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UNC thought leaders and practitioners convene to discuss Precision Medicine

Precision Medicine icon (UNC)

"Precision medicine gives us the chance to marry what's unique about America — our spirit of innovation, our courage to take risks, our collaborative instincts — with what's unique about Americans — every individual's distinctive genetic makeup, lifestyles, and health needs. In doing so, we can keep ourselves, our families, and our nation healthier for generations to come."

Those words, written by former President Obama and published in an op-ed in the Boston Globe last year, represent the lofty goal of precision medicine. Today, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and other medical institutions are trying to operationalize that goal — to develop ways to target the right treatments to the right patient at the right time.

The UNC School of Medicine (SOM) and the NC TraCS Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill have facilitated a number of events to define the main areas of focus for these efforts.

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Carolina research exceeds $1 billion annually for first time

UNC Old Well in the fall

UNC-Chapel Hill has surpassed, for the first time, $1 billion in annual research expenditures, according to the nation's annual Higher Education Research and Development survey. This news continues Carolina’s decade-long rise as one of the world's top universities for sponsored research.

The latest survey covers fiscal year 2016 and was released on Nov. 30. Carolina ranked 11th nationally among all research institutions in overall research and development expenditures, sixth nationally among public institutions, and sixth nationally in overall federal research and development.

"The sustained growth we have seen in our research enterprise since 2013 is a tribute to the excellence and dedication of the faculty, students and staff who are the heart of Carolina's research and training programs," said Chancellor Carol L. Folt.

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Buse leads clinical trial of new diabetes treatment

The study is designed to evaluate whether TTP399 is well tolerated when administered as an add-on to insulin therapy and can improve daily glucose profiles and HbA1c in people living with type 1 diabetes.

John Buse, MD, PhD, director of the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute and of the UNC Diabetes Center at the UNC School of Medicine, is the principal investigator in a new Phase 1b/@ study evaluating a compound called TTP399 for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Dr. John Buse
Dr. John Buse

"It is very exciting to launch this effort to potentially develop a completely novel pill therapy for type 1 diabetes," Buse said. "This disease is characterized by a huge burden of care on more than one million Americans affected and with limited treatment options. The UNC team is very hopeful that better treatments for type 1 diabetes will be near at hand."

TTP399 is manufactured by vTv Therapeutics Inc. of High Point, North Carolina, which is sponsoring the trial. The study is being conducted with support from JDRF, the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research.

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New study aims to reduce opioid use while managing chronic pain

Nearly one-third of Americans suffer from chronic noncancer pain, a condition often treated with opioids. The effectiveness of this chronic opioid therapy is currently unclear and exposes individuals to potential risks, including opioid abuse after therapy.

Paul Chelminski, MD
Paul Chelminski, MD

A new $9 million study, led by RTI International, aims to provide strategies for reducing opioid use among patients who are not benefitting from it while ensuring access to those who are benefitting. RTI will collaborate with the Mid-South Clinical Data Research Network which is centered at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and includes Duke University Health System and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"This project will help patients better understand the risks, benefits and uncertainties associated with opioid use, which is needed for informed consent and is critical given the status of the opioid epidemic," said Lauren McCormack, PhD, Vice President of RTI's Public Health Research Division who will lead the study.

More than 1,000 patients from North Carolina and Tennessee, states with high opioid use rates, will be enrolled in the study. Researchers will compare two interventions to evaluate their effect on opioid dosage, physical functioning and pain-related outcomes.

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Michelle Maclay, Communications Director