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For immediate use: Monday, May 3, 2010

CHAPEL HILL — A new $10 million grant will help researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and East Carolina University collaborate with health-care practitioners and community leaders in Lenoir County to tackle heart disease, the county’s leading cause of death.

The UNC-ECU project aims to better understand the causes of cardiovascular health disparities and test innovative solutions. It is one of 10 Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities funded by a five-year grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health. The 10 centers are also supported by the National Cancer Institute and the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research.

Lenoir County is on the “buckle” of the “stroke belt,” a name given to a region of the southeastern United States recognized by public health authorities for its unusually high incidence of stroke and other forms of cardiovascular disease. The county’s hypertension and cardiovascular disease rates are among the highest in the country, and many residents lack access to adequate medical care or opportunities that promote good health.

The project will be based at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. The center’s director, Alice Ammerman, Dr.PH., professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is project co-leader along with Dr. Cam Patterson, Chief of the Division of Cardiology at UNC School of Medicine and director of the UNC McAllister Heart Institute. Patterson and Drs. Darren DeWalt and Tom Keyserling, assistant and associate professors, respectively, in the UNC School of Medicine, will lead three related research projects within the center. The ECU team is led by Doyle M. Cummings, Pharm.D., a pharmacist and professor of family medicine, and Stephanie Jilcott, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health.

“This project gives us the opportunity to bring together a multidisciplinary research team with a wide variety of community partners in Lenoir County to tackle hypertension and heart disease from prevention to treatment,” Ammerman said.
“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America, and our goal at UNC is to change that statistic by finding ways to prevent it and treat it,” said Patterson, whose specialty is determining genetic factors of the disease.” This project allows us to demonstrate our dedication to that goal, and we are especially grateful to the people of Lenoir County for helping us lead the way.”

The research will help determine genetic factors associated with cardiovascular disease risk and how clinical and public health communities can more effectively work together to reduce people’s risk of heart disease through medication, diet and physical activity. The project will also offer an intensive weight loss intervention for participants who are overweight.

The study will also include a partnership with a non-profit call center, Connect Inc., adding lifestyle and medication adherence coaching to its current focus on jobs, employment and benefits counseling. The project will explore opportunities to create jobs while promoting health, including local food production and distribution systems in Lenoir County.

Research support will be provided by the N.C. Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute at UNC. Interventions that prove effective will be disseminated through the center of excellence for training and research translation within the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

The project is guided by a community advisory committee and researchers will work with local decision makers to implement policy and environmental changes to sustain long-term health improvements.

UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention contact: Sonya Sutton, (919) 966-4118,
News Services contact: Patric Lane, (919) 962-8596,

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