Ashley Dunham

Research Campus leaders take stock of ‘great experiment’

November 17, 2014

By: Michael Knox, Independent Tribune

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KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — To mark the North Carolina Research Campus’ sixth anniversary, academic and scientific leaders touted advances made at the Kannapolis complex and offered a glimpse of some of the world-class research projects currently underway there.

Clyde Higgs, vice president of business development for campus developer Castle & Cooke North Carolina, acted as the moderator for the discussion panel Thursday.

“We are just really trying to refresh people’s understanding of what is happening here. … Part of the original vision for the North Carolina Research Campus was to bring together a diverse technical community that really bring their expertise together around nutrition, human health and agriculture. And that was kind of the ‘great experiment.”

Some of the topics discussed:

» Wendy Barndhardt, dean of health and education programs at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College

“We have a nursing program right over here at the North Carolina Research Campus and we have other programs at north campus … and we are in the process of adding five additional programs. We’re offering, starting next year, a health and fitness science program, therapeutic massage program here at the Kannapolis campus, where the new cosmetology center is going, and we are going to offer occupational therapy assisting and physical therapy assisting in the future. So our vision for the health programs at the community college is to be more focused on health and wellness in the community. So we are focusing our efforts into making the communities more aware of how they can become more healthy and live a life of wellness.”

» Ashley Dunham, community health project leader for the MURDOCK Study and represents Duke University School of Medicine

“We have approximately 11,000 people enrolled in the study. We have other cohort studies going on where we are collecting additional data from people and following them over time, related to healthy aging, multiple sclerosis, cognitive impairment or memory health and a host of other diseases… We also brought a project to Cabarrus County and partnership with Cabarrus Health Alliance called the Southeastern Diabetes Initiative … focused on people living with type II diabetes and accessing their risks and implementing alternative interventions that may be more cost-effective.”

» Steven Zeisel, director of UNC Nutrition Research Institute, and head of the UNC Chapel Hill program’s operations at the North Carolina Research Campus

“We focus on human nutrition and especially understanding why people are different from one another, building the future field of individualizing nutrition, studying genetics and epigenetics … and trying to explain why some people need certain nutrients and others don’t, why some people respond to them and others don’t.”

“We have about $26 million in research funding that we’ve attracted from the federal government, foundations and industry. We have several large companies contracting with us for research, including Nestle and Hershey. And again, our job is to build a science base around the area of human nutrition, train the students of the future who will build the field here and attract the companies here and create a new discipline in terms of individualized nutrition.”

“We do some very interesting and cutting-edge science that leads to ideas that change how, in the future, we’ll practice nutrition and nutrition recommendations. To give you an example, we were studying whether people needed a nutrient that science wasn’t sure was a required nutrient in humans. We took it away from people and found that they got sick and when we put the nutrient back they got better. And the National Academy of Science, as a result of that, has set up a dietary recommendation and now this nutrient, called choline, is required.”

» Cory R. Brouwer is director of the Bioinformatics Services Division and Associate Professor of Bioinformatics and Genomics at UNC Charlotte

“One of the first questions I usually get whenever I talk about what we do is, ‘What is bioinformatics?’ Basically if you are going to study biology today, the amount of data that is produced is too much to be able to do on a laptop or a desktop computer. So … we have a large compute cluster here … and we talk about storage in terms of petabytes of data [a petabyte is equal to about a million gigabytes]. And we get the advantage of collaborating with just about everybody here on campus, because we help assist with the analysis of all the data that’s being produced here on campus.”

» Mike Todd with University of North Carolina general administration, where he works as that organization’s executive director at the North Carolina Research Campus

“From a global perspective, UNC values the research campus and its unique potential to make advances in the topics we’ve talked about — public health, nutrition, agriculture. And as such we located research groups from seven UNC system schools here that span the gamut from bioinformatics, plant bio-actives, to human performance … in addition to that we look at this as a vector for workforce development in North Carolina.”

Contact reporter Michael Knox at 704-789-9133.

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