While the novel coronavirus has affected us all, it has drastically changed the lives of specific groups of people, from rural populations to long-term care residents to communities of color. Startling statistics among these groups have pushed UNC researchers from a variety of disciplines into action.
While COVID-19 has shaken the world, it has also pushed society to be more innovative and creative — two attributes that have been essential to the success of researchers at UNC. Carolina students, faculty, and staff are engaged in an abundance of projects, making UNC the most cited university in the nation for coronavirus research.
In the last six months, researchers have engaged in countless studies to test therapies for treating COVID-19. Some have shown promise, but still nothing is a surefire solution. What if we are the answer? UNC experts from multiple fields are leading projects to understand how plasma and antibodies from people who contracted the virus might be used to prevent and slow the spread of the disease.
UNC virologists Timothy Sheahan and Ralph Baric have been working around the clock to develop new treatments and vaccines to fight the novel coronavirus. In this Q&A, Sheahan discusses current projects, new discoveries, and the challenges that come with studying a virus like SARS-CoV-2.
Employing wastewater epidemiology — proven useful in outbreaks of polio and opioid use — UNC microbiologist Rachel Noble is leading a state-wide collaboration tracking novel coronavirus outbreaks across North Carolina, gaining insight that testing individuals does not offer. Preliminary results have shown that by using wastewater, researchers can identify COVID-19 hot spots five to seven days before they are reflected by clinical testing results.
Clare Harrop is a research assistant professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences within the UNC School of Medicine and a fellow in the FPG Child Development Institute. She studies early developmental trajectories in children, particularly girls, with or at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders like autism.
Baba Mass is a research technician in the Voruganti Lab within the UNC Nutrition Research Institute. He studies how genes and diet impact serum uric acid levels — a chemical created when the body breaks down substances called purines. Unhealthy amounts of uric acid can cause kidney and heart problems.
Eating disorders have long been discussed in strictly psychiatric terms, but a study from the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders is reconceptualizing these illnesses. Through international genetic sampling, Cynthia Bulik, the center’s founding director, aims to puzzle out the biological factors behind eating disorders and improve the success of treatments.
Food allergies have long baffled scientists — much is still to be learned about how they develop and why certain people are more susceptible than others. Researchers at UNC may be able to answer some of these questions by studying an unusual food allergy to mammalian meat called alpha-gal syndrome.
Claudio Battaglini is a professor of exercise physiology in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. He studies how exercise can help alleviate cancer treatment-related side effects.