Category Archives: research

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.

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.