October 12, 2012

The University of Cambridge and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Gillings School of Global Public Health will pioneer collaborative research in dementia, obesity, tobacco and alcohol, and disease progression and treatment.

A collaboration to transform public health has been forged between the University of Cambridge and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. The collaboration will build on the two universities’ complementary strengths in biostatistics, epidemiology, obesity, non-communicable diseases, aging, health behavior and global health. In its first year, the partnership has committed research funding to four areas: dementia, obesity, tobacco and alcohol control policies, and health data gaps that limit our understanding of disease progression and treatment.









Co-chairs of the research collaborative, Carol Brayne, MD, MSc, professor of public health medicine and director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, and Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at UNC’s public health school, have high expectations for the partnership. They hope to obtain funding for at least two more projects in the coming year and to develop incubator funding for developmental planning work that will lead to public and private resourcing in both countries. Their goal is to develop innovation labs on the model of the Gillings Innovation Lab format, which focus on promising research initiatives, and to offer prestigious graduate fellowships linked to major strategic areas of collaboration.

Dementia – a growing global crisis. With an aging global population and predictions that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease will quadruple by 2050, there is an urgent need to understand and reduce risk factors for dementia. The University of Cambridge and UNC collaborative study will investigate the impact of risk factors such as ethnicity, urban versus rural location, social networks and culture on dementia and cognitive health.

Co-principal investigators for the project are Peggye Dilworth-Anderson, PhD, professor of health policy and management at UNC’s public health school and interim co-director of UNC’s Institute on Aging, and University of Cambridge’s Carol Brayne.

At the heart of the study are data on the health of diverse cultural groups that already have been collected from studies conducted in the U.S. and U.K. Additional funding recently received from the U. K.-U. S. Collaborative Development Award (CDA) Program will enable the dementia research to advance more rapidly.

Obesity policy – influencing policy and practice. June Stevens, PhD, AICR/ WCRF Distinguished Professor and chair of nutrition at UNC, and John Danesh, DPhil, head of Cambridge’s Department of Public Health and Primary Care and professor of epidemiology and medicine, co-lead an effort that will use an extensive database compiled by Cambridge researchers to influence U.S. and U.K. obesity policy. The project also will answer key questions posed by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) panel charged with updating clinical guidelines related to risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension and diabetes. Stevens is a member of the NIH panel.

Tobacco and alcohol policies – new tools to monitor local compliance. Kurt Ribisl, PhD, professor of health behavior at UNC and Theresa Marteau, PhD, professor of behavior and health at Cambridge and director of Cambridge’s Behavior and Health Research Unit, co-lead a project to expand use of an electronic store audit tool, developed at UNC, to describe neighborhood and retail environments in four U.S. and U.K. communities and monitor compliance with local tobacco and alcohol control policies.

Health care data – challenges and opportunities. Michael Kosorok, PhD, professor and chair of biostatistics at UNC, and Vern Farewell, PhD, program leader at Cambridge’s Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit, co-lead a project that addresses one of the great challenges and opportunities in health care – extracting information and meaning from large, complex data sets so that results reflect reality and can be used to improve population health and disease treatment.

The CDA program is sponsored by the Global Partnership Fund through the British government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and its Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is administered through the U.K.’s Science and Innovation Network, based in the USA. The program enables scientists, engineers, academic leaders and innovation experts in the U.S. and U.K. to travel abroad for short visits to lay the groundwork for collaborative efforts.

For more information about the UNC-Cambridge partnership, contact Barbara Wallace, MPH, director of corporate, foundation and global partnerships at UNC (bobbi_wallace@unc.edu) or Jana Voigt, PhD, at Cambridge’s Research Strategy Office (jana.voigt@admin.cam.ac.uk).


UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Linda Kastleman, communications editor, (919) 966-8317 or linda_kastleman@unc.edu.



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