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Brain stimulation improves depression symptoms, restores brain waves in clinical study

UNC School of Medicine researchers led by Flavio Frohlich are the first to use transcranial alternating current brain stimulation to significantly reduce symptoms in people diagnosed with major depression.

Postdoctoral student Sangtae Ahn wears the electrodes used in Frohlich's research. In the background, UNC Allied Health graduate student Julianna Prim. Both are part of Frohlich's team.

With a weak alternating electrical current sent through electrodes attached to the scalp, UNC School of Medicine researchers successfully targeted a naturally occurring electrical pattern in a specific part of the brain and markedly improved depression symptoms in about 70 percent of participants in a clinical study.

The research, published in Translational Psychiatry, lays the groundwork for larger research studies to use a specific kind of electrical brain stimulation called transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) to treat people diagnosed with major depression.

“We conducted a small study of 32 people because this sort of approach had never been done before,” said senior author Flavio Frohlich, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Carolina Center for Neurostimulation. “Now that we’ve documented how this kind of tACS can reduce depression symptoms, we can fine tune our approach to help many people in a relatively inexpensive, noninvasive way.”

Frohlich, who joined the UNC School of Medicine in 2011, is a leading pioneer in this field who also published the first clinical trials of tACS in schizophrenia and chronic pain.

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Muenzer Presents Additional Results from Groundbreaking Genome Editing Clinical Trial

Interim results presented by UNC's Joseph Muenzer, MD, PhD, provide preliminary evidence that in vivo genome editing occurred in a clinical trial testing a treatment for Mucopolysaccharidosis Type II (MPS II), also known as Hunter syndrome.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – Preliminary molecular and enzymatic evidence of editing of the human genome in vivo (inside the body) was presented today by UNC School of Medicine’s Joseph Muenzer, MD, PhD, at the WORLDSymposium 2019 being held in Orlando, Florida.

This finding was part of the interim results from the Phase 1/2 CHAMPIONS Study evaluating SB-913, a zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) in vivo genome editing product candidate for patients with Mucopolysaccharidosis Type II (MPS II).

MPS II, also known as Hunter syndrome, is a rare genetic disorder caused by a deficiency of iduronate-2-sulfatase (IDS), a lysosomal enzyme which is required to break down or recycle the toxic buildup of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Without IDS enzyme activity, GAGs accumulate in cells throughout the body, leading to widespread tissue and organ damage. The current standard-of-care treatment for MPS II is enzyme replacement therapy (ERT), given as weekly intravenous infusions. SB-913 is an investigational product candidate being evaluated to treat MPS II using ZFNs, which are designed to insert a normal copy of the IDS gene into a precise location in the DNA of liver cells. The goal of SB-913 treatment is to enable a patient's liver to produce a continuous supply of functional IDS enzyme for life.

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A population health approach to dramatically reduce heart disease Risk

UNC School of Medicine doctors enlisted a network of health care professionals from small primary care practices and used data analytics to help identify North Carolinians at risk for cardiovascular disease. Primary care doctors could use this approach to dramatically reduce heart disease risk for tens of thousands of people across the state.

Sam Cykert, MD

CHAPEL HILL, NC – Researchers at the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health created a state-wide network of health care professionals in urban, suburban, and rural areas who work in small primary care practices and used existing electronic health records to determine that tens of thousands of people across North Carolina were at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease who had not been identified as high risk before. Primary care doctors across the state then used this analysis to proactively engage patients to reduce their risk.

This first-of-its-kind study, published in Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, was made possible through a $15-million federal grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) Evidence NOW Program to help primary care practices use the latest evidence to improve the heart health of millions of Americans. UNC’s Heart Health Now! Advancing Heart Health in NC Primary Care project was one of seven grantees back in 2015, and this paper is the first published results from their work.

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Preliminary Data from Groundbreaking Genome Editing Clinical Trial Encouraging

Dr. Joseph Muenzer
Dr. Joseph Muenzer

As part of the phase 1 clinical trial for patients with Hunter syndrome, Joseph Muenzer, MD, PhD, performed the UNC Clinical Translational and Research Center's first-ever in vivo genome editing therapy, achieving a milestone in his own career.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – Preliminary safety and efficacy data from the first-ever trial studying an in vivo genome editing therapy have been presented by UNC's Joseph Muenzer, MD, PhD, at the 2018 Annual Symposium of the Society for the Study of Inborn Errors of Metabolism (SSIEM) this week in Athens, Greece.

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Michelle Maclay, Communications Director