Where Innovation Begins

Where Innovation Begins

November 19, 2012

The North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, a 350-acre life science research center just north of Charlotte, was the focus of the eleventh annual UNC Charlotte Life Sciences Conference held on Thursday, October 25, 2012 on the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC) campus.

The conference featured the research, technology and commercialization strategies at play at the NCRC. “We have in one place assembled world renown researchers in everything from genetics, epigenetics, metabolomics, seed production, growth and food production, food safety, nutrition and human health, sensory and consumer science and market leaders in commercial food production,” commented Michael J. Todd, executive director of the NCRC for the University of North Carolina System. “From theory to production to market, the NCRC has assembled the right people with the positive belief to impact global human health through nutrition and agriculture.”

Presenting at the conference were scientists from campus partners UNCC, the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI), North Carolina State University (NCSU) Plants for Human Health Institute, UNC Greensboro (UNCG) Center for Translational Biomedical Research, UNC Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), Sensory Spectrum, General Mills and the Appalachian State University (ASU) Human Performance Laboratory.

Research: The Beginning

Moderated by Benjamin D. Machon, business development officer with the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI), a non-profit contract research organization and the NCRC’s core laboratory, panelists discussed their research on the variability of plants, people and metabolites. Allan Brown, PhD, applied molecular geneticist and assistant professor at NCSU Plants for Human Health Institute shared the health benefits of broccoli and his work to develop a variety with stable and consistent levels of the many valuable compounds broccoli contains.

Andrew Swick, PhD, associate professor and director of Obesity and Eating Disorders Research at UNC Chapel Hill NRI, presented his research findings regarding the link between the gut’s ability to sense food, the metabolism of the intestine and the regulation of body weight and metabolism. Wei Jia, PhD, co-director of the UNCG Center for Translational Biomedical Research, demonstrated his use of modern metabolic analysis to develop unique metabolic profiles and a statistical model to provide diagnosis and prognosis of colorectal cancer.

Tools and Technology: Accelerating Innovation

Following the lunchtime keynote address Cancer Therapy: From Rational Empiricism to Targeted Rationalism with Bursts of Insight from Derek Raghaven, MD, PhD, FACP, FRACP, FASCO, president of the Levine Cancer Institute of Carolinas HealthCare System, Steven Lommel, PhD, interim president of the DHMRI, moderated the panel discussion NCRC Tools and Technology: Accelerating Innovation.

NCRC is home to one of the world’s largest nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers, the 950 MHz Bruker, as well as a microscopy suite and analytical sciences, genomics, proteomics and metabolomics laboratories. Cory Brouwer, PhD, director of the UNC Charlotte Bioinformatics Services Division, discussed collaborative bioinformatics projects he and his staff conduct for companies and scientists on and off the NCRC campus.

Kevin Knagge, PhD, NMR lab manager for the DHMRI, listed the many uses of the campus’ NMR from identifying unknown compounds to protein structure determination. Anita McCauley, PhD, director of microscopy for the DHMRI, described the variety of microscopes and their uses in advancing research.  Kelly Sheppard, UNC Chapel Hill NRI Cheatham Nutrition and Cognition Laboratory, illustrated how their use of Event Related Potential (ERP) is advancing the understanding of how nutrition impacts brain development and cognition.

Commercialization: The Application of Research

The NCRC’s impact exceeds basic research and scientific instrumentation. The commercialization of research as new, functional food products is occurring regularly. One of the final sessions of the day was Commercialization: The Application of Research moderated by John Cox, president and CEO of Cabarrus Economic Development and Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce.

During the session, Judy Heylmun, former vice president of Business Development for the Sensory Spectrum Discovery Center in Kannapolis, described how her company’s expertise in sensory methodology and analysis assisted NCSU strawberry breeder Jeremy Pattison, PhD, develop a better North Carolina strawberry. Eric Jackson, PhD, General Mills research scientist and site lead at the NCRC, gave an overview of the company’s work on the campus with the oat genome and sweet corn. David C. Neiman, DrPH, FACSM, director of the Appalachian State Human Performance Laboratory, highlighted his labs’ many research studies with companies like Dole Foods, also at the NCRC, Coca-Cola, ASEA and Quercetin Pharma.

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