UNC Lineberger Scientist Channing Der’s memorable visit with Carolina for Kibera in Kenya

by Mary Ruth Helms — last modified Oct 05, 2011 04:01 PM

Channing Der and his wife, Kathy, had already planned a 30th wedding anniversary trip to Kenya. After hearing Carolina alumnus and author Rye Barcott talk about his book, It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace, and describe the Carolina for Kibera program in Nairobi, Kenya, they knew they had to see the program in action.

Carolina for Kibera staff pause for a moment during Channing Der’s visit ( l-r): George Kogolla (Executive Director), Norbert Aluku Okodoi (Partnerships & Sustainability Manager), Kennedy Juma (Assistant Program Officer), and Channing J. Der

“We asked the UNC-based staff what we could do to help and were told that it would be useful if we took two duffle bags of supplies to Kibera since the cost of shipping is extremely high and because not all supplies make it to their destination. Carolina for Kibera US executive director Leann Bankoski arranged for us to visit.” Der and his wife also visited with Esteban McMahan and his wife, Dana. Esteban is a board member of CFK and had visited Kibera several years ago. “Our duffle bags contained maxipads, 300 pairs of donated reading glasses, and soccer equipment. Der successfully persuaded customs officials not to make him pay a fee for bringing in the donated goods to Kenya. Although Der and his wife spent half a day in Kibera, the visit has inspired their deep commitment to the program.  There they saw first-hand the dire poverty that residents of Kibera exist in.  There is no sanitation, running water or electricity.  The typical size home is 10 ft. x 10 ft. for a family of five.  However, they also witnessed the hope and optimism that drives CFK’s success in this community. Der explains, “We met with George Kogolla, the Kenya executive director of CFK. George’s office includes a Carolina Blue chair and curtains and a 2005 NCAA Basketball Championship poster as well as a Duke banner. CFK received funding a few years ago from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Melinda Gates is a Duke alumna). “We met with Norbert Aluku Okodoi, the partnerships & sustainability manager. Norbert is a native of Kibera. He told us that many of his childhood friends are dead, in jail, or involved with illegal activities. We asked him how he escaped that life. He told us that he was motivated to try to make a difference despite what seemed to be insurmountable problems.  He said to us, ‘You can make a difference. No matter how small.’” “Walking through Kibera, we noticed the striking visual aspects, the sounds of many lives lived in close proximity and the smells. We visited the Tabitha Clinic. What impressed us as we saw it was the contrast of this beautiful modern building with the rest of Kibera. The clinic structure seemed to rise out of the ashes. Norbert told us as we came to the entrance, ‘This is what $26.00 built.’  Tabitha Festo was one of the original Kiberans with whom Rye Barcott worked, and one of the co-founders of CFK. She asked him for $26.00 to start a vegetable stand, and used the profits from her sales to start a small clinic that grew in 2009 to the remarkable 3-story, 13-room building that we saw. “We saw two girls applying to the Daughters United Center, a reproductive health and womens’ rights center for 11 to 18 year-old girls in Kibera. The Center gives the young women of Kibera a place to express themselves through dance, drama, writing, group discussions and photography. They told us they wanted to improve their lives and eventually move away from Kibera.” Der says, “When I heard about Carolina for Kibera, there were a number of reasons I wanted to find out more about and experience what the program is doing. The program is different from most in the country.  It’s about empowering local people to develop and improve their communities. I live a privileged life and seeing Kibera made me appreciate what I have. I want to help them and have become a part of the effort at http://powerof26.org. I’m proud as a Tar Heel that UNC initiated the CFK program that is making a tremendous difference.”


Channing Der and Yue Xiong receive 2011 Battle Distinguished Cancer Research Award

Channing Der, PhD, at left, and Yue Xiong, PhD
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Channing Der, PhD, Kenan Professor of Pharmacology, and Yue Xiong, PhD, Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, have been awarded the fourth annual Hyman L. Battle Distinguished Cancer Research Award in recognition of their accomplishments in cancer research.  Both are members of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Battle Distinguished Cancer Research Award, established in 2007 by the Battle Foundation of Rocky Mount, recognizes exceptional cancer research at the UNC School of Medicine and comes with a $25,000 prize for each awardee.  The Battle award fund is a permanent endowment held by The Medical Foundation of North Carolina, Inc.

William Roper, MD, MPH, Dean of the UNC School of Medicine and CEO, UNC Health Care, said,  “Yue Xiong and Channing Der are internationally recognized for their scientific achievements.  They have been career long contributors to UNC Lineberger’s basic approach to understanding and treating cancer.  They have devoted their laboratories and talents to training and mentoring students, post-doctoral fellows and junior faculty.”

Der is internationally regarded for his pioneering work with the RAS oncogene and other members of this large gene family.  Der has elucidated the role of RAS mutations in cancers particularly colorectal and pancreatic cancers in which RAS is mutated in over 50 percent of the cases. His research has helped define the role of RAS, and related pathways, in the cause and progression of these diseases.  In recent years, he has established that other members of the RAS gene family can accelerate growth of cancer invasion and metastasis.  He is now studying the potential of drugs that might change these cancer-causing pathways with the aim of developing new therapies.

He is revered as a mentor to young scientists and as a generous collaborator with other scientists. Der leads the Lineberger Center’s graduate program in cancer biology; he joined the UNC faculty in 1992.

Xiong has made groundbreaking discoveries in the control of normal cell growth and the derangements that occur in cancer, including describing a crucial class of regulatory genes lost in the vast majority of human cancers.  While a postdoctoral fellow, he helped to identify cyclinD, a central, growth-control gene.  After coming to UNC, Xiong and colleagues discovered a family of genes that act as brakes or suppressors of normal cell growth.  His work showed how cancer cells escape normal growth control by either overexpressing growth stimulators like cyclin D or by losing growth suppressor genes.  He also helped identify the cullin family of ubiquitin ligases that play additional, critical roles in modulating cell cycle regulator genes.

His current research involves cancer-related alterations in cell metabolism including mutations of metabolism genes that promotes brain cancer growth.  He is working with Lineberger colleagues to develop drugs that could reverse the action of these mutant metabolism genes.  Xiong, the leader of UNC Lineberger’s Cancer Cell Biology Program, has guided multiple postdoctoral fellows and graduate students to successful research careers.  He came to UNC in 1993 and received the UNC Hettleman Award for Scholarly Achievement in 1999.

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