Treating and Preventing Childhood Diseases

Two girls on a park bench blowing bubbles

A team of researchers at the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Adams School of Dentistry will lead a multinational project to better understand, treat and prevent childhood diseases, thanks to a $3.5 million grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI).

The team’s research will seek to better understand how cells lining the nose, mouth and airways interact to maintain respiratory health or play roles in diseases throughout childhood. The project is part of larger collaboration, supported by $33 million in CZI grants, spanning groups of researchers across 15 countries that will contribute to the global Human Cell Atlas – a kind of Google Earth view of human cell architecture. 

Coordinating principal investigator James S. Hagood, Professor of Pediatric Pulmonology at the UNC School of Medicine, said, “We have made important strides in preventing and treating diseases in children over the last two decades, but we have much more work to do. We need to investigate how various environmental factors, such as air pollution and viruses, impact children around the world at the cellular level so we can generate better ways to help them.”

The international team of clinical scientists will collect samples from six countries – Brazil, Germany, India, Malawi, the United States and Vietnam – to ensure inclusion of a variety of ancestral backgrounds.

Co-principle investigator Richard Boucher, Director of the UNC Marsico Lung Institute and the UNC Cystic Fibrosis Center, said, “We have learned a lot about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but we need to learn more about how this virus and others affect cells in mouth and nose – where infection first takes hold – and how viruses and pollution affect human airways to produce chronic disease.”

This award supports the Campaign for Carolina, the University’s most ambitious fundraising campaign in history, launched in October 2017 with a goal to raise $4.25 billion by December 2022.

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