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Matthew Wolfgang, associate professor of microbiology and immunology and 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. The Creativity Hubs Award program was formed to foster multidisciplinary research for the development of novel discoveries and unique solutions to complex, real world problems.

Funding of 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 support further development of Wolfgang’s research as it advances to the final stage in Spring 2022. The full Creativity Hubs Pilot Award provides two years of research funding.

Wolfgang’s pre-proposal titled, “Center for Therapeutic Systems Biology of Respiratory Infections Diseases (CTSB-RID),” will create a comprehensive “bedside to bench, and back” program for clinical treatment of severe viral induced respiratory disease.

Currently, patients hospitalized with infections from viruses such as SARS-CoV2 and Influenza virus 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. “Vaccines and antiviral drugs are no longer effective when individuals are in severe viral induced respiratory crisis,” said Wolfgang. “There is a dire need to understand the fundamental cellular and molecular signaling pathways that account for severe cases of these infections.”

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

The proposed CTSB-RID project will be led by Wolfgang and co-Principal Investigator Jonathan Schisler, 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 Ph.D. 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 B.S. in General Biology from the University of Maryland in 1992.