UNC Researchers Inducted Into National Academy Of Medicine

High honors for two UNC professors: Melina Kibbe and Aziz Sancar have just been elected to the National Academy of Medicine.

Kibbe and Sancar are two of only 70 inductees this year from across the country. Fewer than 2,000 members have been inducted since the Academy’s founding in 1970.

Melina Kibbe is chair of UNC’s Department of Surgery and editor-in-chief of the journal JAMA Surgery; a statement from UNC also describes her as “an advocate for gender equality in biomedical research.”

Read the full statement from UNC.

Aziz Sancar is a renowned professor of biochemistry and biophysics; his research on DNA repair also earned him the Nobel Prize for Chemistry last year.

Twenty-one other UNC professors have been inducted into the National Academy of Medicine – including UNC’s other Nobel laureate, Oliver Smithies.

Click here for a full list of UNC’s other inductees.


With Open Arms

Editors Note: The following is an excerpt of an article written by Zachary Read of UNC Health Care.  It tells the story of UNC medical student Yousef Abu-Salha who fulfilled a dream of caring for child refugees from Syria, while honoring the legacy of his slain sisters Yusor and Razan and best friend Deah.  Read the full story at UNCHealthCare.edu.


With a view of the border wall that separates Turkey and Syria in front of him, UNC medical student Yousef Abu-Salha pulls up a chair at a makeshift dental and medical clinic to talk to a child from Syria, a refugee orphaned by war. She is a student at Al Salam School – or School of Peace – in Reyhanli, Turkey, where the clinic has been arranged in an outdoor classroom. Her left leg bears a long scar, perhaps the result of shelling that occurred in her community, before her family fled Syria.


(L-R) Layla Barakat, Suzanne Barakat, Farris Barakat, and Yousef Abu-Salha at the Project Refugee Smiles clinic, at Al Salam School, in Reyhanli, Turkey. The Our Three Winners banner hangs behind them. (Photo via UNC Health Care)

Yousef notices that she is quiet, reluctant to open up. As a member of Project Refugee Smiles, he understands that he and the team of dental and medical students and professionals might be viewed skeptically by this population of patients, which has endured so much pain, for so long. He pulls out a large green dragon head with an enormous set of teeth, given to him by a friend from Raleigh who traveled with Project Refugee Smiles one year earlier. Speaking in Arabic to her, he uses the dragon to demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques. He feels close to her – as if she’s his own family.

This summer Yousef was one of two dozen dental and medical students and professionals who were part of the international relief effort to provide care to child refugees from Syria. They performed fillings and extractions, taught preventative medicine and dental-care techniques, and offered acute dental and medical care for hundreds in need at Al Salam. For refugees of the war in Syria, such access to health care is anything but typical.

“Providing these services for Syrian refugees at Al Salam was the dream of Deah, Yusor, and Razan,” says Yousef, the older brother of Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha and the best friend of Yusor’s husband, Deah Barakat. “They were so passionate about helping these children.”


The clinic at Al Salam School. The Turkish-Syrian border wall is just beyond the clinic. Together, the team provided care to roughly 400 patients during the week. (Photo via UNC Health Care)

Deah, Yusor, and Razan are remembered throughout the United States and the world, including by children and staff at Al Salam, as the three young Muslim Americans who were senselessly murdered in Chapel Hill in February 2015. As the world learned more about them, they became widely admired as caring young people who had already accomplished many great things in their far-too-short lives. Deah, Yusor, and Razan became the inspiration for Our Three Winners, an endowment dedicated to support the philanthropic causes, both locally and globally, that were their passion.

“In 23, 21, and 19 years, respectively, it’s almost like they lived a thousand years,” says Yousef, who is now a second-year med student. “It’s amazing how much they did for people. Deah and Yusor went on relief trips to the West Bank and Turkey, and Razan worked tirelessly to feed the homeless in downtown Raleigh. Razan’s dream was to utilize her background in architecture to build playgrounds for children in African countries — I hope to fulfill that dream for her.”

Now Yousef is walking and working in their footsteps while learning to become a doctor with a heart focused on serving his communities in North Carolina and abroad.

Read the full story at UNCHealthCare.edu.


Last Week to Sign Up For Healthiest You Challenge

February 12 is the deadline to register for the UNC Health Care Healthiest You Challenge.

WCHL and Chapelboro, along with UNC Health Care and UNC Wellness Centers, will help 64 challengers on their journey to an active and healthy lifestyle.

Ron Stutts talking with UNC Heath Care’s Susan Chesser

The 64 challengers will be split into teams of eight, with a coach and assistant coach and a six-week free membership at UNC Wellness Centers.

Participants will earn points for losing weight, working out and taking courses.

The first place male and female will each win a one-year membership to UNC Wellness Centers.


Big Changes Coming To MLK/Weaver Dairy Intersection

If you’ve been around the corner of MLK and Weaver Dairy recently, you’ve probably noticed a lot of construction activity – and what you’re seeing now is only the beginning.

Several construction projects are either ongoing or in the pipeline for that area of Chapel Hill – beginning with Charterwood, on the west side of MLK just south of Weaver Dairy.

“It’s a 14-acre site (with) quite a bit of activity underway,” says Bill Christian, the developer who initially proposed Charterwood to the town of Chapel Hill. “They’re now building 154 (residential) units and 18,000 square feet of retail – and it looks like they’ll have the first two buildings ready for leasing by the middle of next year.”

Christian says “they” instead of “I” because Charterwood is no longer his project: Christian sold most of the site to Zimmer Development back in 2013. (Nor is it technically called “Charterwood” anymore: Christian says it’s now been renamed “Resolve 1701.”)

Christian himself still owns about five acres just to the south, which he plans to develop as well. (No official plan yet, but he says it’ll likely be about 48,000 combined square feet of office space, retail space and residential units.)

Meanwhile across the street, East West Partners (of Obey Creek fame) is about to get underway on another commercial project called Weaver Crossing.

“We’ve started site work there (and) we’re hoping to get our building permit any day,” says developer Lee Perry. “This will be a new Walgreens and a new 25,000-square foot UNC Health Care-leased building on the corner.”

Perry says if all goes well, they’ll have those two buildings done by the middle of next summer.

And that’s not all: also on MLK just north of Weaver Dairy, another developer, Northwood Ravin, is moving forward on another mixed-use project called Carraway Village – formerly known as The Edge.

“There’s still some pieces coming together (and) we’re trying to unlock the potential of it,” says Jeff Furman of Northwood Ravin. “We are negotiating with retailers and very excited about that project.”

The Edge, or Carraway Village, will be located on Eubanks Road between MLK and I-40 – pending the development process, of course.

And while all those larger projects are still in the works, you might also have noticed big changes at the already-existing development near MLK and Weaver Dairy: a major facelift at the Timberlyne shopping center, plus a new Goodwill out in front.


New UNC Hospice Home Breaks Ground In Chatham Park

About a hundred people turned out in Pittsboro on Tuesday as officials broke ground on UNC Health Care’s new Hospice Home.

“We’re glad to be celebrating UNC Health Care’s newest opportunity to serve the people of North Carolina,” said Brian Goldstein, chief operating officer of the UNC Health Care System, as he welcomed onlookers to the site.

The hospice home is set to open in February. When it opens, Goldstein said, it will be a major addition for hospice care – Chatham County’s first inpatient hospice facility.

“In total, (it will have) 11,000 square feet,” he said, “complete with kitchen, dining room, meditation space, family visiting areas, and ten private rooms, each with an individual outdoor patio.”

Brian Goldstein speaks at the groundbreaking. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

Brian Goldstein speaks at the groundbreaking. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

In addition to serving as a boost for medical care, the building will also serve as a boost for the town of Pittsboro. It’s the second building to start construction in Chatham Park, Pittsboro’s new mega-development – the first, already under way, will open in December.

“We are pleased to partner with UNC Health Care,” said Chatham Park developer Tim Smith, who was on hand for the groundbreaking. “This hospice will provide end-of-life care options not previously available to local residents.”

Pittsboro town commissioner Pamela Baldwin – also present for the ceremony – agreed. “This is an honor, as well as an unparalleled privilege, to participate in the groundbreaking,” she said.

Large crowd on hand to break ground on UNC's Hospice Home. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

Large crowd on hand to break ground on UNC’s Hospice Home. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

The crowd spilled out beyond the tent.

The crowd spilled out beyond the tent.

Officially, the building will be named the SECU Jim and Betsy Bryan Hospice Home of UNC Health Care. (Jim Johnson of the SECU Foundation was on hand to provide a major donation to the project – a $1 million challenge grant.) Dr. James Bryan, the building’s namesake, has been with the UNC Department of Internal Medicine since 1964; in the 1970s he introduced the modern hospice care movement to North Carolina.

Jim Johnson reveals the $1 million grant.

Jim Johnson reveals the $1 million grant.

Jim and Betsy Bryan.

Jim and Betsy Bryan.

That movement began in England with a physician named Cicely Saunders – and an idea that began to grow in the 1940s, when she was a nurse treating a Polish refugee who was terminally ill.

“There he was, undertaking this terminal course, and they became very close,” said Bryan at Tuesday’s ceremony. “And they talked about how ideal it would be to be at a home…with a window overlooking a park, with music, with friends and with family…

“And so when he died, he left a legacy to her – and said, ‘I want you to build a window.'”

That “window” eventually became St. Christopher’s in London, which opened in 1967 as the first modern facility devoted to hospice care. Today, there are “windows” like St. Christopher’s around the world – and come February, there will be another new “window” in Chatham Park.

UNC Hospice House Groundbreaking 8

UNC Hospice House Groundbreaking 9

UNC Hospice House Groundbreaking 12

Artist's rendering of the future Hospice Home. (Photos by Aaron Keck.)

Artist’s rendering of the future Hospice Home. (Photos by Aaron Keck.)


Hillsborough Hospital To Begin Phased Opening in July

UNC Health Care’s new 68-bed hospital in Hillsborough has all the services you might expect, including an emergency department, medical imaging, operating rooms and a critical care unit.

The interior, however, is more Martha Stewart than Marcus Welby, M.D.

“It doesn’t have that sterile hospital appearance, and that’s purposeful,” says Jeff Strickler, associate vice president for the Hillsborough campus. “We’re trying to create something that’s warm and inviting with a focus on healing and wellness.”

The four-story building boasts lots of windows and lots of light. There’s a soft color palette and a North Carolina nature theme throughout.

“The first floor is coastal, the middle levels are the Piedmont region, and the upper floors are the mountain region, so all the art and all the wayfinding match that theme,” explains Strickler.

HB Hosp WindowsTurning the corner around a hallway, sunlight appears to filter into the hospital through a grove of birch trees. It’s an optical illusion provided by a decorative window film spread floor to ceiling. On every floor there are glass panels and walls covered with similar nature scenes that let in light, but also grant privacy.

In addition, Strickler says local art helps provide an antidote to the antiseptic décor of older institutions.

“You’ll see photographs, pastels, watercolors, oils, 3D pieces of art,” says Strickler, gesturing to shelves that currently sit empty. “We’re really pleased to have that. It creates a healing environment.”

The new medical campus on Waterstone Drive has been six years in the making. Strickler says it’s a community hospital designed to serve a range of needs. While the emergency department is expected to treat up to 15,000 patients a year, much of the focus will be on elective surgeries.

That’s because several practices currently housed at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill will relocate to Hillsborough.

“It is sort of a surgically-leaning community hospital,” says Strickler. “This is where UNC is going to have a lot of our elective surgical practices. Our joint replacement surgeries will be done here, our elective spinal surgeries will be done here, opthamology cases and pretty much all of our non-cancer gynecological cases will be done here.”

That’s likely good news for many patients. In Chapel Hill, those needing joint replacement or spinal surgery must navigate parking decks, ramps and a lengthy pedestrian bridge to get to the hospital. In Hillsborough, they’ll be able to park just outside the front entrance.

Strickler says the Hillsborough campus design incorporates lessons learned at UNC’s older hospitals about what patients and their families need in times of illness and recovery.

“The patient experience is real important here at this facility, but also the family experience. One example of that is for the Intensive Care Unit, given the types of patients we may have, we have a family suite, and that’s a new concept.”

The family suite is like a mini-hotel room adjacent to the ICU, with two bedrooms, a common area and a kitchenette, where relatives of a patient can stay for a short time.

“This is really for a unique situation where you’ve got multiple family members in, or perhaps you’ve got people coming from a long distance and we’ve not yet made arrangements for them to go to a hotel,” says Strickler. “Their loved one may be struggling through the night and they can be close.”

The medical offices are already open, but the hospital itself is not yet ready to admit patients. There are still curtains to be hung, walls to be painted, equipment to be tested and art to install. Nonetheless, Strickler says the emergency room will open its doors in less than a month.

“The hospital is fully open August 31, that’s when we start the inpatient services, but as a service to the community we wanted to get some other things here earlier, so the emergency department is planning to open at 7 a.m. on July 6.”


Hillsborough Hospital To Host Open House On Saturday

The paint is still drying on the walls of Hillsborough’s new hospital, but this Saturday, UNC Health Care officials are opening the doors to let the public see the four-story facility for the first time.

Jeff Strickler is the associate vice president for UNC Health Care’s Hillsborough Campus. He says the new 68-bed facility is designed to be a community hospital.

“This emergency department has ten rooms and is projected to see somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 patients per year. It is a fully-capable emergency department; we have emergency medicine here 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can take all ages from newborn delivery all the way up to an elderly patient.”

It will also be the new home for several departments currently located in Chapel Hill. Strickler says many elective surgical practices will relocate to Hillsborough, including joint surgery, spinal surgery, ophthalmology and gynecology.

“We went to a number of our physicians and said, ‘are you interested in coming to Hillsborough?’ They evaluated their patient population and their own service needs and those were the services that said, ‘yes, we see a benefit to our patients and we’d like to come to Hillsborough.’”

The medical offices are already open in a building adjacent to the main hospital. The emergency department will begin taking patients in July. Outpatient surgery and inpatient services are slated to begin in August and September.

But before that happens, members of the public are invited to take a look around. Strickler says the open house might be your best chance to see the inside of an operating room without having to be wheeled in on a gurney.

The hospital will be open to the public for self-guided tours from 2 pm-4 pm on Saturday at 430 Waterstone Drive in Hillsborough. You can find more information here.


UNC Gets $15M Grant for ‘Heart Health Now!’ Initiative

A recent $15 million health care grant to UNC is just the first step toward promoting healthier, longer lives for heart patients throughout North Carolina.

“We can really help practices – especially those that don’t have a lot of infrastructure support – rapidly disseminate new information, and get their patients better outcomes,” said UNC Associate Professor of Medicine Sam Cykert of the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The $15 million grant comes from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The agency works within the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services to “produce evidence to make health care safer, higher quality, more accessible, equitable, and affordable,” according to its mission statement.

Cykert explained how the three-year “Heart Health Now!” initiative will reduce cardiovascular risk.

“The idea is to very intensely engage a practice for one year,” said Cykert, “and during that one year, we help them understand the information system that we’re building in partnership with Community Care of North Carolina.

“We both get the practice used to the information coming in about their patients – which, really, is updated on a daily basis – and then we use these practice coaches to help the practices find ways of constantly re-engaging these patients.”

The intense one-year phase is followed by two years of maintenance checks.

The focus will be on practices and patients in rural areas and inner cities. By working with 300 small-to-medium practices across the state, researchers hope to yield better results for patients through improved medication management, and promoting behavioral changes.

“Electronic health records, while they do some things to improve care, they’re not structured in a way to build really good tracking systems of patients and registry systems,” said Cykert. “And they’re not built in a way to be able to give you a real sophisticated data analysis of what your patient’s risk situation is.

“So, we intend to provide these practices with the tools that give them all those services.”

Cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of death in North Carolina, by far.

With that in mind, Cykert said he’s excited that policymakers seem to be putting more stock in primary care.

He added that reaching out to 300 primary caregivers in North Carolina will yield far greater results.

“By touching these 300 practices, we have the chance of actually reaching nearly a million patients,” said Cykert.


Chatham Park Breaks Ground Amid Controversy

UNC Health Care broke ground Tuesday on the first project in the controversial Chatham Park development near Pittsboro.

The 25,000-square-foot medical office building will be at the intersection of U.S. 64 Bypass and U.S. 15-501.

Though construction is underway, Chatham Park is still the focus of scrutiny.

The 7,000 acre mixed-use development was approved this summer after months of contentious debate.

A coalition of Pittsboro residents immediately filed suit have the rezoning overturned, alleging town officials didn’t follow state and local zoning rules.

Chatham Park Investors, which shares management with Preston Development, filed a motion to dismiss the suit, saying members of Pittsboro Matters don’t have a legal stake in the case.

While the lawsuit plays out in court, Pittsboro Commissioners are considering a request to add 46 acres to the project’s master plan, a move that would require the re-approval of the entire development.

Even if commissioners don’t approve the new plan, the initial approval would still stand.

The full project is slated to take 30 years to build. Once complete it would increase Pittsboro’s population by 1,900 percent, growing from 3,000 to 60,000.


Cystic Fibrosis Risks Increase with Mucins

Researchers from the UNC School of Medicine have found evidence to suggest that patients with cystic fibrosis possess a much greater number of the proteins that forms mucus, known as mucins.

Associate professor at the department of pathology and laboratory medicine, Dr. Mehmet Kesimer, explains what cystic fibrosis, or CF, is and what it can do.

“Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system,” says Dr. Kesimer. “People with CF have a defective gene, and its protein product causes the body to produce abnormally thick and sticky mucus. That is a problem in the lungs; they cannot clear the mucus very well. That is the life-threatening part of the cystic fibrosis.”

With over 70 thousand people across the globe suffering from this disease, UNC researchers have found that the increased amount of mucins the body produces within patients with cystic fibrosis prevents the mucus from clearing through the lungs, which builds and creates inflammation infection, and lung failure. However, if this increased amount of mucins can be reduced, then there is a greater opportunity for better treatments.

“Our study offers simple therapeutic strategies for treating CF lung disease,” explains Kesimer, “for instance, diluting mucins in the mucus layer by simply hydrating agents.”

Using “nebulized hypertonic saline,” a type of sterile salty water, can improve the hydration of the CF airways in order to help in the patient’s mucus clearance to increase lung function. Utilizing these sorts of solutions for patients can provide a much better means of treatment to reduce risk of the mucus build-up.