A look back at our favorite stories of 2017

In 2017, the UNC School of Medicine was home to some fascinating discoveries and amazing stories. Here’s a list of favorites from our news team.

The LSD Trip and Why it Lasts So Long

LSD was discovered by accident by a scientist who thought it might have some medicinal value. That is actually not a crazy thought, though the potent effects of the drug make it difficult to harness as a therapeutic. Bryan Roth’s lab conducted research that for the first time showed how LSD attaches to a brain cell receptor, and in turn the lab found out why acid trips last so long – key discoveries during a time when the medical community is pursuing LSD as a potential treatment for a number of conditions, such as cluster headaches, substance abuse, and anxiety associated with life-threatening conditions. 

Later in the year, Roth's team in collaboration with UCSF researchers, solved the crystal structure of the D4 dopamine receptor in their quest to find better drugs to treat psychiatric conditions.

Autism studies gain national attention

Joe Piven’s team at the Carolina Center for Developmental Disabilities conducted several studies using MRIs and computer models to predict which infants at high risk of developing autism would do so at age 2. The first, published in Nature, received a slew of national attention.

One of the studies showed clear as day the differences in cerebral spinal fluid between babies who would develop autism at age 2 and babies who would not develop the condition. Another study delineated the differences in brain connections using MRIs and computer algorithms. 

Training a Nation

For the past eight years, Anthony Charles, MD, has built the Malawian Surgical Initiative, training Malawian surgeons to care for their own and providing transformative educational experiences for UNC medical students and residents. This year, we traveled to Malawi and spent a week on the ground to see how UNC’s Anthony Charles, MD, MPH, and the Malawian Surgical Initiative are working to transform health care delivery in the country.

Match Day 2017

There’s nothing more special than attending Match Day, when graduating medical students find out where they will do their residencies. Relive the excitement.

UNC Horizons celebrates 23 years, opens new facility

UNC and surrounding communities gathered together this past April to celebrate the grand opening of the new facility for UNC Horizons at Shelton Station in downtown Carrboro. UNC Horizons has been treating new and expecting mothers with substance use disorders, while keeping the mother-child dyad intact, since 1994. We published two features about Horizons: one focused on the program and other focused on the women and families that have benefited from the program.

Grateful for Every Breath

In 1990, Howell Graham was the first patient at UNC Hospitals with cystic fibrosis to receive a double lung transplant. Over the years he has tried several times, but couldn’t quite find the right words to say ‘thank you.’ In 2017, more than two decades after his life saving transplant, Graham talks about the life he’s built since receiving the ultimate gift in this video.

The Art of Mentorship

In the last two years, Susan Girdler, PhD, and medical student Mary Shen have each been honored for their commitment to mentoring others. In conversation, the two discuss the importance of mentorship, supporting women in leadership, and building beneficial relationships.

Camp Celebrate: Play with a Purpose

For the 35th straight summer, Camp Celebrate, a camp for pediatric burn survivors, organized by the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center, welcomed campers for a weekend of fun and healing. During the weekend long camp, participants will canoe, swim, shoot bows and arrows and BB guns. They make friends, overcome fears, gain confidence. Read about this summer's event and the camp.

Self-made Scientist

Andrew Hinton was working in the shipyards around Norfolk, Virginia, when his young daughter was diagnosed with severe food allergies. That diagnosis, as stressful as it was, gave him the passion to change the course of his life, which led him to the UNC School of Medicine where he is enrolled in the Biomedical and Biological Sciences Program and beginning work towards earning his PhD. Read about his story.

A new treatment for postpartum depression

Researchers led by Samantha Meltzer-Brody announced the publication of results from a multi-site phase 2 clinical trial with brexanolone, an investigational medication, in the treatment of severe postpartum depression (PPD). The work was published in the Lancet and featured here.

Smart nanotechnology startup funded

A Research Triangle Park startup founded by biomedical engineer Zhen Gu received a $5.8 million cash infusion to continue translation efforts of ‘smart’ insulin devices. Read about his research, including the original smart insulin work done in collaboration UNC diabetes doctor John Buse and other scientists. Gu's technology was also used this year to dissolve fat cells.

New clues to the cause of ALS

Scientists have long known that a protein called TDP-43 clumps together in brain cells of people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and is associated with neuron death. This same protein is thought to cause muscle degeneration in patients with sporadic inclusion body myositis (sIBM), leading many researchers to think that TDP-43 is one of the causative factors in ALS and sIBM. Now, researchers led by Todd Cohen found that a specific chemical modification promotes TDP-43 clumping in animals and managed to reverse the clumping in muscle cells to prevent sIBM-related muscle weakness. Learn more in this short video. Cohen also found out how brain cells can go bad, leading to Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists create stem cell therapy to treat lung fibrosis conditions

A team of scientists from the UNC School of Medicine and North Carolina State University (NCSU) has developed promising research towards a possible stem cell treatment for several lung conditions, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and cystic fibrosis – often-fatal conditions that affect tens of millions of Americans. Read this popular story here.

From the Ground Up: The State of Cancer Care in Malawi

Satish Gopal, MD, head of UNC’s cancer care efforts at UNC-Project Malawi, welcomed collaborators from across the region for the Malawi Cancer Care Symposium on in August. Read this Q&A with Dr. Gopal, who was also honored by UNC-Chapel Hill as the winter commencement speaker.

How to turn heart scar tissue into healthy heart muscle

Li Qian published two major papers detailing her quest to heal hearts after heart attacks. One was in Cell Reports and the other in Nature.

Sharpless sworn in as director of the National Cancer Institute

First, UNC School of Medicine graduate Francis Collins was named director of the National Institutes of Health, and now UNC's Ned Sharpless will serve as director of the National Cancer Institute within the NIH. Sharpless, who was the director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, was sworn in during an October ceremony. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and received his MD from the UNC School of Medicine.

The Hunt for an HIV Cure

In recognition of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, UNC Health Care and our friends at StoryDrivenMedia created this video featuring HIV Cure Center researchers David Margolis, MD, and Nancie Archin, PhD, as well as clinical trial participant Rob Hill.

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