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UNC labs awarded Emerging Challenges in Biomedical Research grants

In an effort to bolster Alzheimer’s disease research efforts at UNC, the School of Medicine Office of Research, in partnership with NC TraCS, is funding three neuroscience research teams working in this critical area.

Jennifer Brennan, PhD, director of the UNC School of Medicine’s Office of Research, recently announced the three winners of the School of Medicine’s Emerging Challenges in Biomedical Research (ECBR) grants, which are one-year, $50,000 grants awarded to teams of scientists working in strategic research areas.

“There’s been decades of research and we’re still trying to get at the basic mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease and develop potential therapies,” Brennan said.

According to Blossom Damania, PhD, Vice Dean for Research at the UNC School of Medicine, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative was created in 2013 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to advance research in the neurosciences. Accelerating research on Alzheimer’s Disease is featured prominently in the BRAIN initiative, and the 21st Century Cures Act, which was passed by Congress in December 2016, highlighted the need for additional funding for Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Given our nationally recognized neuroscience program here at UNC, we felt it was timely to make an investment in Alzheimer’s disease research,” Damania said.

In an effort to bolster Alzheimer’s disease research efforts at UNC, the School of Medicine Office of Research is funding three neuroscience research teams working in this critical area.

Last year, the Office of Research identified insect-borne diseases and the Zika virus as the research topic for the ECBR grants.

“Last year, the Zika outbreak was emerging and we knew that we had significant virology expertise here and there was an emergent need to kick start the research by providing nascent teams with pilot funds. That effort was very successful,” Brennan said, noting several grant recipients’ projects have received additional NIH funding including a $3.2M diagnostic contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently awarded to Aravinda de Silva’s lab.

This year’s awards bring together interdisciplinary teams using a diversity of techniques and approaches to Alzheimer’s pathology and therapy.

Rick Meeker, PhD, professor of neurology, Todd Cohen, PhD, assistant professor of neurology, are co-principal investigators on the ECBR pilot Inflammation, Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Vulnerability. Other team members working on this research project include Paul Carney, MD, Professor and chief of pediatric neurology, Tom DeMarse, PhD, research assistant professor of neurology, Zibo Li, associate professor of radiology and Director of the Cyclotron and Radiochemistry Research Program, Hong Yuan, PhD, research associate professor of radiology and director of the BRIC small animal imaging facility, and Sheryl Moy, PhD, professor of psychiatry.

Mohanish Deshmuhk, PhD, professor of cell biology and physiology also teamed with Todd Cohen to lead the ECBR pilot- Strategies from the Healthy Brain for Alzheimer’s Disease; Focus on MiR-29.

Aravind Asokan, PhD, an associate professor of genetics, and Juan Song, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology, are co-PIs on the pilot- Aquaporin gene therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Paul Carney, Todd Cohen, Mohanish Deshmuk , Rick Meeker, and Juan Song are members of the UNC Neuroscience Center. Aravind Asokan is a member of the Gene Therapy Center he and Mohanish Deshmukh are members of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We’re interested in funding research to address emerging challenges in medicine, and Alzheimer’s Disease, which affects more than 5 million Americans, is a critical area of concern, especially in North Carolina, where we have a burgeoning aging population,” Brennan said. “The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is estimated to triple by 2050, which is going to be a huge burden on the health care system. We really need to invest in research to understand the biology behind the disease and its progression and to uncover new therapies.”