March 17, 2015

Eleven faculty research scientists at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) in Kannapolis currently have externally funded grants to support their work exploring individualized nutrition. These awards are significant not only for providing the means by which the NRI can advance its scientific discoveries but also for their economic impact in the Charlotte region.

A new study analyzing the economic impact of North Carolina’s higher education institutions, conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists International, reveals the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC Health Care Medical Center together added $7.1 billion to North Carolina’s economy in fiscal year 2013 – an amount representing nearly 100,000 jobs in the state. The NRI’s current crop of grants total $5.8 million annually.

In one NRI study, Natalia Krupenko, Ph.D., will use a five-year, $1.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to investigate the role of folate, an essential vitamin, in cellular signaling. Understanding these mechanisms will lead to better recommendations for dietary supplementation for people with differing needs. This study will also evaluate antifolates and ceramide-based drugs as new therapeutic approaches for cancer treatment.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has awarded the NRI’s Folami Ideraabdullah, Ph.D., a three-year $470,808 grant to identify genetic differences that are responsible for determining how individuals respond to exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs). The outcomes will help us understand how DNA sequence differences influence our susceptibility to environmentally based disease.

Together, these two awards and the other nine research grants now underway at the Kannapolis-based institute help to fund 92 jobs. But the ripple effects in the economy go far deeper. NIH reports that “every $1 of NIH funding generates about $2.21 in local economic growth.”

Bioscience grants, like those at work at the NRI, stimulate additional local economic activity through the purchase of goods and services, the procurement of new equipment and supplies needed for state-of-the-art research and clinical activities, new inventions and patents, the creation of startup businesses, and the long-term benefit brought by UNC-Chapel Hill’s highly skilled alumni, many of whom work in the state. 

“The UNC Nutrition Research Institute will soon be informing the ways in which healthcare providers diagnose and treat each of us by addressing our genetic individuality,” said NRI director Steven H. Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D. “In the meantime, the NRI’s work in the Charlotte region is helping to stimulate economic growth, making the institute a center of both discovery and community development.”

About the UNC Nutrition Research Institute

The UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is located on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. The NRI is exploring the field of individualized nutrition—understanding variances in human DNA, metabolism and nutrient requirements and how these differences impact health. NRI discoveries will lead to individually tailored nutrition recommendations that will allow people to customize their diets in order to maximize wellness and reduce risk of disease.