Doctoral student Cassandra Hayne, working with Saskia Neher, PhD, found that a specific mutated version of a lipoprotein binds more effectively to liver cells, thus explaining decreased levels of triglycerides in blood.
CHAPEL HILL, NC – Common knowledge says that genetic mutations are bad. This is true for most mutations of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), the enzyme in the blood responsible for the breakdown of lipoproteins, which allows tissue to utilize energy from fat. People with these mutations are unable to break down fat in the blood, causing very high levels of lipids in the blood and putting them at risk of heart disease. However, one specific mutation actually leads to better processing of lipids, leading to improved heart health.
This mutation was first discovered in the early 1990s, and since then scientists have understood the mutation's positive result. It's even used in a gene therapy treatment approved in Europe. But even though the result of the mutation was understood, the mechanism that caused it was not.
In 1990, Howell Graham was the first patient at UNC Hospitals with cystic fibrosis to receive a double lung transplant. Over the years he has tried several times, but couldn’t quite find the right words to say ‘thank you’ for the gift he received. Now, he says he’s finally ready.
In 1990, Howell Graham was 28 years old. His Cystic Fibrosis had progressed to the point that walking across the room was a taxing chore. He didn't think he could go on living that way.
His physician, Thomas Egan, MD, MSc, professor of surgery, had come to UNC in 1989 to begin the human lung transplant program. At that time, a new technique for performing the procedure had been developed. Egan knew Graham was a good candidate.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University already were ahead of the curve in 2003. With technology playing a greater role in medicine every day, it only made sense to combine Carolina's top-notch medical program with State's world-class engineering school to let their graduate students explore the growing field of biomedical engineering (BME).
The joint graduate program proved so successful that in 2015, a joint undergraduate degree program was created.
Dr. Nancy Allbritton, chair of the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering , said the programs offer students many more choices at an earlier point in their academic careers. Students who might have followed a traditional path in medicine are able to explore new technologies in health care, while students who might have focused on engineering can explore how innovative technology is changing the face of medical care.
The partnership began when NC State's College of Engineering explored developing a biomedical engineering program. A small, fledgling program existed at UNC-Chapel Hill at that point, and the campuses thought it made the most sense to combine efforts.