Category Archives: Innovation

Revolutionizing Heart and Vascular Care

At UNC Health Care, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to serve our patients. One way we do that is through partnerships and collaboration. I am proud to say that, through our partnership with UNC REX Healthcare, we recently opened the doors of the new, state-of-the-art North Carolina Heart & Vascular Hospital on the Raleigh campus of UNC REX.

North Carolina has the 12th highest incidence of heart and vascular disease in the country. We lose about 18,000 people annually from heart disease. At the same time, the population continues to grow, increasing the demand for quality health care providers.

The 114-bed hospital is staffed by leading physicians in Wake County, and is now the hub for a premier heart and vascular program in the Southeast. Since we are an academic medical center, we also bring in medical students from the School of Medicine who are training in interventional cardiology and vascular surgery. This not only helps advance the teaching mission of the medical school, it also provides a closer connection to the research and advanced treatments provided by the Medical Center in Chapel Hill.

Since all of UNC REX’s heart and vascular services moved into this new facility, there are plans to improve and repurpose vacated space on its main campus to improve patient care. For example, part of this space will be converted into a behavioral health zone for patients being treated in the hospital’s emergency department – fulfilling a critical need in Wake County.

For more information on North Carolina Heart & Vascular, click here.

Today’s Research Is the Key to Tomorrow’s Treatments

At the UNC School of Medicine, our focus is on one thing: improving the health of patients across the state and the nation. We are nationally recognized for providing outstanding care and serving countless people across the state, day in and day out. We also earn national recognition for our research. In fact, this month alone, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded researchers at UNC SOM three grants totaling more than $179 million. These investments in research are also investments in people, because they lead to better care for patients.

For instance, Baby Connectome Project (BCP) will help scientists to better understand what is needed to support brain development in the critical first years of life. This $4 million grant awarded to UNC SOM and the University of Minnesota will enable researchers to track the circuitries of the brain and its development from birth through childhood to uncover factors contributing to healthy brain development.

The UNC SOM was also included in a $157 million grant to launch Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO). This initiative aims to investigate how exposure to environmental factors in a child’s early development, from conception through early childhood, can influence later health outcomes. This means understanding how air pollution, stress and other factors can affect the biological process, with the goal of ensuring that every baby will have the opportunity to lead a healthy life.

Finally, the UNC/Emory Center for Innovative Technology, or iTech, will allow researchers to develop ways to address barriers to HIV care. The $18 million in funding will help researchers to target 15 to 24-year-olds at risk of or currently living with HIV through mobile apps that are intended to increase HIV testing. This means developing electronic health interventions for those who test positive for the virus, ultimately leading them to care and antiretroviral therapy.

These are all some of our most challenging health care issues. Thanks to the support from NIH, our researchers are making headway in finding the underlying causes – and potentially finding cures – for these challenges.

For more information about the Baby Connectome Project, click here.

For more information about ECHO, click here.

For more information about iTech, click here.

Commemorating Seven Decades of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Last week, I had the privilege of providing remarks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Public Health Grand Rounds – Seven Decades of Firsts with Seven CDC Directors. The event marked the 70th anniversary of the CDC. It gave former directors, including myself, an opportunity to reflect on the CDC’s great work in the past, its relevance and continued importance today, and its need to maintain public health in the future.

As the director of the CDC from 1990 to 1993, I saw tremendous change in public health. The CDC began cultivating partnerships with academia, public health agencies and the private sector. At the same time, the CDC started to face more complex challenges. In addition to its focus on communicable diseases, the CDC embraced its role as the nation’s prevention agency, formally adding “and Prevention” to its name. As the CDC has continued to change to address changing needs in public health, I am happy to say that, in my opinion, the CDC name and mission are still as strong as ever.

The focus on prevention was reflected in many of our efforts during my time as CDC director. For instance, in the early ’90s, the CDC funded prevention programs aimed at tackling the expansion of HIV/AIDS. In 1991, the CDC identified a sharp increase in cases of tuberculosis that were related to HIV infection and AIDS; in that same year, the CDC reported that the number of reported AIDS cases in the United States had reached 200,000. Recognizing that prevention activities were needed at the community level, the CDC funded five HIV/AIDS demonstration projects that extended prevention efforts to community sites and elicited the help of community residents and peer groups to motivate behavior change.

The CDC played critical roles in the past, and it continues to be a vital force for global public health today. Outbreaks of viral diseases such as Ebola in 2015 and Zika this year remind us of the important role that the CDC plays with regard to education and protection.

The CDC drives policy and action nationally and around the globe, as well as right here in North Carolina. It is a vital resource as we work to ensure the best patient outcomes for people across our state, and I am confident that the CDC will continue to be a global leader in disease control, prevention and protection.

Research Leads to Better Patient Outcomes

As dean of the UNC School of Medicine and CEO of UNC Health Care, I have the fortune of working alongside some of the best and brightest minds in health care. Through research, innovation and advanced health care delivery, they are responsible for tackling some of our most pressing health care challenges.

For instance, for the first time, a global research effort led by John Buse, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine and director of the UNC Diabetes Center, determined that a new Type 2 diabetes therapy proves better than traditional insulin injections.

The drug IDegLira proved to be more effective than basal insulin glargine injections at reducing the average amount of blood sugar over the course of several months. The new therapy was also associated with weight loss and a substantially lower rate of hypoglycemia – i.e., low blood sugar – compared with more commonly used injections, a major development in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.

Another area where our researchers are making breakthroughs is in autism and neurodegenerative diseases.  Dr. Mark Zylka, PhD, associate professor of cell biology and physiology at UNC, led a team of researchers who published a study on the role that a new class of fungicides could play in autism and neurodegenerative disease. Along with his team, Dr. Zylka found a class of commonly used fungicides that produce gene expression changes similar to those in people with autism and neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease. The study, published in Nature Communications, describes a new way to home in on chemicals that have the potential to affect brain functions.

This is the kind of research that makes UNC one of the leading academic medical centers in the nation. More importantly, research drives better care and leads to more effective treatments.

For more information on the diabetes study, click here.

For more information on the fungicide study, click here.

Using Technology to Research and More Effectively Treat Postpartum Depression

At UNC, we are always looking for new and innovative ways of delivering better, more complete care. Recently, researchers from the UNC School of Medicine launched a free iPhone app to engage women in a genetics research study about postpartum depression (PPD) and most importantly, to understand the causes and find more effective treatments.

The ResearchKit app, called PPD ACT, surveys women to identify those who have had symptoms of PPD. The app also invites certain women based on survey responses to provide DNA samples so that researchers can study the genes of those impacted by PPD.

Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH, director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, and Patrick Sullivan, MD, director of the UNC Center for Psychiatric Genomics, led efforts to design the study and develop the app.

This is the kind of innovative, meaningful work that makes UNC a leader in medicine and enables us to continue best serving our growing patient population.

To download the app, click here.

To learn more about the study, click here.

What will health care look like in 2020?

The delivery and coordination of care in our country and across the world continues to change. On Feb. 26-27 in Raleigh, leaders in health care will gather to discuss the future of health care at CED’s Life Science conference. As a conference co-chair, I hope you will join me to explore how the convergence of medicine, technology and regulation will impact health care moving forward. To learn more about the conference and why you should attend, please view the video below.