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Research that Advances Care
Improving Medicine for Patients Near and Far
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We’re constantly seeking new and better ways to deliver care and working to solve some of our world’s most complex and pressing health challenges. Researchers at UNC Children’s are working together on everything from how to improve diabetes management to better understand the intricacies of the human genome. Here are just two stories of research expertise.
Research in pursuit of the best possible outcomes for patients.
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Our researchers are constantly working to address the most complex and pressing health challenges facing children in North Carolina and beyond. Research interests range from improving diabetes management to understanding the intricacies of the human genome. Here are two of the many examples of UNC Children’s research expertise. For Maureen Su, MD, unraveling the complexities of Turner syndrome is all in a day’s work. This condition isn’t inherited, but it is fairly common – affecting approximately 1 in 2,500 girls.

Collaboration that leads to solutions
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1 in 2,500 girls are affected by Turner syndrome
While boys are born with one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, girls are born with two X chromosomes. Turner syndrome is caused when one X chromosome is complete and the other is missing or altered. The most common characteristic of Turner syndrome is short stature; without treatment, a woman with Turner syndrome will typically grow to about 4 1/2 feet tall. Painful ear infections are another common occurrence for people with Turner syndrome and similar chromosomal and genetic conditions.
Dr. Su and her diverse team of UNC researchers work to understand and address these infections. They discovered the condition also makes it harder for the body to develop a particular type of immune cell we all need to fight infections.
Their findings show the biological causes of these chronic infections and point to a potential treatment. The study was published in the influential medical journal Immunity.

Dr. Su and her team conducted the research with support from a grant from the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute (NC TraCS) and the generosity of 40 Turner syndrome patients who provided samples.

“This is a great example of how a clinical problem informs basic research and then circles back to patients,” Dr. Su said. “They’re the ones who donated blood samples so we could start this project, and they’re the ones who need us to help them.”
“We wouldn’t have been able to do this kind of study without that initial seed money from NC TraCS,” Dr. Su continued. “Further, we never could have done this kind of project without the diverse expertise at the School of Medicine. This team-oriented approach to discovery is a great example of why this place is so special.”
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“This is a great example of how a clinical problem informs basic research and then circles back to patients.”
–Dr. Su
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In North Carolina, more than 10% of all births are pre-term
Babies in the NICU need complex care and constant vigilance. They often need to have medicine and nutrients delivered through a central line catheter for long periods of time. The difference between life and death for many babies in the NICU can often be how well the medical team prevents an infection from placing, using and checking that central line. Dr. McCaffrey and his team developed a system to help providers better monitor these lines and prevent problems. They reduced infection rates by 72 percent. In other words, this system saves the lives of 18 infants in North Carolina NICUs each year. Their findings have been published in Pediatrics so NICUs around the world can adopt this system, saving hundreds of babies each year.

“We need to understand more about what daily maintenance practices will help reduce the risk of infection,” he said. “But, the challenge of this work is that we can change policy, but if you don’t change culture, things can revert back. We aim to change culture and enhance the way we care for NICU patients.”
“Our mission is to give North Carolina moms and babies the best outcomes,” he said. “We’re doing that through reducing infections and length of stay, which benefits both the hospitals and the patients.”
In 2017, Dr. McCaffrey and his team will expand their efforts to develop better ways to prevent infections from antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” in hospitals. “Reducing the prevalence of antibiotics in NICUs is more than looking through numbers and identifying outliers. It’s going to require ongoing education and relationship-building with families,” Martin said. “Instead of just prescribing an antibiotic to be safe, we want to ensure that the child absolutely needs the antibiotic first. Incorporating the families in this work presents a great opportunity to educate parents about the positives and negatives of antibiotics and help them to be more involved in their child’s care.”
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“Our mission is to give North Carolina moms and babies the best outcomes.”
–Dr. Martin McCaffrey
Dr. McCaffrey also leads the Perinatal Quality Collaborative of North Carolina (PQCNC), which includes 26 NICUs and care centers across the state – all working to improve quality and outcomes for some of our state’s smallest, and often most vulnerable, patients. Because of this connection, his research extends far beyond Chapel Hill and helps improve outcomes for other NICUs across the state.
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Research in action: Improving NICU quality
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Across the state, more than 10 percent of all births are pre-term (before 37 weeks gestation). Many of those babies have to spend some extra time in hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) before heading home. Martin McCaffrey, MD, and his team are using research to significantly reduce hospital-based infections in NICUs at N.C. Children’s Hospital and at other hospitals across the state and beyond.

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