UNC awarded $2.5 million from NIH to establish collaborative research center

Friday, October 23, 2009 — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been awarded $2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health to establish a new cooperative research center for studies of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The new Southeastern STI Cooperative Research Center will be based at UNC and directed by Fred Sparling, M.D., professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology in the School of Medicine. The five-year award will support the work of collaborating groups at UNC, Emory, Virginia Commonwealth University and Duke universities, as well as the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

The goal is to determine the feasibility of vaccines for Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Haemophilus ducreyi,the bacteria which cause gonorrhea and chancroid.Both gonorrhea and chancroid are serious infections and increase transmission of HIV. Researchers say the need for a vaccine is critical given recent trends in antibiotic resistance among these types of STIs.

The center’s interdisciplinary work involves microbiology, genetics, immunology and animal models as well as studies in humans, with six research projects and three overlapping cores. Marcia Hobbs, Ph.D., professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology, will serve as co-director and leader of the microbiology core. Projects at UNC are headed by Chris Elkins, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology, and Dr. Alex Duncan and Chris Thomas, Ph.D., both assistant professors of medicine. A project at Emory is headed by Dr. Bill Shafer; another at VCU is directed by Dr. Cynthia Cornelissen; and a project at USUHS is headed by Dr. Ann Jerse. Shafer, Cornelissen and Jerse all did postdoctoral fellowships at UNC. Dr. Herman Staats and Dr. Greg Sempowski at Duke head an immunology core.

The new center extends the work of a prior UNC center which was funded for 19 years. Of six former STI centers competing for research dollars, UNC was the only one funded.

Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases contact: Lisa Chensvold, (919) 843-5719, lisa_chensvold@med.unc.edu

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