To facilitate the development of an academic career, approximately one-half of the Fellow’s time is devoted to research training during the 3 years of fellowship. These mechanisms of support, in conjunction with fellow-specific mentorship programs led by the Program Director and the Associate Program Director for Research, have enabled many of our fellows to establish careers in academic medicine. A list of graduates from our program who have taken positions at academic medical centers can be found here.
The North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute at UNC-CH is one of 60 medical research institutions working together as a national consortium to improve the way biomedical research is conducted across the country. This consortium, funded through the NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA), shares a common vision to help provide the required infrastructure for clinical and translational research. The goal is to facilitate the process whereby laboratory discoveries become treatments for patients and to engage communities in clinical research efforts. To achieve these goals, TraCS offers a number of programs and services to assist researchers, including our Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellows, through all phases of the process of translating basic science discoveries into meaningful health advances. The NC TraCS Institute sponsors a CTSA KL2 Program, whose mission is to train and develop junior investigators toward becoming the next generation of successful translational and clinical researchers. Click here to read more about our CTSA KL2 program.
Planning for research begins during the clinical year. In the fall of the first year, each Fellow meets with the program directors to discuss their research interests and career goals, and the research opportunities that will best serve the Fellow in achieving his or her career goals. Over the winter, the Fellow’s research interests are solidified and prospective mentors are discussed. By the spring of the first year, a research mentor is chosen and a research plan formulated. Each fellow develops and executes, with the help of a faculty mentor, a basic or clinical research project. Fellows are trained in grantsmanship and are guided in the 1) presentation of their work at the American Thoracic Society International Conference, the Chest Conference or other national research forum, 2) submission of manuscripts to peer-reviewed scientific journals, 3) presentation of their work through seminars at Division research conferences, and 4) submission of applications for extramural funding in accordance with the individual’s career goals.
Basic and translational research in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at UNC is conducted out of three distinct centers on the UNC Medical Campus. A brief description of each center is provided below.
Marsico Lung Institute
The Marsico Lung Institute is the overarching umbrella for faculty who lead basic and translational research programs in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at UNC. The Marsico Lung Institute includes three Centers, as well as the Pediatric Pulmonary Division and the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at UNC (please see diagram). The centers are located within four nearly adjacent buildings around a courtyard and across the street from one of the two sites for clinical research. UNC Hospital is also adjacent. The pulmonary clinics and the Marsico Clinical Research Program are located at the UNC Hospitals Outpatient Center at Eastowne, four miles from the UNC Medical Center. The three Centers are each discussed below, followed by information about the programs that are primarily clinical science. More information about the MLI can be found here.
Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma, and Lung Biology (CEMALB)
The Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma, and Lung Biology (CEMALB) was established in 1979 by Dr Phillip Bromberg and has been led by Dr. Ilona Jaspers since June 2020. Investigators in the CEMALB focus on the effects of environmental agents and pollutants on respiratory and systemic inflammation and physiology. The goals are 1) to understand how these effects impact on airway diseases, such as asthma, COPD, inhalational injury and airway infection; 2) to learn how these effects trigger cardiovascular disease; and 3) to generate knowledge that informs public policy decisions and develop personal mitigation strategies for susceptible populations.
The breadth of experimental models is wide and include in silico, in vitro, animal in vivo, and human clinical studies. Using these models, investigators aim to examine the effects of environmental agents and inhaled toxicants, including endotoxin, tobacco products, ozone, woodsmoke and other ambient pollutants. Mechanistic, functional, and clinical information on adverse health effects caused by inhaled toxicants is integrated to understand the health effects of inhaled contaminants on the lung and heart.
For descriptions of the investigators and their research programs, please see here. In addition to applied and basic research programs, CEMALB offers educational and research training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral and clinical fellows.
The Center also facilitates access to the sophisticated in vitro exposure systems and animal environmental exposure facilities of the Public Health and Integrated Toxicology Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), located on the UNC-CH medical campus and the Research Triangle Park, NC. Active ongoing collaborations also include members of the Division of Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine, the CF Center, the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, and other departments in the UNC Gillings School of Public Health.
The administrative offices and laboratories are located in the EPA Human Studies Facility (104 Mason Farm Road) and the UNC Children’s Research Institute (116 Manning Drive).
The Cystic Fibrosis and Pulmonary Diseases Research and Treatment Center
The Cystic Fibrosis and Pulmonary Diseases Research and Treatment Center was founded by and is presently directed by Richard C. Boucher MD. It has expanded and grown over 35 years into one of the world’s largest research centers in epithelial cell biology. Researchers use physiologic, genetic, molecular, animal models, and informatics techniques to dissect the pathophysiology of lung disorders. The contributions to our understanding of cystic fibrosis are numerous and critically important to the recent remarkable advances in the treatment of these patients. In addition, investigators provide Core services (including molecular biology, histology, mucin biochemistry, microscopy, CFTR functional analysis, novel human imaging modalities, biospecimen repositories and clinical research services) to other investigators on campus and across the country.
Although originally developed to study the pathogenesis of cystic fibrosis (CF), the Center has grown over the years to include over 40 investigators involved in research involving all aspects of lung biology. Programs have developed in viral and bacterial infections, acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, non-CF bronchiectasis, and many other lung diseases. Strong collaborations between clinical and research faculty has led to remarkable breakthroughs in areas as diverse as COVID-19, e-cigarette use, acute respiratory distress syndrome, pneumonia, primary ciliary dyskinesia, and more.
Center for Airways Disease
The goal of the Center for Airways Disease is to further our conceptual and mechanistic understanding of diseases that affect the large and small airways of the lungs, particularly smoking-related diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as viral and bacterial lung infections, including pneumonia. The Center’s mission is to stimulate research that defines airways disease at a molecular level, enabling early diagnosis, prognosis and personalized treatment of patients with these lung diseases. The ultimate goal is to translate research findings into better care for residents of North Carolina and throughout the nation, addressing both the disease predictors and therapies through the tools of individualized medicine.
Clinical and translational research opportunities are robust throughout the division and include multidisciplinary collaborations with thoracic surgery, oncology, radiology, pediatric pulmonology, and cardiology, among others. The UNC Pulmonary and Critical Care Division conducts clinical trials, translational research, and outcomes research in a number of areas including asthma, COPD, alpha-1-antitrypsin, cystic fibrosis, non-CF bronchiectasis, primary ciliary dyskinesia, sarcoidosis, pulmonary hypertension, ARDS, sepsis and prolonged mechanical ventilation. Clinical research studies occur onsite in the Medical ICU, in our dedicated Clinical Research Unit (CRU) located adjacent to our pulmonary clinic at Eastowne Medical Office Building, in the Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC) on campus, and in the Biomedical Research Imaging Center (BRIC). Physicians work in concert with research coordinators, regulatory coordinators and research nurses to provide access to state-of-the-art clinical trials to our patients.
Clinician investigators at UNC both lead and participate in clinical trials of the most promising new therapies for acute lung injury, cystic fibrosis, COPD, and many of the lung diseases that occur in pediatric and adult populations. Clinical trials in critical care and other disease areas are complemented by outcomes studies using longitudinal cohort models and analyses of large databases. The clinical trials group seeks to translate innovative medical ideas into useful clinical therapies and assess the impact of those therapies on patient outcome.
The CRU provides investigators the opportunity to conduct research studies at the Eastowne Medical Office Building, in which most internal medicine clinics are located. This co-location offers a seamless transition from clinical care to patient-focused research. With ample workspace, eight patient rooms, and access to novel technologies such as mucociliary clearance imaging, multiple breath nitrogen washout, portable spirometry and advanced imaging techniques, the CRU is equipped to handle many clinical trials simultaneously. The CRU also has access to onsite research phlebotomy and investigational drug services.