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Dr. Conner Sandefur Publishes Paper in Prestigious Journal

Dr. Conner Sandefur and Lonzie HedgepethDr. Conner Sandefur (right) and Lonzie Hedgepeth (undergraduate researcher) discuss a mathematical model

Dr. Conner Sandefur's paper, entitled "Mathematical model reveals role of nucleotide signaling in airway surface liquid homeostasis and its dysregulation in cystic fibrosis," was published yesterday (14 August 2017) in one of the nation's leading and most widely read peer-reviewed journals in the sciences, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  Two co-authors joined Dr. Sandefur (the lead author) in writing the paper.  During his two years on the Biology faculty at UNC Pembroke, Dr. Sandefur has maintained a rigorous program of research, mentoring more than a dozen undergraduate researchers along the way.  He summarizes the content of his recent PNAS paper below.

This paper is the result of five years of work - three at UNCCH as a SPIRE postdoc and two here at UNCP as an Assistant Professor in the amazing Biology Department. My collaborators and I developed a mathematical model to investigate airway surface liquid hydration, an important component of mucus clearance, which functions to capture and remove pathogens from our airways. In cystic fibrosis (CF), airways are dehydrated, mucus clearance is disrupted and pathogens build-up on mucus in the airways. This results in increased rates of infection in individuals with long-term disrupted mucus clearance, including individuals with CF. 

After developing the model and demonstrating how normal airway homeostasis is maintained via extracellular signals (ATP and adenosine), we go on to show how this homeostasis is disrupted in cystic fibrosis, leading to airway surface dehydration. Probably the coolest thing we do here, in my opinion, is then go on to use the model to demonstrate rehydration of airway surfaces via drug delivery device of a specific membrane receptor agonist. 

Another neat thing is that this collaboration continues. And this fall, UNCP students in my research lab will have the opportunity to develop additional mathematical models to probe further into the mechanism of mucus clearance in healthy individuals and those with diseases that impact airways such as CF and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).