ASU set to join N.C. Research Campus
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó Appalachian State University is poised to become the eighth university at the N.C. Research Campus.
“Mr. Murdock says it’s a done deal, so usually that means it’s a done deal,” said Dr. David Nieman, director of the ASU Human Performance Laboratory.
While no agreement has been signed, Appalachian State could have a presence on the Research Campus as early as this fall, Nieman said.
“I know everything is on the fast track down there,” he said.
Appalachian State has something Murdock wants ó a cutting-edge research program in exercise.
And Murdock has something Appalachian wants ó a world-class core laboratory.
Exercise is the final piece in Murdock’s health and nutrition puzzle in Kannapolis.
“It’s the one component we’re missing,” said Lynne Scott Safrit, president of campus developer Castle & Cooke North Carolina.
Safrit said talks with Appalachian State are still preliminary.
“The niche for us is that no one is doing exercise on that campus,” Nieman said. “There is a huge interplay between exercise and nutrition.”
Nieman and other Appalachian State researchers spent time with Murdock Thursday and toured the N.C. Research Campus, a $1.5 billion biotechnology hub under construction in downtown Kannapolis.
“I encouraged them to come to the campus,” Murdock said after their visit. “They are very interested.”
Nieman is practically packing his bags.
“This is exactly what we want,” he said. “Access to the Core Lab.”
When it opens this summer, the Core Laboratory will feature some of the most advanced scientific instruments in the world.
Nieman and his team of biologists, exercise scientists, psychologists and nutritionists study antioxidants and how they affect athletes. They need extremely sensitive equipment.
“You can see anything you need to see with those instruments,” he said.
If Appalachian does become the eighth university to join the Research Campus, along with Duke University and six schools in the University of North Carolina System, Nieman would direct a 15,000-square-foot human performance lab in Kannapolis.
He would hire four new faculty and three new staff members, he said.
Nieman would split his time between Kannapolis and Boone, where the school’s current human performance lab would continue to operate.
Appalachian State leads the world in research on a substance called quercetin, a natural antioxidant found in red grapes, red wine, red apples, green tea and broccoli.
The U.S. Department of Defense gave Nieman’s team $1 million in 2005 to study quercetin in humans.
Nieman’s team proved that quercetin can reduce illness, boost immunity and even maintain mental performance when subjects exercise to the point of exhaustion.
Those findings were so promising that the military is testing quercetin to help maintain the immune systems of troops who are undergoing the physical and cognitive stresses of combat.
Now, Nieman and his team want to determine quercetin’s health benefits to the average person undergoing typical daily stress.
They received a $1.6 million grant from Coca-Cola and Quercegen Pharma to study the effects of quercetin in 1,000 subjects.
They’ve just completed studying the first 500 subjects and plan to enroll 500 more in the fall. Opening a lab in Kannapolis would help because of higher population densities near Charlotte, Nieman said.
“We have some very exciting data,” he said.
His team’s goal is to create an advanced nutritional supplement, Nieman said.
They want to discover four or five additional substances that, when combined into a beverage, would provide protection for people under stress by lowering illness rates and boosting immunity.
“We are well on our way to our goal,” Nieman said. “We have found our first molecule. These are little gems out there in mother nature, but you have to go through a mountain to find them.”
The U.S. Department of Defense studied quercetin for several years before inviting Appalachian State to conduct the human trials. Then, the university studied it for another three years.
“Each molecule will require the same sort of funding and time commitment,” Nieman said. “We have a list of about 10 molecules of interest.”
Although only seven universities have signed agreements with the N.C. Research Campus, Murdock continues to say “ten universities” when he talks about his higher-education partners in Kannapolis.
While Murdock and Safrit have talked with Davidson College and Pfeiffer University, it’s unlikely that these schools will have a presence on campus.
Instead, the campus may offer one program for all small, private colleges like Catawba College that want a role in Kannapolis, Safrit said.
The program would provide a way for their students to participate at the Research Campus through internships and other opportunities, she said.
Contact Emily Ford at email@example.com.
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