CHAPEL HILL – The Food and Drug Administration is funding 14 tobacco centers of regulatory science, and out of the 40 universities that applied, UNC was the only school to receive two.

The two research teams combined will receive nearly $40 million from the FDA.

Associate professor, Robert Tarran, is leading one of the teams and four of the projects at UNC. Tarran has experience doing tobacco research on COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) for several years.  He says he thinks UNC received funding because of the expertise at the school.

“So UNC has an expertise in airway biology, and so we were able to put together a whole bunch of different researchers who have complimentary research experience to put together this comprehensive project,” Tarran says.

Tarran says that his team will receive $20 million over the next five years for a flexible range of tobacco products.  Currently, Tarran says he’s focusing on the effects of hookah and “little cigars,” but in the future may research other new tobacco products.

The money from the grant will not only employ researchers here at UNC but will provide a training component for graduate students.

“There’s an actual separate component on this for training grad students, and then part of that gives them the advantage, so there’s like a mechanism for a grad student to come into this and then go and get experience at other centers as well,” Tarran says. “And so we get to train the next generation of scientists who look at tobacco research.”

Professor in the School of Public Health at UNC, Kurt Ribisl leads the other research team that looks at how to communicate the facts about tobacco products to smokers.   Having researched in this area for 19 years and involvement in the Surgeon General’s report last year, Ribisl says he has high goals for his project.

“The ultimate goal of all of this work is to reduce the public health burden of tobacco use, design research that will help inform and guide what the FDA does when they regulate tobacco products,” Ribisl says.

The new FDA funded research will allow for studies to be conducted on subjects where there is very little data.  Tarran says the funds will allow for precise, fact-driven research that hasn’t been done.

“Well see it’s going to be interesting, I think its nice now that we can sort of have a better debate about whether or not these new products are dangerous or not, I think the precise research hasn’t been done so this gives us opportunity to do that and then to better help the FDA on governing these products,” Tarran states.

Ribisl says that one of the new aspects they will look at is warning labels for E-Cigarettes.

“We really need to understand what consumers think about the risks of these projects, and when we find if they have really distorted views of the risks, then we want to more properly align what the consumer believes with the actual risk of the product;” Ribisl says “so we are thinking about testing new labels for E-Cigarettes.”

With a combined $40 million for research over the next five years, UNC will produce new data related to cigarettes and other tobacco products. A mix of health studies on the lungs and how to effectively communicate the risks of tobacco products will dovetail nicely for the FDA.