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Matthew Wolfgang, PhD
Matthew Wolfgang, PhD

Matthew Wolfgang, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and a member of the Marsico Lung Institute, has been granted a UNC Creativity Hubs Pilot Pre-Proposal Award by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. Funding will support the further development of Dr. Wolfgang’s team science proposal as it advances to the next stage of the award program. The Creativity Hubs Award was formed to foster multidisciplinary research for the development of novel discoveries and unique solutions to complex, real-world problems.

Funding for Creativity Hubs projects is meant to advance innovative research that contributes to emerging challenges in seven interest areas, including infectious diseases, and precision health and society. The pre-proposal award will be used to generate initial findings and a final proposal for Spring 2022, which provides two years of research funding.

Dr. Wolfgang’s pre-proposal, titled “Center for Therapeutic Systems Biology of Respiratory Infections Diseases (CTSB-RID),” will create a reverse translational program to generate a comprehensive analysis of molecular and clinical features of severe viral-induced respiratory disease to identify host therapeutic targets and disease-matched preclinical animal models.

“Vaccines and antiviral drugs are no longer effective when individuals are in severe viral-induced respiratory crisis,” Wolfgang explained. “There is a dire need to understand the underlying cellular and molecular signaling pathways that account for viral-induced respiratory disease.”

Currently, patients hospitalized with infections from viruses such as SARS-CoV2 and Influenza are treated according to their infection and symptom severity. This is largely due to the complexity of untangling the deeper human cellular pathways impacted by viral infection.

Rather than focusing on a single pathway, or virus, Dr. Wolfgang and his team will use a “multiomics” approach, that is, one that combines different types of molecular data. This comprehensive analysis will identify critical cellular pathways and generate future predictors of disease outcome. In the future, these findings will be used to develop a pipeline to generate new therapeutic drugs for personalized treatment based on real patients in UNC hospitals.

“Solving the problem will require a multi-disciplinary team that spans clinical and basic sciences, combined with informatics and data science experts,” Wolfgang said.

Jonathan C. Schisler, PhD
Jonathan C. Schisler, PhD

The proposed CTSB-RID project will be led by Wolfgang and co-Principal Investigator Jonathan Schisler, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Their research expertise is focused on the molecular mechanisms of respiratory infections and multiomics analysis of human health and disease, respectively.

The CTSB-RID team spans three UNC schools and six departments, including Emily Pfaff, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Co-director NC TraCS Informatics and Data Science; Alexander Tropsha, Associate Dean of Pharmacoinformatics, K.H. Lee Distinguished Professor, Division of Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry; Robert Hagan, Assistant Professor of Medicine; Benny Joyner, Jr., Chief of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, Professor of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine; Jeremy Wang, Assistant Professor of Genetics; Ralph Baric, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology; Mark Heise, Professor of Genetics and Microbiology and Immunology; Nathaniel Moorman, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology; Shannon Carson, Division Chief of Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine, Professor of Medicine; Corinne Keet, Professor of Pediatrics, Vice Chair of Clinical/Translational Research.

Prior to joining the faculty at UNC, Dr. Wolfgang completed postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard Medical School in 2003, and the University of Washington in 2000. He graduated with a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan in 1999. Before his graduate work, he was a research technician at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research for two years after completing his BS in General Biology from the University of Maryland in 1992.