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Graduate student Yuhang Jiang received a Horizons Award from the UNC Graduate School for his work on treatment to repair stroke damage.

Yuhang Jiang, Ph.D., a December 2016 graduate of the pharmaceutical sciences doctoral program at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, has received a 2017 Horizon Award from the UNC Graduate School for his research into a treatment to repair the damage to the brain caused by stroke. He is now a postdoctoral associate at Yale University.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the number-one cause of long-term disability in North Carolina. An estimated 20 percent of stroke survivors require long-term care, and up to 30 percent are permanently disabled. Current treatment focuses on restoring blood flow (known as reperfusion) as quickly as possible, but this life-saving process creates complications that can cause irreversible brain damage.

Copper/zinc superoxide dismutase, called SOD1, has the potential to effectively fight reperfusion injury, but this enzyme is not stable in the circulation and exits the body rapidly. Jiang focused on developing a formulation for SOD1 that would protect it in circulation and keep it in the body for a longer period of time.

His team developed a semi-permeable, biodegradable cage carrying SOD1 that circulates within the blood stream; this system is injected at the same time blood flow is being restored. The cage prevents SOD1 from being exposed to blood components that degrade it and allows free flow of reactive oxygen species, a prime factor in reperfusion injury. As ROS flows into the cage, SOD1 removes it.

Jiang’s delivery system for SOD1 was found to reduce its clearance from the kidneys by half, triple its circulation time and reduce total stroke damage by 60 percent on a mouse model of stroke. His discoveries, already the subject of two research papers, offer promise in preventing stroke-related brain damage.

“The advance of pharmaceutical science and translational medicine needs more talented and hard-working young scientists like Yuhang,” said his adviser, Alexander Kabanov, Ph.D., Dr.Sci., the Mescal S. Ferguson Distinguished Professor and director of the School’s Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery. “He has a passionate dedication to providing an affordable medical solution for reperfusion injury in North Carolina stroke patients.”

The Graduate School’s annual Graduate Education Advancement Board Impact Awards recognize graduate students for contributions they are making to our state. The longstanding GEAB Impact Award recognizes discoveries with a direct impact on our state in the present time. New for 2017, the Horizon Award recognizes discoveries with future potential to benefit North Carolina and beyond.

Rachel Bleich, a graduate student in the Division of Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry, also received a 2017 Horizon Award for her research into antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

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