Category Archives: UNC School of Medicine

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.

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.

Expanding the School of Medicine Across the State

The UNC School of Medicine serves North Carolinians in all 100 counties of the state, reaching rural communities and underserved populations. And that task is only getting bigger as our population continues to grow. That is why we are taking steps to address this challenge, including expanding our School of Medicine to Wilmington, North Carolina.

Nearly 1 million North Carolinians live in areas that do not have adequate access to primary care physicians and services. It’s no secret that our state needs more doctors, and the UNC School of Medicine takes this very seriously.

Beginning in March 2016, the School of Medicine will open a campus at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, a teaching hospital in Wilmington. Up to 24 third- and fourth-year medical students will complete one-year core clerkships in an environment where today’s brightest minds can expand what’s possible in medicine.

Additionally, students in this program will have the opportunity to complete a Physicians Leadership Certificate Program delivered through the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

We look forward to continuing to expand the reach of the next generation of physicians across our state.

More information on the program can be found here.

 

 

Connect NC: An Investment in the Future

At UNC Health Care and the UNC School of Medicine, we are constantly working to improve our services for patients, our research and the way we train physicians to best meet our mission. However, in one area we are lagging behind.

At the UNC School of Medicine, Berryhill Hall is where our students train. Built more than 50 years ago, it served the needs of its time. But its auditorium-style classroom is antiquated, and it can no longer accommodate our anticipated class size of 230.

In recent years, teaching styles have changed. Our students now learn through collaborative teaching, and advanced technology is integrated into the classroom, mirroring the way that modern doctors should practice. Class size is also increasing. A larger class size is necessary to help meet the growing demand for physicians to serve the needs of our state.

Since 1879, the UNC School of Medicine has had the distinct privilege of training the next generations of physicians, clinicians, scientists and health professionals to serve North Carolinians. In fact, the UNC School of Medicine serves North Carolinians in all 100 counties of the state, reaching rural communities and underserved populations. That is something we are very proud of, but it also is a challenge, given the rapidly growing and aging population.

On March 15, North Carolina voters will decide on a proposed $2 billion bond package that would go to higher education, safety and parks, among other things. If passed, the bond would allocate $68 million toward renovating Berryhill Hall.

An up-to-date facility with advanced technology would help us attract today’s brightest minds, accommodate a larger class size and continue developing groundbreaking research.

To remain a leader in medicine and to continue serving the needs of our growing population, we need to provide an environment where today’s brightest minds can expand what is possible in medicine.

Please vote on March 15.

 

Partnership Accelerates HIV/AIDS Research

Earlier this year, UNC-Chapel Hill and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a global, research-based pharmaceutical and health care company, announced our public-private partnership to zero in on what used to be perceived as an impossible task: finding a cure for AIDS.

This new venture comes after significant progress at the UNC School of Medicine and GSK to develop successful treatment options for HIV/AIDS. Qura Therapeutics, the new company we are partnering to create, will manage the business side of the new venture. The HIV Cure Center will serve as the hub of all of our AIDS research and will be located on our campus.

At UNC Health Care, we believe that smart, forward-looking and innovative partnerships are the key to a successful future in health care. The HIV Cure Center is one of those partnerships.

After 30 years of developing treatments at UNC, we see this joint venture as a tremendous step in tackling one of the most challenging health care problems of our time.

To learn more about Qura Therapeutics and the HIV Cure Center, click here.

UNC Health Care on Ebola

Hospitals across the country are preparing for the possible admission of patients with Ebola. While North Carolina has not had a case of Ebola, UNC Health Care is prepared for the safe care of patients with these types of highly communicable diseases.

The safety of our patients and co-workers will remain, as always, our top priority.

A group of experts at UNC hospitals and the UNC School of Medicine is working to ensure that all appropriate individuals are trained and equipped to protect patients, guests, the community and each other if we do admit a patient with Ebola.

An inpatient location for Ebola care has been designated at UNC Hospitals if needed. This area has space for patient care, point-of-care laboratory testing, equipment storage and separate areas for donning and doffing personal protective equipment.

While Ebola is a serious illness, keep in mind that the disease has not spread through casual contact, air, water or food grown or legally purchased in the United States.  The virus can be spread only via direct contact with bodily fluids, objects contaminated with the virus (e.g., needles, medical equipment) and infected animals (by contact with blood, fluids or infected meat). Ebola outbreaks have occurred primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa.  Still, it’s important to take precautionary measures to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases including Ebola. As with any other infectious disease, washing your hands frequently is one of the best methods to protect yourself and others from contracting the infection.

Our Ebola Coordinating Group is chaired by Dr. David Weber, medical director of Hospital Epidemiology, and co-chaired by Dr. Billy Fischer, Assistant Professor of Medicine, who treated Ebola patients in West Africa this summer. We are working in close consultation with the State of North Carolina’s Division of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There is significant and understandable anxiety about this situation. Please rest assured that we have a comprehensive plan in place. We will continue to update our co-workers and the general public with relevant updates as they become available.

To learn more about our Ebola preparedness, click here.