Artists Reunite to Design Signage for UNC Project-Malawi Addition

IMG_1361Before stepping foot into its new academic and laboratory facility, UNC Project-Malawi’s mission is evident thanks to a newly erected, intricately carved sign.

“There is a microscope, a stethoscope, a book and intertwined hands to show research, clinical care, training and collaboration,” said Michael Kapalamula, a Malawian artist who co-created the sign. “It is artistic, but at the same time it tells a story of the work being done here.”

Called the “UNC Project Annex,” the building’s ground floor on the Lilongwe campus houses a pathology laboratory and other lab services. The first floor includes teaching conference rooms and offices for the Project’s cancer program. Offices for faculty and UNC Project-Malawi’s management team are located on the second floor.

Malawian painter Michael Kapalamula and American metal artist Elsa Hoffman designed the building's sign.

Malawian painter Michael Kapalamula and American metal artist Elsa Hoffman designed the building’s sign.

“The new building is helping support the growth of UNC Project-Malawi through providing 70 percent of the country’s population with cancer and pathology services,” said the Project’s Associate Country Director Innocent Mofolo, who organized the commission of the artistic sign. “This state-of-the-art 15,000 square foot building provides additional space for our continued collaboration with the government of Malawi to provide world class academic services focused on medical research, training and care.”

Just as Malawian and American clinician-scientists work together inside the building, Kapalamula collaborated with an American artist for the outdoor signage. A decade ago, he painted a vibrant mural in the Project’s main building, the Tidziwe Centre. Back then, 19-year-old American Elsa Hoffman was visiting the Project and assisted Kapalamula with his painting. Now an established metal artist in Chapel Hill, Hoffman traveled to Malawi to partner with Kapalamula on signage for the new building.

In early March, Hoffman packed her plasma cutter, a handheld torch used for cutting metal, and flew to Lilongwe. Once there, she and Kapalamula journeyed around the region taking photos reflective of daily life in Malawi to use as inspiration. Malawi is 85 percent rural and agrarian with a per capita income of under $2 per day. People are dependent on crop production for survival.

“We really wanted to be responsive to the environment in Lilongwe and capture people’s day-to-day reality,” Hoffman said. “There is a connection to the plants and fruits growing in that region. As we traveled around, people gave us suggestions for photographs. It really became a natural way to meet people and turned into this community project.”

Members of the Malawian parliament's committee for HIV/AIDs visited the new building.

Members of the Malawian parliament’s committee for HIV/AIDS visited the new building.

Hoffman and Kapalamula took the photos they shot of sweet potato vines, banana trees and other local flora and began sketching a first draft of the sign. The final seven-panel design marries the region’s crops with the Project’s medical mission.

“The man and woman we cut into the sign are taking care of and harvesting the crops, just like research has to be done well and thoughtfully in order to achieve quality results for the benefit of the nation,” said Kapalamula. “We also included plants with medicinal properties like aloe vera, sunflower and potato leaves.”

Working with Hoffman again deepened their friendship and introduced Kapalamula to the metal cutting technique. He said learning this new skill was his favorite part of the creative process. It took a full week of intensive cutting to complete the stainless steel sign. Hoffman enjoyed seeing the shadows reflected on the building when the sunlight shone through the design.

“The sign is descriptive and illustrative of Malawian life,” Hoffman said. “People can see themselves in the design, which allows them to appreciate it a lot more.”

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UNC to Create and Test Injectable Long-Acting Implant to Prevent HIV/AIDS

Rahima Benhabbour, Ph.D., says the formulation can be adjusted to meet a targeted release regimen.

Rahima Benhabbour, Ph.D., says the formulation can be adjusted to meet a targeted release regimen.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have received a three-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a new implantable drug delivery system for long-lasting HIV prevention.

Scientists in the UNC School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases and the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy are developing an injectable drug delivery system that forms an implant that steadily releases anti-HIV medication over long periods of time.

The injectable formulation includes an anti-HIV drug, a polymer and a solvent. The three-compound liquid will solidify once injected under the skin. As the polymer slowly degrades, the drug is released. Efficacy of the new formulation to prevent HIV transmission will be evaluated using state of the art pre-clinical models developed at UNC.

Currently, a once-daily pill exists to prevent HIV infection. However, adherence to this daily regimen can be challenging for some people.

“This long-acting injectable formulation could provide a discrete and efficient method to protect against HIV infection and improve adherence, which is one of the major challenges of oral pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP,” said Rahima Benhabbour, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and one of the study’s co-principal investigators. “The formulation is adaptable to a number of drugs alone or in combination and can be fine tuned to meet a targeted release regimen.”

Martina Kovarova, Ph.D., hopes the injectable implant will be another option for HIV prevention.

Martina Kovarova, Ph.D., hopes the injectable implant will be another option for HIV prevention.

Long-acting injectable drug formulations for PrEP are currently being tested in clinical trials to improve adherence to the medication regimen. A limitation to the long-acting injectable formulation currently under study is that it cannot be removed from the body.

“The goal of our study is to develop an injectable polymer-based delivery system for long-acting PrEP that offers durable, sustained protection from HIV transmission, high efficacy of HIV inhibition, increased adherence and the ability to be removed in case of an unanticipated adverse event or when considering discontinuation of this form of PrEP,” said Martina Kovarova, Ph.D., the study’s co-principal investigator and an assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “If discontinuation of treatment is desired, the implant would be readily removable.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will assist UNC with further testing the injectable implant in animal models.

“We are excited to be part of the team that is undertaking this important study for HIV prevention,” said Gerardo Garci-Lerma, Ph.D., a research microbiologist at CDC.

The team hopes the development and testing of this injectable implant will eventually yield a formulation that can provide a three months of HIV prevention.

“We’re in the very beginning stages of this project,” Kovarova said. “This novel formulation has oustanding properties, and we are excited to move ahead.”

Seven Staff Honored with Service Awards

JoAnn Kuruc, MSN, was honored by David Margolis, MD, for 15 years of service to UNC. She works with Margolis on HIV cure research studies.

JoAnn Kuruc, MSN, was honored by David Margolis, MD, for 15 years of service to UNC. She works with Margolis on HIV cure research studies.

Seven staff in the Division of Infectious Diseases received awards, recognizing their years of service to UNC. Staff are honored in five year increments. Congratulations to the following team members!

– Nurjahan Begum, Research Technician in the Garcia lab (five years)

Steve Bradley-Bull, MEd, LCC, Project Manager, Criminal Justice and Health Working Group (15 years)

Amanda Crooks, BS, Research Assistant, Global HIV Prevention and Treatment Clinical Trials Unit (five years)

– Kristen Hancock, RN, Study Coordinator, Global HIV Prevention and Treatment Clinical Trials Unit (15 years)

– Jim Kenny, Pre-Award Manager (five years)

Joann Kuruc, MSN, Research Program Manager and Clinical Supervisor, Global HIV Prevention and Treatment Clinical Trials Unit (15 years)

– Lynne Sampson, PhD, MPH, Epidemiologist (five years)

Boyce to Lead First Study into the Prevalence of Mosquito-Borne Viruses in Uganda

Ross Boyce, MD, MSc, will return to Uganda in July to begin his study investigating the prevalence of dengue and other mosquito-borne viruses.

Ross Boyce, MD, MSc, will return to Uganda in July to begin his study investigating the prevalence of dengue and other mosquito-borne viruses.

When you present at a clinic in Uganda with fever and muscle aches, you will be given a test for malaria. Should you test negative, you will still most likely be given antimalarial medications, which creates two problems.

“You will not get better right away, and malaria medication, which is expensive in Uganda, has been wasted,” says Ross Boyce, MD, MSc, an infectious diseases fellow at UNC. “The symptoms for malaria are similar to dengue, chikungunya and Zika, and the Aedes mosquitoes that carry these viruses are common in Uganda.”

With funding from the UNC School of Medicine’s Office of International Activities’ Global Health Scholars Program and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, Boyce will work with colleagues at UNC and the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda to determine what proportion of febrile illness visits are attributable to these mosquito-borne diseases. People testing negative for malaria at three clinics in different regions of Uganda will undergo further testing for dengue, chikungunya and Zika in order to generate a snapshot of how common each virus is in Western Uganda.

“Zika originated in Uganda in the 1940s, and European tourists returning from Uganda have tested positive for dengue. We know these viruses are there, it’s just a matter of proving it,” said Boyce. “Without that evidence, it’s difficult to argue for any investment in better diagnostics and control programs. Given than existing malaria interventions, such a bed-nets, do work well against the outdoor and day-biting Aedes mosquitos, new approaches will be needed.”

Boyce is no stranger to improving diagnostic testing of mosquito-borne infections in Uganda. On March 8, results of his study investigating the use of a two-step diagnostic algorithm utilizing microscopy to detect P. falciparum malaria were published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

Introduction to Malawi and Chichewa: A Workshop on Chichewa Language and Malawi Culture

Spring-2017-Introduction-to-Malawi-and-Chichewa-Language-WorkshopThis four-part workshop will focus on introductory Chichewa greetings and linguistics, medical interview vocabulary, and cultural sensitivity in health services for UNC students, staff and faculty planning research, service or internships in Malawi.  Workshop sessions cover elementary language construction, health and cultural training, as well as brief presentations on the history, geography, politics and economy of Malawi.  Participants will be provided soft copies of readings and basic language material. Dinner will be provided. Attendance at a minimum of 3 sessions is required.

When: Wednesdays/Thursdays – March 29 and 30, April 5 and 6 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Location: UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, Beard Hall, Room 116

Space is limited – please register by emailing Mamie Harris at malawi@unc.edu. Also contact Mamie for additional questions or concerns.

This workshop is sponsored by the UNC African Studies Center and the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases.