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At the UNC School of Medicine, researchers come to their work through various paths. For Wanda O’Neal, PhD, her tireless dedication to researching cystic fibrosis and lung conditions was born from a very personal place — a family with six kids with cystic fibrosis.

Wanda O’Neal, PhD, is featured in a video talking about her cystic fibrosis research

(Republished from the UNC School of Medicine and UNC Health Care Newsroom)

Wanda O’Neal, PhD, grew up a farmer in North Dakota, never dreaming she’d one day become a scientist, let alone a key biomedical researcher at one of the top academic research institutions in the world. But when she was in her early 20s and unsure about her future, a friend asked a simple question, “What do you really want to do, Wanda?” And she answered, “Well, I want to work on cystic fibrosis.” And the friend said, “Well why aren’t you doing that?”

Years later, she and colleagues at the UNC Marsico Lung Institute have led the way toward better treatments for people with cystic fibrosis, while illuminating our understanding of the intricacies of the human lung, including the not-so-simple genetic underpinnings of cystic fibrosis. Watch her story in the accompanying video, which can also be viewed here.

Of her eight siblings, five suffered with severe CF and passed away in their youth. But her younger brother Danny, who has CF, is now in his 50s. Wanda and UNC colleagues have discovered potential reasons why Danny doesn’t have severe CF, and clues that could lead them toward the development of better treatment regimens for CF and other lung conditions.

Wanda O’Neal, PhD, is an associate professor in the department of medicine.