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Rotary grant supports Alzheimer’s research at UNCP

June 5, 2014

A UNC Pembroke research lab will receive a two-year, $100,000 grant from a research trust of Rotary Clubs throughout the United States.

Ben Bahr

Dr. Ben Bahr

Walters Romine

Heather Walters Romine

The Coins for Alzheimer’s Research Trust (CART) grant will be used to fund the William C. Friday Laboratory directed by Dr. Ben Bahr at UNCP. With one patent pending, the lab is doing research on new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

The foundation, which was founded in the Carolinas awards one grant per year, and UNCP is the first institution in the Carolinas to receive a CART grant. The list of past recipients reads like a who’s who of higher education and medicine.

Lab manager Heather Walters Romine helped write the grant application with UNCP’s grants office after Dr. Bahr made a presentation to the Fair Bluff Rotary Club, where Walters Romine’s mother is a member.

“My mother, Wanda Ellis, is president of the Fair Bluff Rotary, and she played matchmaker,” Romine said. “It’s a very competitive grant program, and we were one of five awards in this round. Past recipients include the top research universities and hospitals in the nation, including Emory, Harvard and the Mayo Clinic.

“We’re just a little club that gets big things done,” Ellis said. “We’re always looking for speakers, and I thought of Heather and Dr. Bahr. I had also invited Norm Rogers, who advocates CARTfor the CART program.”

After the meeting, Dr. Bahr and Rogers sat down to talk. “I never dreamed this would happen, but I’m glad it did,” Ellis said. “I have a family member with Alzheimer’s, so it’s close to my heart. I appreciate Dr. Bahr explaining this disease to the public and what he is doing.” 

Besides working in the lab, Dr. Bahr has stepped up as an advocate for public awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. In late 2013, he was awarded UNC Board of Governors James E. Holshouser Jr. Award for Excellence in Public Service.

“The speaking tour that Heather and I have engaged in has paid off,” Dr. Bahr said. “This award will also give us the opportunity to request another $250,000 if the research is promising over the next two years.”

For their assistance, Dr. Bahr thanked Rotary members from Whiteville, Shallotte and Lumberton, including Dick Taylor, a Lumberton resident and former UNCP trustee and current UNC Board of Governors member. Dr. Bahr spoke to a meeting of  the CART Foundation on May 6.

“This kind of private funding is a blessing for a lab like ours,” Walters Romine said. “We will use it for supplies and staffing.”

Research in the Friday Lab is focused on accelerating the removal of proteins that disrupt neural pathways of the brain, and thus hinder the transmission of memory as well as other functions of the brain. In his lab, Dr. Bahr guides the research postdoctoral students and as many as10 UNCP students.

Rotary CART logoThe Rotary Club literally asks members to empty their pockets at each meeting to contribute to the CART Fund. The fund is dedicated to raising money for cutting-edge, high-impact research in hopes of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

The goal of the fund is to encourage exploratory and developmental research projects within the U.S. This is accomplished by providing financial support for the early and conceptual plans of those projects that may not yet be supported by extensive preliminary data but have the potential to substantially advance biomedical research. These projects should be distinct from those designed to increase knowledge in a well established area unless they intend to extend previous discoveries toward new directions or applications.

Starting in one South Carolina Rotary Club in 1995, CART has been adopted by all Rotary district clubs in Georgia and the two Carolinas as well as a number of individual clubs throughout the U.S.

Past recipients include Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Connecticut Health Science Center, UCLA, University of Texas Medical Branch, Mayo Clinic, University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Cleveland Clinic.