The School of Medicine’s pediatrics department will use a $10 million gift to establish a center to identify new ways to treat mucopolysaccharidoses, or MPS, a group of rare genetic disorders.
The gift, from Vaughn and Nancy Bryson, who in 1960 both graduated from UNC’s School of Pharmacy, will create the Dr. Joseph Muenzer MPS Research & Treatment Center, which will identify strategies for comprehensive care for people suffering from MPS. The Brysons made a $2.5 million commitment to the University in 2021 and later increased it to $10 million.
The MPS Research & Treatment Center will honor Muenzer, one of the world’s foremost experts in congenital metabolic disorders and the Bryson Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics. Muenzer’s research includes progressive brain disease in children with MPS II, also known as Hunter Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects mental development and numerous organs and can lead to death.
Physical manifestations of Hunter syndrome include distinct facial features, a large head and an enlarged abdomen. People with Hunter syndrome may also experience hearing loss, thickening of the heart valves leading to a decline in cardiac function, obstructive airway disease, sleep apnea and enlargement of the liver and spleen. Range of motion and mobility may also be affected.
In 2018, Muenzer was a key investigator to administer a gene therapy treatment to patients with Hunter Syndrome. He developed a mouse model for Hunter Syndrome at Carolina two decades ago to help develop therapies for it. Additionally, Muenzer’s research includes developing new avenues of treatment for children with MPS, including clinical trials to test new forms of intravenous enzyme replacement therapy as well as alternative therapies, such as gene therapy and intrathecal drug delivery devices.
“Creating this center for MPS has been a dream of mine for the last 10 to 15 years,” Muenzer said in an article in the University’s newsletter, The Well. “This gift from the Bryson family will allow us to expand our care and treatment of children with MPS and offer the specialized care needed for this ultra-rare group of diseases. We have the expertise here to give the best care, enroll additional clinical trials and build on the legacy of MPS research at UNC. And our hope is that this center will serve as a model for other rare-disease centers around the world.”
Vaughn Bryson retired after more than 30 years at Eli Lilly and Co., where he was president and CEO while also serving on the GAA Board of Directors and the Dean’s Advisory Board at UNC. Nancy Bryson served on UNC’s Board of Visitors from 1993 to 1997 and on the board of the Arts and Sciences Foundation from 1994 to 2001. In 2008, the couple received the William Richardson Davie Award, which recognizes extraordinary service to the University.
Wesley Burks, CEO of UNC Health and dean of the School of Medicine, said the Brysons’s donation will allow Muenzer and his colleagues to expand their efforts, which will result in “more advanced treatments for patients living with MPS.”
Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said he has been inspired by the Brysons’s dedication to UNC for decades. “The passion that Vaughn and Nancy share for supporting faculty and honoring superb talent exemplifies their commitment to our University and to ensuring the best possible health care for all North Carolinians,” he said.
The Bryson Foundation and the Bryson family have been supporters of other UNC initiatives, particularly with the School of Medicine. They’ve established the Bryson Distinguished Professorship in Neurology and the Bryson Distinguished Professorship in Pediatric Genetics, both of which have enhanced the treatment options and research capabilities for patients.
Correction: A previous article incorrectly reported the Dr. Joseph Muenzer MPS Research & Treatment Center would identify strategies for comprehensive care and treatments for just mucopolysaccharidosis II, or Hunter syndrome. The center will research treatments for the family of mucopolysaccharidoses disorders.