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Tuesday March 28th

Research Roundup: Studies you need to hear about

Photo courtesy of Ross Boyce, studying malaria.
Buy Photos Photo courtesy of Ross Boyce, studying malaria.

Innovation is alive and well in the research endeavors by UNC professors. From a skin patch that dissolves fat, a rapid diagnostic test for malaria that saves children’s lives, expansive HIV intervention and revolutionary findings in bronchitis and mucins, UNC researchers lead the way in improving patients’ lives and increasing knowledge within their fields. With all the research coming out the University, here are the studies to know about. 

Skin patch in mice proves hopeful for combatting obesity 

In a study led by Zhen Gu, a professor in the UNC-NC State Department of Biomedical Engineering and Li Qiang, an assistant professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University, a possible treatment for obesity and diabetes was studied via the design of a small skin patch on obese mice populations.

“This is a different kind of approach to reduce the white fats to the brown ones so people can lose weight, get rid of fat and reduce complications,” Gu said.

The design behind the patch promotes browning, a process that occurs when white fat, which stores energy, turns into brown fat that burns energy. Gu and Qiang are still working towards finding out which combination of drugs works best for mice before bringing their ideas to a human trial.

Technology leads the way for HIV patient intervention

One research study that works directly in the lives of humans is active at the UNC/Emory Center for Innovative Technology (iTech). iTech just received an additional $13 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue efforts in developing interventions for youth at risk for or living with HIV, some of which include apps focused on the exposure among adolescents as well as on HIV testing and delivery of home tests.

“Technology is pervasive,” said Lisa Hightow-Weidman, the project’s principal investigator and UNC professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases. “It's embedded into the lives of youth and it's comfortable and familiar, and our view is that while it may not be always enough to completely change the health behaviors we're targeting, it's really a way to engage them in conversation, and for some, it's really a way to impact behavior change.”

10 years of research is going even further to help lung disease patients

NIH awarded $12.5 million to UNC researchers developing drug compounds to clear mucus from the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis and asthma. The research, which began 10 years ago to explore basic aspects of mucus that were not understood well at that time, is now delving deeper in hopes of improving lives.

“This next phase of the grant is to take some of those therapeutic ideas that we had and now literally take them into new medications and test whether or not those medications clear the mucus from their lungs,” said Richard Boucher, director of the Marsico Lung Institute and co-principal investigator. “(For cystic fibrosis patients) it's like you have the worst chest cold of your life every day of your life. That population desperately needs to get mucus out of their lungs.”

School of Medicine makes breakthrough in bronchitis tools

Mucins - the protein in mucus - abound in the research of UNC professors. In research led by Mehmet Kesimer, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the School of Medicine, higher concentrations of mucins were associated with disease severity of chronic bronchitis, which is the first ever discovery leading towards the development of diagnostic and prognostic tools.

“It's not going to happen tomorrow, but we will try to simplify and make it simple enough that it's available in the hospital," Kesimer said. "It can be used for world class purposes or can be used for diagnostic purposes to improve prognosis, which is important. That is the change that's coming in the near future."

Malaria test developed to lessen burden of disease

Some research conducted by the University targeted specific areas in the world and the unique problems and diseases they face there. This was the case for Ross Boyce, a fellow in the Division of Infectious Diseases, who worked in Uganda for five years. After observing half of his patients suffer from malaria, he decided to create a rapid diagnostic test to differentiate between severe and mild forms of malaria.

“It's overwhelmingly the major burden of disease, and at the same time, the resources at a place like this are very, very minimal,” Boyce said. “Adhering to different guideline-based therapies for severe malaria is not necessarily feasible all the time. They don't always have the medicine, so trying to find out a way to ... do more with what you have is kind of the inspiration for a lot of what I'm trying to do.”

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