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UNC-Chapel Hill awarded $19 million to study atherosclerosis risk in communities


Long-term atherosclerosis study addresses global public health need and possible connection to dementia


(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Jan. 12, 2017) – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center at Gillings School of Global Public Health’s has been awarded a five-year, $19 million contract from the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to conduct the next phase of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study.


The 30-year study, led now by Sonia Davis, professor of the practice of biostatistics, offers one of the most comprehensive looks on the causes of atherosclerosis, a growing global public health concern characterized by hardening of the arteries. In addition, the study will continue to look at cardiovascular risk factors, medical care and disease by race, gender, location and date – as well as collect new data.


“With more than three million new cases of atherosclerosis diagnosed every year in this country alone, as well as the life-changing impact of high medical costs that continue to grow, it is essential that researchers continue and expand their research studies,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “This funding will help UNC investigators extend their work that is already producing the high-quality and detailed information essential to better understanding this disease and developing new diagnosis, prevention and treatment regimens.”


In 1987, more than 15,000 participants from four communities – Forsyth County, N.C.; Jackson, Miss.; Minneapolis, Minn. and Washington County, Md. – were selected randomly and enrolled in the study. To date, the project has resulted in more than 1,800 published articles in peer-reviewed journals and continues to be a strong training ground for young investigators.


Over the next 30 years, investigators expanded research goals to characterize stages of heart failure, identify genetic and environmental factors leading to ventricular dysfunction and vascular stiffness and assessing longitudinal changes in pulmonary function, including identifying determinants of its decline.


“It’s impossible to define the center without acknowledging the atherosclerosis risk in communities study front and center,” Davis said. “It has been an honor to be the long-time data coordinating center for this highly impactful study. Now we are excited about the unprecedented opportunity the study provides us to assess prospectively mid-life risk factors of age-related conditions such as dementia.”


The sixth examination of the remaining living participants in the atherosclerosis study is currently underway and the new funding, by the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, supports a seventh examination that will begin in January 2018 and last 18 months.


The funding will allow investigators to collect data and new specimens and fund continued storage of all study specimens at three labs across the country: Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the universities of Minnesota and Texas Health Science Center at Houston. It also provides resources for a pilot study comparing the current manual surveillance process to a computerized process involving extraction of data from electronic health records.


“We’ve been part of valuable research that has continued over a long period and the study is still producing high-quality research, even after all this time,” said David Couper, clinical professor of biostatistics at the Gillings School, deputy director of the center and principal investigator of the coordinating center. “The cohort is such a valuable resource.”




About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 110 master’s, 64 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. Every day, faculty – including two Nobel laureates – staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s 317,000-plus alumni live in all 50 states and 156 other countries. More than 167,000 live in North Carolina.


UNC Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596,


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