Leadership

Trustees announce goals, view heart-tugging stories of patients benefitting from research

The July Board of Trustees meeting featured two presentations about University health care research that has led to groundbreaking patient treatments.

Jessica Lee speaks at a podium at a meeting
Jessica Lee, chair and distinguished professor at the UNC School of Dentistry, told members of the Board of Trustees that Carolina is the only university currently performing autotransplantation — removing a healthy tooth and placing it where another tooth is missing. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

At the first University Board of Trustees meeting in the new fiscal year, Chair Haywood Cochrane announced six goals for the board that are tied to the University’s strategic framework, the Blueprint for Next.

Cochrane listed these goals at the July 19 meeting:

  1. Continue to support Chancellor Carol L. Folt and her team as they implement the strategic framework;
  2. Support alignment with UNC System’s goals;
  3. Advance the University’s comprehensive capital campaign;
  4. Innovate, translate and support research and economic development;
  5. Develop citizen leaders by encouraging informed public discussion and supporting freedom of speech; and
  6. Ensure accountability in all activities.

The trustees heard two presentations about University health care research that has led to groundbreaking patient treatments. These patient stories tugged at the heartstrings in two accompanying videos.

In the first, Dr. Jessica Y. Lee of the School of Dentistry told the trustees how Carolina is the only university currently performing autotransplantation — removing a healthy tooth and placing it where another tooth is missing. The procedure, which uses teeth that need to be removed anyway (wisdom teeth, crooked teeth), is particularly appropriate for children.

“It grows with the child,” explained Lee, chair and distinguished professor in the department of pediatric dentistry. Her video told the story of Victoria, one of three adopted sisters who lost teeth because of abuse in their native Poland, and Maria, who lost a tooth in a car crash. “Her question to me was, ‘How do I get my smile back?’” Lee said of Maria.

The second faculty presentation focused on the use of genetic information to diagnose illness. To illustrate the work of NCGENES 2, Dr. Jonathan Berg, associate professor in the School of Medicine’s genetics department, presented a video about a patient who had participated in NCGENES, the first phase of the study.

Elizabeth Davis started having trouble walking when she was 6 and had to use crutches to get around by seventh grade. But doctors couldn’t treat her disease because they couldn’t diagnose what it was. Her doctor referred her to the NCGENES study. Researchers quickly spotted a genetic variant that had been linked to a condition that could be treated with a drug commonly used for Parkinson’s disease. Six weeks after starting her treatment, Davis walked back into the clinic, no longer needing her crutches.

While patients like Davis show the promise of this research, genomic medicine does face challenges, such as the ethics of genetic testing, the relatively low number of minorities participating in genetic studies, lack of insurance coverage for procedures and funding, Berg said.

After the presentation, Bill Roper, CEO of UNC Health Care and dean of the School of Medicine, announced that the UNC Health Care Board of Directors had voted earlier this week to give a $10 million grant to further “this kind of precision medicine.”

In other action:

  • Trustees elected Cochrane as chair, Chuck Duckett as vice chair, Julia Grumbles as secretary and Clayton Somers as assistant secretary;
  • Trustees passed a resolution in appreciation of the service of Dwayne Pinkney, who will be senior vice president for operations and administration at Virginia Tech, effective July 31;
  • Derek Kemp, associate vice chancellor for campus safety and risk management, announced that locks will be installed on classroom doors by Aug. 6;
  • Trustees approved the building site of an addition to the McColl and Kenan Center buildings for the Kenan-Flagler Business School. The project will add about 140,000 square feet and include an expansion to the parking deck that will add about 180 spaces; and
  • Judith Cone, vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development, announced that the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities had added Carolina to its Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Program. This designation recognizes institutions that have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to economic and community development.