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UNCP Awarded Grant for Data Science and Rare Diseases Research

Dr. Conner Sandefur to partner with researchers at three UNC campuses

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is among six universities in the UNC system that was awarded three grants totaling $6.2 million for research on data science, green fuels, and hybrid materials technology.

The grant was provided through the University of North Carolina’s Research Opportunities Initiative. Priority research areas for the UNC ROI program are pharmacoengineering, advanced manufacturing, energy, data science, marine sciences as well as the military and other security-related issues.

UNC Pembroke will receive approximately $80,000 over a three-year period.

The project will leverage recent developments in the state’s strategic areas of data science and rare diseases to create a data hub that will improve the understanding of diseases and accelerate the development of novel therapies.

“Research and teaching go hand-in-hand at UNC Pembroke,” said Dr. Jeff Frederick, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“We are excited about the opportunities to partner with other universities and the innovations and waves of discovery this will produce.”

UNC Pembroke is collaborating with researchers at UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. Central University and N.C. State University. Dr. Conner Sandefur, an assistant biology professor, is the lead partner for UNCP.     

“I’m incredibly proud of this partnership and excited to participate in this project,” Sandefur said.  “The partnership is important for UNCP as it provides opportunity for our students to interact with researchers across the state.

“UNCP plays a critical role in the partnership by providing a pathway for rural communities to have a voice in and benefit from this critical research.”

Sandefur teaches microbiology and genetics and mentors students in undergraduate research.

As part of the initiative, Sandefur will serve as co-mentor for a postdoctoral scholar at UNC Chapel Hill. Along with Dr. Timothy Elston, the team will generate predictive mathematical models of intracellular signaling processes with the goal of designing novel therapies.

Sandefur will also lead outreach initiatives to engage health care providers and community members in the development and dissemination of regionally-specific, culturally appropriate tools related to rare diseases.

The UNC ROI will also fund research on solar-enabled green liquid fuels led by   Debasish Kuila at North Carolina A&T University and partnering faculty at N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Researchers aim to develop a sustainable technology that will convert a bio-renewable energy source into carbon-neutral gasoline. The technology would provide significant economic benefit to the state as well as lower the environmental footprint of the farming enterprise.

Researchers from UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. Central University, N.C. State and UNC Charlotte will study hybrid materials technology. This project will capture the unprecedented opportunity brought by the revolutionary discovery of a new class of hybrid perovskite materials - a type of low-cost, efficient solar cell.

The UNC ROI project could potentially result in innovations in clean energy, imaging, and radiation sensing. The team’s goal is to establish a center for these technologies that will accelerate the commercialization process of the technologies developed and have a major impact on the state’s economy.

The grants are funded by the North Carolina General Assembly to promote innovative and potentially game-changing research projects within the UNC system.

“The research produced by our institutions continues to positively impact the lives of all North Carolinians through advancements in areas such as health care and clean energy,” said UNC system President Margaret Spellings. “We’re grateful to state lawmakers for their strong support of UNC ROI’s important work.”

Article from UNCP News and Events

(Photograph Courtesy of UNCP Photographer Willis Glasgow)