.

 

Bruno is available for interviews. Please let us know if you’d like to arrange a time to learn more.

 

The photo below shows the projected warming per year (indicated by the color-coded bar on the right) of the world’s marine protected areas (indicated by the black dots).

 

 

-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, 111 master’s, 65 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty, 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 322,000 alumni live in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 165 countries. More than 175,000 live in North Carolina.

 

University Communications Contact: Audrey Smith, (919) 445-8555, audrey.smith@unc.edu

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss vaping and new tobacco products

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss vaping and new tobacco products

 

A host of new tobacco products, including e-cigarettes like JUULs, have entered the market in recent years, bringing new public health concerns with them. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are studying the health and societal impacts of emerging tobacco products. UNC-Chapel Hill experts are available to discuss topics including e-cigarettes’ health impacts, their failure as smoking cessation tools, the differences in how smoking and vaping affect the body, and e-cigarette explosions and the resulting chemical burn injuries.

 

If you’d like to speak with an expert, call (919) 445-8555 or email mediarelations@unc.edu.

 

 

Dr. M. Bradley Drummond is an associate professor of medicine at UNC School of Medicine and the director of the Obstructive Lung Diseases Clinical and Translational Research Center. He can discuss the health consequences of these new tobacco products and how they vary from traditional cigarettes. He can also discuss how these products exacerbate other conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and other chronic lung diseases.

 

 

 

Dr. Adam Goldstein is a professor in the UNC department of family medicine, the director of tobacco intervention programs at UNC School of Medicine, and a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. He can discuss the potential drawbacks versus any potential benefit of using these products as smoking cessation tools and can share evidence-based strategies to stop smoking. He can also speak to trends in teen tobacco use.

 

 

 

 

Kurt Ribisl is a professor and chair of the department of health behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the program leader for Cancer Prevention and Control at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Ribisl specializes in tobacco policy and regulation and can speak to taxation, advertising and marketing of new tobacco products and recommendations for preventing youth access.   

 

 

 

 

Robert Tarran is an associate professor of cell biology and physiology at UNC School of Medicine and a member of UNC Marsico Lung Institute. He can discuss the science of vaping, including how e-cigarettes impact a person’s lungs, including their genes and what happens to the lung’s immune system. He can also speak to the varying toxic effects of different e-cigarette flavors. 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Felicia Williams is an assistant professor of surgery at UNC School of Medicine and her specialties include trauma and burn surgery. She can discuss e-cigarette explosions and resulting injuries, including the need for trauma centers to know about the unique chemical burns that result from e-cigarette explosions.

 

 

 

 

 

Rebecca Williams is a research associate at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. She is a leading expert on internet tobacco sales, age verification, technology and emerging tobacco products, including the wide variety of vaping devices available today. Her research has shown that online e-cigarette vendors routinely sold to minors, a finding that underscores the need for regulations requiring and enforcing age verification for the online sale of e-cigarettes. She can discuss the sales and marketing practices of websites that sell emerging tobacco products, and underage access to these online products.

 

 

P: (919) 445-8555  |  E: mediarelations@unc.edu

UNC-Chapel Hill expert available to discuss E. coli romaine lettuce outbreak

UNC-Chapel Hill expert available to discuss E. coli romaine lettuce outbreak

 

Rachel Noble is a nationally renowned environmental microbiologist from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is available to discuss the current E. coli outbreak. She is a leading researcher in the development of rapid methods for testing E. coli in leafy green produce. She has a patented test that is currently being used by produce packers on the West Coast and it takes less than two hours to yield results (compared to most of the conventional tests that take at least 24 hours to yield results). She can discuss why speed in testing is essential to preventing contaminated produce from reaching consumers, while maintaining economic benefit. She can also discuss causes and pathogens associated with an E. coli outbreak, why people are at risk, and the changing regulatory frameworks for E. coli monitoring in produce.

 

If you’d like to speak with Rachel Noble, call (919) 445-8555 or email mediarelations@unc.edu.

 

P: (919) 445-8555  |  E: mediarelations@unc.edu

UNC-Chapel Hill study finds genetic evidence that magnetic navigation guides loggerhead sea turtles home

UNC-Chapel Hill study finds genetic evidence that magnetic navigation guides loggerhead sea turtles home

 

Loggerhead sea turtles that nest on beaches with similar magnetic fields are genetically similar

 

New research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides valuable insight into the navigation and nesting behaviors of loggerhead sea turtles that could inform future conservation efforts. Loggerhead sea turtles that nest on beaches with similar magnetic fields are genetically similar to one another, according to a new study by UNC-Chapel Hill biologists Kenneth J. Lohmann and J. Roger Brothers. The study was published today in the journal Current Biology.

 

Key takeaways include:

 

  • Magnetic fields are the strongest predictor of genetic similarity among nesting loggerhead sea turtles, regardless of the geographic proximity or environmental traits of nesting beaches.
  • The findings support previous research from Lohmann and Brothers, which indicated that adult loggerhead sea turtles use magnetic fields to find their way back to the beach where they themselves hatched. The new research implies that sometimes the turtles mistakenly nest at a different beach with a similar magnetic field, even if that beach is geographically far away from the beach on which they hatched – like on the opposite coast of Florida.
  • Conservation efforts should consider the importance of a beach’s magnetic field for attracting loggerhead sea turtles. Sea walls, power lines and large beachfront buildings may alter the magnetic fields that turtles encounter.

 

“Loggerhead sea turtles are fascinating creatures that begin their lives by migrating alone across the Atlantic Ocean and back. Eventually they return to nest on the beach where they hatched – or else, as it turns out, on a beach with a very similar magnetic field,” said Kenneth Lohmann, professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill. “This is an important new insight into how sea turtles navigate during their long-distance migrations. It might have important applications for the conservation of sea turtles, as well as other migratory animals such as salmon, sharks and certain birds.”

 

Lohmann and Brothers are available for interviews. Please let us know if you’d like to arrange a time to learn more. The video below, raw b-roll footage and accompanying artwork are all available upon request.

 

To watch a video with more information on the study, view below or visit https://youtu.be/l-mxrQE3zuw.

 

 

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, 111 master’s, 65 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty, 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 322,000 alumni live in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 165 countries. More than 175,000 live in North Carolina.

 

University Communications Contact: Audrey Smith, (919) 445-8555, audrey.smith@unc.edu

 

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss autism

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss autism

 

April is Autism Awareness Month and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers and clinicians are behind much of the leading research and clinical service for autism. UNC-Chapel Hill launched the UNC Autism Research Center in 2017 and is second in the world in peer reviewed research on autism, with 32 departments and almost 100 researchers who have awards for autism-focused research. Our experts are available to discuss topics, including:

 

  • Statistics on the number of individuals with autism in the U.S. and in North Carolina
  • Genetic and environmental risks for autism, including UNC-Chapel Hill’s participation in the nation’s largest study of genetics in autism (SPARK)
  • Brain changes that occur during the first two years of life that result in the emergence of autism, and the scans that can reveal these changes
  • How to recognize the symptoms of autism in a child and the importance of early intervention strategies for infants and toddlers
  • How to support the transition from high school to college or employment for adolescents and young adults with autism
  • Statistics on autism in adulthood including rates of employment, quality of life and service needs
  • The emerging field of aging with autism
  • Clinical trials treating autism with sulforaphane (broccoli extract)

 

 

If you’d like to speak with an expert, call (919) 445-8555 or email mediarelations@unc.edu.

UNC Lineberger researchers identify molecular target for brain cancer that could control tumor growth and lead to better treatment

For immediate use

 

UNC Lineberger researchers identify molecular target for brain cancer that could control tumor growth and lead to better treatment

 

Scientists engineer T-cells to target brain cancer cells and attack tumors

 

 

(Chapel Hill, N.C.— Feb. 28, 2018) –  A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, in collaboration with the Fondazione Istituto di Ricerca e Cura a Carattere Scientifico in Milan, Italy, have genetically engineered cancer-killing immune cells (T-cells) that can hunt and attack brain tumors displaying a new molecular target called CSPG4 that is highly prevalent on brain cancer cells. The engineered T-cells both prolonged survival and controlled tumor growth.

 

Based on the findings from their early, preclinical studies, the researchers believe their approach holds promise for a new immunotherapy treatment for glioblastoma, which is the most lethal primary brain tumor. In the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers report that their preclinical studies showed promise for controlling tumor growth in mouse and cell models for glioblastoma.

 

New treatments are sorely needed for the disease, as patients undergoing conventional treatments, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, typically survive less than a year and a half. Only about one-third of patients with brain and other nervous system cancers live five years.

 

“Glioblastoma is a tumor of the brain that has a very low chance of being cured with current available therapies,” said UNC Lineberger’s Gianpietro Dotti, MD, a professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the senior author of the study. “We know from other clinical studies that CAR-T cells can work in glioblastoma. The problem is that the target antigens used in previous trials have been suboptimal. We have identified a target that is highly expressed in glioblastoma.”

 

The study is part of a research program launched at UNC Lineberger to develop personalized immune-based treatments called chimeric antigen receptor T cell, or CAR-T, therapies. This approach involves removing a patient’s immune cells and genetically engineering them to recognize and attack cancer. Other centers have launched CAR-T clinical trials for glioblastoma, but the UNC Lineberger team designed immune cells that hunt CSPG4, a different target on the surface of glioblastoma cells that they believe could be more potent than other targets.

 

In this study, CSPG4 was highly expressed in 67 percent of the brain cancer samples, leading the researchers to believe this could be a more effective approach to CAR-T cell therapy for a significant number of patients with glioblastoma.

 

“The critical point is that the antigen needs to be expressed in a high proportion of tumor cells, and not in normal cells of the brain,” Dotti said. “We found that the CSPG4 antigen is strongly expressed in 67 percent of the tumors that we analyzed. We also found that this target is also expressed in what we call cancer-initiating cells, which are the stem cells of the tumor. We know it’s very important to target these cells as well because they are probably the cause of tumor recurrence. If you don’t target them, they will come back.”

 

UNC Lineberger researchers found that T-cells genetically engineered to target CSPG4 controlled the growth of tumor cells in multiple models of the disease. In cell cultures, the engineered T-cells efficiently eliminated glioblastoma cells displaying CSPG4, while the cancer continued to grow in the presence of regular T-cells. The engineered T-cells also prolonged survival and controlled tumor growth in glioblastoma models in mice.

 

Doctors at UNC Lineberger and UNC School of Medicine plan to launch clinical trials for glioblastoma. As envisioned, the trials would focus on patients with advanced disease that has recurred and requires additional surgery.

 

To further ensure the safety of patients participating in the future study, researchers plan to incorporate a “safety switch” into the therapy that would allow for the rapid elimination of the T cells in case toxic effects are observed.

 

“We will continue working on a potential new way to try to treat this aggressive tumor,” Dotti said. “These experiments in vitro and in vivo for mice were promising, now we need to see what happens in patients.”

 

To learn more, visit http://unclineberger.org/news/researchers-identify-brain-cancer-immunotherapy-target.

 

-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, 111 master’s, 65 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty, 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 322,000 alumni live in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 165 countries. More than 175,000 live in North Carolina.

 

 

University Communications Contact: Audrey Smith, (919) 445-8555, audrey.smith@unc.edu

 

 

UNC Lineberger Contact: Laura Oleniacz, (919) 445-4219, laura_oleniacz@med.unc.edu

 

 

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss the harsh 2017-2018 flu season

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss the harsh 2017-2018 flu season

 

As the nation experiences the worst flu season in nearly a decade, UNC-Chapel Hill infectious disease researchers are available to discuss infection rates in North Carolina and the United States, tips for preventing the flu, at-risk populations and pediatric flu concerns.

 

If you’d like to speak with an expert, call (919) 445-8555 or email mediarelations@unc.edu.

 

 

 


Dr. David Weber
is a professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and a professor of pediatrics and medicine in the UNC School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases and Department of Pediatrics. He can discuss various clinical aspects and epidemiology of the flu, such as complications arising from infections, current rates of infection in North Carolina and the United States, and which age populations are at high risk of getting the flu and becoming severely ill.

 

 

 

 

Dr. Christopher Hurt is an assistant professor of medicine in the UNC School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases. He can discuss the flu vaccine, symptoms of the flu and how to distinguish between the flu and a common cold, the science behind the flu, and predictions for the current flu season.

 

 

 

Dr. Ravi Jhaveri is an associate professor of pediatrics in the UNC School of Medicine and has been with UNC Children’s Hospital since 2012. He has more than 15 years of experience practicing medicine in the pediatric infectious diseases field. He can discuss the flu virus in children and flu vaccines for children.

 

 

 

 

P: (919) 445-8555  |  E: mediarelations@unc.edu