Announcing the Five Teams Receiving Emerging Challenges Grants

The UNC School of Medicine awarded the 2019 Emerging Challenges in Biomedical Research Awards to five teams conducting basic science research in the fields of machine-learning, flaviviruses, vaping, and LPL trafficking

The School of Medicine Office of Research provided five teams up to $50,000 in funding as part of the 2019 Emerging Challenges in Biomedical Research (ECBR) Mechanism. ECBR awards are meant to provide pilot funding for early stage projects relevant to NIH priorities, and the Fall 2019 round was to recognize the importance and impact of fundamental research by supporting interdisciplinary, technology-focused, basic science research that can lead to new discoveries or technologies. Furthermore, basic science research related to vaping was considered high-priority due to the current vaping epidemic and reports on vaping related illnesses and deaths.

“Basic science research leads to the mechanistic understanding of living systems and creates foundational knowledge necessary to develop new drugs, treatments, and new technologies” said Blossom Damania, PhD, UNC School of Medicine Vice Dean for Research. “The importance of basic science and discovery research cannot be over-emphasized.  We are very proud of the outstanding basic science research done here at UNC and were pleased to receive a record number of applications from a spectrum of topics and disciplines”. With five awards, the School of Medicine Office of Research is supporting the largest number of projects in a single ECBR round.

One awarded team consists of Qi Zhang, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Helen Lazear, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and will develop a novel technique to characterize xrRNAs from flaviviruses, vector-borne pathogens that cause disease, to better understand the virus-host interactions that dictate flavivirus vector specificity.

Saskia Neher, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and Stephanie Gupton, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology will use their funding to determine how insulin mobilizes LPL in secretory vesicles and use this information to better understand the dyslipidemia and increased cardiovascular disease risk seen in diabetic patients.

Melissa Herman, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Robert Tarran, PhD, Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology will investigate the role of vitamin E acetate on pulmonary inflammation and neural immune activation to illuminate new information about the pathology of electronic-cigarette vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI).

The second vaping-related proposal is led by Samir Kelada, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Genetics, Ilona Jaspers, PhD, Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, and Timothy Moran, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics. Together they will use the Collaborative Cross murine resource to create a novel mouse model of EVALI, and characterize the genetic basis of adverse responses to e-cigarette aerosols.

The fifth awarded team led by Corbin Jones, PhD, Professor in the Integrative Program for Biological and Genome Sciences and the Department of Biology, Ross Boyce, MD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine, and Dan Schrider, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetics will aim to use machine-learning to identify the genetic, evolutionary and ecological forces that lead to differences among mosquito vectors.

 “The awarded teams not only exemplify the depth of basic science research in the School of Medicine, but also the collaborative, multidisciplinary nature of the research done here” notes Damania. “All of these teams are capitalizing unique strengths of individual members to address big questions and we look forward to seeing the outcome of their endeavors”.

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