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NCCU Awarded $600,000 for Game-Changing Research


A North Carolina Central University-led research team working to create more efficient treatments for Ebola, West Nile and other deadly viruses was awarded a $600,000 grant from the University of North Carolina General Administration.

Dr. TinChung Leung, assistant professor of biology at NCCU’s Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute, is one of five co-investigators on the project that uses bioengineered single-cell microalgae to create disease-fighting antibodies in just a few days.

“They make it now using tobacco,” Dr. Leung said. “Our team uses the same DNA construct and puts it in a single-cell algae. Microalgae exhibit much higher growth rates when compared to the tobacco plant and can reach the same biomass in a few days that it takes a tobacco plant a few weeks to reach.”

The antibodies developed in plants are effective because they can attach to viruses and create an immune response in the patient. The experimental drug ZMapp, developed using tobacco plant cells, has been effective in critically ill patients with Ebola. However, production is slow, and the drug is not widely available.

UNC General Administration Research Director Dr. Erin Hopper said the new process using microalgae to speed up production of antibodies is potentially a game-changing development in the fight against the Ebola virus, which has killed nearly 10,000 people since March 2014, as well as other deadly viruses.

Hopper recently announced the award of six three-year Research Opportunities Initiative grants totaling nearly $9 million to researchers in the University of North Carolina system. The funding is from a recurring $3 million annual appropriation approved by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2014 to support strategic faculty research involving partners from two or more UNC campuses.

The microalgae grant involves team members from NCCU, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University in 2014 General Assembly.

The five primary investigators are Dr. Leung; Dr. Xiaohe Yang, associate professor at NCCU’s Biomedical/Biotechnological Research Institute (BBRI); Dr. Jiahua Xie, assistant professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at NCCU’s Bio Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE); Penelope Perkins-Veazie, professor of horticultural sciences, North Carolina State University; and Dr. Michael Miley, research assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology at UNC-Chapel Hill.

For more information, contact TinChung Leung, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute, North Carolina Central University Research Campus, Kannapolis, NC, at tleung@nccu.edu or (704) 250-5728.

Published: Wednesday, March 11, 2015
by Associate Vice Chancellor, Ayana D Hernandez
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