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Donors Vaughn and Nancy Bryson have funded a new program for research and treatment of mucopolysaccharidoses at the UNC School of Medicine and will name the program in honor of Joseph Muenzer, MD, PhD, Bryson Distinguished Professor in Pediatrics.

Vaughn Bryson and his daughter Cathy with Dr. Joseph Muenzer
Vaughn Bryson and his daughter Cathy with Dr. Joseph Muenzer in December 2022 in Chapel Hill

Longtime UNC-Chapel Hill donors Vaughn ’60 (BSPHR) and Nancy ’60 (BSPHR) Bryson have increased their commitment to $10 million to fund a new concentrated research and treatment program for mucopolysaccharidoses (MPS) in UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics. This leading-edge program will honor Joseph Muenzer, MD, PhD, one of the world’s foremost experts in congenital metabolic disorders and the Bryson Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics. The Brysons’ gift will create the Dr. Joseph Muenzer MPS Research & Treatment Center and extends an initial investment of $2.5 million that was made in December 2021.

The Muenzer MPS Center at UNC will produce new insights and strategies into comprehensive care for those with MPS, as well as identify innovative new therapeutic approaches to treating this disease. Through the Muenzer MPS Center, UNC Health will continue to influence the way MPS and other rare diseases are understood and treated.

Funding from the gift will be used to support basic, translational and clinical research, as well as clinical care initiatives, advocacy efforts and continued education in the field of MPS. It will also empower the Department of Pediatrics to offer the very best complex care for patients with MPS, through the support of investigators in finding treatments that directly impact care and improve the lives of those suffering with the disease.

“Creating this center for MPS has been a dream of mine for the last 10-15 years,” Muenzer said. “This gift from the Bryson Family will allow us to expand our care and treatment of children with MPS and offer the specialized care needed for this ultra-rare group of diseases. We have the expertise here to give the best care, enroll additional clinical trials, and build on the legacy of MPS research at UNC. And our hope is that this center will serve as a model for other rare disease centers around the world.”

“Dr. Muenzer is a leader in the field of rare pediatric conditions and an incredibly dedicated doctor and advocate for families in need,” said Wesley Burks, MD, CEO of UNC Health and dean, UNC School of Medicine. “We are sincerely grateful to Vaughn and Nancy for their ongoing commitment to this important work. Their generosity will allow Dr. Muenzer and his colleagues to expand their efforts, resulting in more advanced treatments for patients living with MPS.”

MPS are a group of ultra-rare genetic disorders. Individuals with MPS are missing a specific enzyme involved in the breakdown/recycling of glycosaminoglycans, which are long chains of sugar carbohydrates found within cells that help build bone, cartilage, tendons, corneas, skin and connective tissue. If these glycosaminoglycans are not broken down then they collect in cells, blood and connective tissues. The result is permanent, progressive cellular damage that affects appearance, physical abilities, organs, and cognitive abilities and leads to a shortened life span.

Muenzer’s research includes progressive brain disease in children with MPS II, also known as Hunter Syndrome, and developing new avenues of treatment for children with MPS, including clinical trials to test new forms of intravenous enzyme replacement therapy as well as alternative therapies, such as gene therapy and intrathecal drug delivery devices.

In 2018, Muenzer was a key investigator to administer a gene therapy treatment to patients with MPS II. He developed a mouse model for MPS II at UNC two decades ago to help develop therapies for this rare disorder. His dedication to the patients and families of MPS is unparalleled. He is beloved for his dedication to advocate, care and finding better treatments for MPS patients. He is world-renowned in his field and the naming of the MPS center is appropriate and well-deserved for a life spent dedicated to MPS research and treatment.

Vaughn and Nancy Bryson both graduated from UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy in 1960. Nancy Bryson served on the University’s Board of Visitors from 1993-97 and on the board of directors of the Arts and Sciences Foundation from 1994-2001. Vaughn Bryson retired after more than three decades at Eli Lilly and Co., where he rose to serve as president and CEO, while also serving on the Dean’s Advisory Board and the General Alumni Association Board at UNC. In 2008, the couple received the William Richardson Davie Award, which recognizes extraordinary service to the University.

The Bryson Foundation LTD and the Bryson family have been generous supporters of several UNC initiatives, with particular generosity to UNC School of Medicine. They have established the Bryson Distinguished Professorship in Neurology and the Bryson Distinguished Professorship in Pediatric Genetics, both of which have enhanced the treatment options and research capabilities for patients.

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