NIH grants enable research

Thirteen UNC projects receive money

As part of the broader effort to stimulate the nation’s struggling economy, 13 UNC projects have received nearly $11.8 million from the National Institutes of Health’s Challenge Grants to tackle scientific and health-related challenges.

The two-year grants, provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be used to provide salaries for research faculty and expand the resources of projects aimed at bridging knowledge gaps and benefiting society.

One project, which will receive nearly $873,000 over two years, is focused on discovering small molecules that can be used to explore the biology of chromatin — the protein that makes up chromosomes. The project could hold broad implications, including discovering new therapies for cancer and metabolic diseases.

Stephen Frye, the principal investigator for one of the 13 selected projects, said the grant has allowed him to retain staff and cover research costs in the face of budget cuts.

“We really would not be able to continue our research without this funding,” he said. “It is definitely going to accelerate our process.”

The Health, Opportunity, Partnerships and Empowerment Accounts project, led by nutrition professor Marci Campbell, received $954,000 and aims to provide support groups for women dealing with weight loss, financial problems and poverty.

“The Challenge Grant will help us build resources because, before now, we haven’t had any actual resources,” she said.

Campbell said the grant will help women create savings accounts within the program. The women will receive matching funds through their accounts to put toward furthering their education, purchasing a home or creating a business.

“You can talk the talk, and it is good to have a budget, but without the ability to get a loan or get help with savings, it is hard for women to make a difference,” she said.

The 13 projects at UNC were among nearly 250 selected nationally from a competitive pool of more than 20,000 applicants.

“That’s a one percent success rate,” Frye said. “We feel very fortunate to have received one of the grants, and we’re certainly going to make the most of it.”

Unlike most stimulus funding grants, which create new projects and programs, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Andy Johns said the Challenge Grants provide financial assistance for established projects in need of further funding for expansion.

Johns said the grants are largely a testament to the quality of UNC’s research, which has been steadily growing over the years.

“When you’re competing with so many universities, we thought we would be lucky to receive five, or even fewer than that,” he said.

Johns said he hopes the 13 projects will outlast their two-year grants.

“We hope they will produce significant results in themselves but that they also serve as launching pads for Carolina to continue these projects beyond the funding and to expand our portfolio of research,” he said.

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