UNC Leads in Winning Top NIH 'Roadmap' Grants

Health scientists at Carolina have garnered more grants – eight – from the National Institutes of Health’s highly competitive Roadmap program than any other university in the nation. They also have secured funding for a center to combat cancer through the latest in basic science technology. In 2004 – the inaugural year of the NIH Roadmap grant program – six grants were awarded to Carolina researchers.

Most of the new grants are part of the agency’s “Roadmap for Medical Research,” a series of initiatives designed to transform the nation’s medical research capabilities and speed the movement of research discoveries from the bench to the bedside. The program provides a framework for NIH funding priorities and represents an attempt to make the country’s medical research system more efficient and productive.

UNC will receive $11.6 million under the program and another $3.9 million to fund the first year of the newly established Carolina Center of Nanotechnology Excellence. That center will marry UNC’s expertise in nanotechnology with patient-oriented research taking place at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The National Cancer Institute will fund the nanotechnology center, and the NIH director’s office will fund the rest to pay for much cutting-edge research and professional training at UNC.

“One of Carolina’s great strengths is its commitment to interdisciplinary research focused on real-world problems,” said Tony Waldrop ’74, vice chancellor for research and economic development at UNC. “That commitment and the excellence of our faculty put us in a great position to compete for these awards.”

The variety of topics represented in the awards exemplifies the breadth and diversity of the University’s faculty and programs, Waldrop said.

The next-most successful institutions in securing such support were Vanderbilt and Columbia universities, both with six, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center with five. Johns Hopkins University had four, Harvard and Stanford universities won three and Duke University won two.

Rudy Juliano, professor of pharmacology at the UNC School of Medicine and chair of the Carolina Roadmap Executive Committee, agreed that interdisciplinary collaboration has been a long-time hallmark of research at Carolina and a key to success in attracting outside funding.

“Our schools and colleges are all located in close proximity to each other, and investigators from different schools have worked productively together for many decades,” Juliano said. “That is a tradition here. Last year, because of this close cooperation and sharing, Carolina faculty members won six large Roadmap grants.”

With the emphasis the university has placed on supporting Roadmap and Roadmap-like efforts, it’s no surprise that UNC investigators have done even better this year, he said. “To our knowledge, no other university has dedicated so much infrastructure to supporting interdisciplinary collaboration within the federal Roadmap initiative.”

The new funding will range from one year to five years, said Juliano, who will lead the new nanotechnology center.

Besides Juliano, new Roadmap grant recipients are:

  • Bruce D. Cuevas, research assistant professor of pharmacology in the School of Medicine;
  • Michael Jarstfer, assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy;
  • Kuo-Hsiung Lee, Kenan professor of pharmacy and director of the School of Pharmacy’s Natural Products Laboratory;
  • Eugene Orringer, professor of medicine and executive associate dean in the School of Medicine;
  • Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition in the schools of public health and medicine and director of the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Program;
  • David P. Siderovski, associate professor of pharmacology in the School of Medicine; and
  • Alexander Tropsha, professor in the School of Pharmacy.

“It’s worth noting how different the successful Carolina applications are, the wide variety in interests represented by our new projects,” Juliano said. “Dr. Orringer continues and diversifies his longstanding program in multidisciplinary clinical training, one of the bedrocks of the School of Medicine . Dr. Lee of the School of Pharmacy will create chemical diversity libraries of compounds derived from medicinal plants.

“Dr. Popkin and I both will be training postdoctoral fellows,” he said. “His program, which will benefit scores of future scientists, clinicians and others in interdisciplinary obesity efforts, and mine will complement each other in taking on the challenges of clinical medicine. Drs. Siderovski, Jarstfer, Cuevas and Tropsha will build on Carolina’s strength in basic science investigation with their new programs to develop better biomedical assays and to boost understanding of complex molecular interactions.”

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