Researchers Reap $11.8 Million in NIH Challenge Grants

Researchers at Carolina have secured backing for several projects funded by a new, highly competitive federal grant program that aims to tackle high impact scientific and health challenges.

The National Institutes of Health’s Challenge Grants initiative was announced earlier this year as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Nationally, competition was fierce for the program, with the NIH receiving more than 20,000 applications.

Thirteen UNC research projects received Challenge Grants totaling about $11.8 million over the next two years.

Under the program, the NIH has defined a number of challenge areas — focused on specific knowledge gaps, scientific opportunities, new technologies, data generation and research methods — where an influx of funds could lead quickly to results. Officials say the research should have a high impact in public health and biomedical or behavioral science.

Including the new grants, UNC researchers have been awarded grants under the recovery and reinvestment act or awards worth more than $127.4 million since March.

Among the UNC projects, all for a two-year period:

  • Researchers will use a $1 million grant to evaluate the influence of gene variations and epigenetic expression on risky behaviors such as binge drinking, smoking, illegal drug use and delinquency. The project will use data, including saliva DNA samples, from the UNC-based National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Researchers also will investigate methods for handling thousands of variables, both genetic and environmental, in similar studies. The principal investigator is Guang Guo, sociology professor and a fellow of the Carolina Population Center and the Carolina Center for Genome Sciences.
  • A $954,000 project based at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention aims to help low-income and overweight women in rural eastern North Carolina. The project will recruit women to join support groups for weight loss, financial literacy and moving out of poverty. Participants in the Health, Opportunity, Partnerships and Empowerment Account project will open savings accounts – known as individual development accounts – and will receive matching funds to apply toward furthering their educations, buying a home or creating a business. The principal investigator is Marci Campbell ’77 (MPH, ’99 PhD), a center research fellow and a nutrition professor in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.
  • UNC’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy will receive $873,000 to study proteins involved in regulating the genetic material chromatin and to explore how chromatin’s control of gene expression and gene silencing is relevant in normal and disease biology. When the proteins that control chromatin are deranged, cancer can develop. The principal investigator is Stephen Frye, professor of medicinal chemistry and natural products. He is director of the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery and also is a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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