|Five new Gillings Innovation Labs address pressing public health needs|
|April 23, 2008|
The UNC School of Public Health has announced funding for five new Gillings Innovation Labs (GILs), ranging from water testing in developing countries to mental health services in North Carolina.
The projects were among 36 proposals submitted earlier this
year by School faculty, in collaboration with many other individuals and
organizations. Proposals were reviewed by more than 100 subject-matter experts
from around the country. Final decisions were made by the School's senior
leadership, including the dean, associate deans and department chairs. Funding
is for a maximum two years.
"We are delighted by the strong, innovative proposals we
received for these, the first competitively awarded GILs," Dean Barbara K. Rimer
said. "They each address high priority public health needs. All have potential
for significant impact. Three of the projects focus specifically on North Carolina, two
others on developing countries around the world. They're all highly
interdisciplinary - within UNC as well as with universities, agencies and
businesses around the world. The projects showcase our ability to apply
different skills and perspectives to find the best solutions to big problems.
That's the true spirit of the GILs - and our School."
GILs are funded through a generous gift to the School of Public Health by Dennis and Joan
Gillings. Each innovation lab will engage in one or more of these areas:
high-impact research, demonstration projects and teaching practices which anticipate future public health challenges and accelerate sustainable solutions in North Carolina and
around the world.
Here are the five new GILs:
for multiple respiratory viruses could help infants and children
This team, led by epidemiology professor Ralph Baric, aims to develop a single dose vaccine, delivered by the respiratory route (not needles) for infants and children in the developing world. The vaccine will have a shorter production cycle than current vaccines (which can take up to a year to culture). This is critical in fighting emerging diseases. The team wants to find a low-cost, multivalent single dose vaccine that is stable at room temperature, all of which is important if the vaccine is to be administered in developing countries.
Worldwide, more than 5 million children under age 5 die of
respiratory infections, including pneumonia and influenza. Vaccines for these
diseases in the developing world are usually unavailable, or they are costly, don't protect
against the right viruses, are not stable enough to be portable in many parts
of the world and require multiple dosing, all of which discourage their use in
This project, if successful, would make the vaccines more accessible in developing countries. Also, it would revolutionize vaccine design through the use of synthetic genomics and computer-based genome design. It could also provide a novel, easily-accessible paradigm for the design and delivery of other vaccines for global health.
Project partners include: UNC
School of Medicine, Carolina Vaccine
Institute, Global Vaccines (a not-for-profit company in Research Triangle Park, NC).
Mental Health System
Improvement in North Carolina
Caring for people who have serious mental
illness, substance abuse, and/or developmental disabilities has become one of North Carolina's
greatest public health challenges. Problems abound, including short
supply of community-based crisis services, over-use of state psychiatric
hospitals, the many people with serious needs who do not receive the most
effective services, and growing numbers of people with mental illness who are
detained in jails across the state.
This innovation lab, led by Joseph Morrissey, professor of health policy and administration, UNC School of Public Health; professor of psychiatry, UNC School of Medicine; and Deputy Director for Research, UNC's Sheps Center, will use a variety of systems dynamics modeling tools in partnership with community representatives to address these shortcomings.
the first year, the team will map the clinical, organizational, and financial
factors driving use of mental health services in the tri-county Orange, Person, Chatham
(OPC) and Durham County (DC) areas. These sites offer both a predominantly rural
laboratory (OPC) and an urban counterpart (DC) to apply qualitative and
quantitative methods, stakeholder participation, and computer simulations to
identify leverage points and intervention strategies for enhancing system
performance. In the second year, the team will scale up to statewide
implementation. These statewide models will allow the team to assess financial
and human impacts of alternative policies and ways to improve the
accessibility, quality, and effectiveness of public mental health services
locally and throughout North Carolina.
will work with colleagues from the UNC Schools of Public Health and Medicine;
the UNC Sheps
Center for Health Services Research; Duke University
and a variety of community partners.
collected by hospitals, ambulance services, could mean better disease
The data's there - if only we could link the information held in many different systems, then we would have a better picture of how diseases develop and spread. With that clearer picture, we'd have a better chance of preventing disease and reducing human suffering.
That's the theory behind the Gillings Innovation Lab led by David Richardson, assistant professor of epidemiology, UNC School of Public Health. He and a team from the UNC schools of Information and Library Science and Medicine plan to develop innovative computer systems that can link and analyze data collected in electronic hospital and ambulance records. The idea is to get a clearer picture of diseases and how they are treated. The hope is that more complete information will result in a better understanding of the causes of disease, and more effective efforts at prevention and/or treatment. The team will use asthma as a model, seeing who is affected most by the disease, investigating environmental causes, and assessing the kind of treatment patients receive, especially if attacks result in hospital or emergency room visits. Local and state medical service providers will then have a model to help them make better decisions about health care services, including education.
Portable field tests could effectively check water for fecal contamination
Mark Sobsey, Kenan University Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering, UNC School of Public Health, will lead this Gillings Innovation Lab's efforts to develop and evaluate simple, portable field tests to detect fecal contamination in water. Infectious diseases coming from fecal contamination of water include diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, enteric fevers and infectious hepatitis, killing more than 1.6 million people per year and making billions sick. This project aims to develop simple fecal microbe tests that are as reliable as current standard tests, but that will not require sophisticated, expensive and fragile laboratory equipment, infrastructure, energy (electricity) or advanced training of test users in environmental microbiology or water quality analysis.
The ultimate goal is to make these simple, reliable tests
available commercially to people around the world. Team members anticipate a
test could be available in about two years. This team comprises scientists from
a number of universities and organizations, including NOAA
Center for Coastal Environmental
Health and Biomolecular Research; University
of Puerto Rico; University
of Johannesburg; Department of
Microbiology, University of Venda (South Africa);
Resource Development International - Cambodia; Seoul National University
School of Public Health.
pollutants in city air are most harmful
Air pollution is linked to tens of thousands of deaths each year. Yet, when scientists conduct toxicology studies in the lab, they see few health effects from exposure to measured pollutants found in the air around us. What is missing in these studies, says William Vizuete, is that people breathe a mixture of pollutants that include chemicals that are only created in the air, and are typically not measured. Vizuete will lead the Gillings Innovation Lab that will look for easier, more effective ways of finding and measuring these toxic pollutants that people actually breathe, especially in cities.
Studies in the School
of Public Health's
rooftop environmental chamber, where air quality is examined, have shown that
pollutants are 5-10 times more harmful when aged in sunlight. This project will
use the chamber data to identify the pollutants that are harmful to people's
lungs. Researchers also will work to develop a portable device that uses
technology similar to what is used in the rooftop chamber. This advance would
allow them to use cultured human lung cells to study air in the field where
pollution occurs. Vizuete's team will include scientists from the UNC School of
These GILs join two other labs named last fall - the Center
for Innovative Clinical Trials and the Carolina Global Water Partnership.
Additionally, Rimer said three other proposals submitted this spring have been
identified for accelerated review and funding.
|Last updated April 16, 2009|