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David Peden has been contributing to research at Carolina for 30 years.

David Peden
Photo by Andrew Russell


David Peden is the senior associate dean for translational research at the UNC School of Medicine (SOM). In addition to his extensive research on the effects of allergens, the professor of pediatrics, microbiology & immunology, and medicine aided in the creation of the N.C. Translational and Clinical Research Institute (NC TraCS) and the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology within the SOM.

What brought you to Carolina?

During my stint at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I was working to find an antimicrobial agent in nasal airway secretions when I found an antioxidant that proved to be uric acid. This was of interest to investigators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), co-located on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus with the UNC Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma, and Lung Biology (CEMALB) at the EPA Human Studies Facility.

Carolina and the EPA were interested in recruiting an allergy and immunology-trained investigator to explore how air pollutants might enhance an allergic person’s response to an allergen, like ragweed or house dust mites. I was offered the position of  full-time allergist in the Department of Pediatrics doing human translational research in the CEMALB on the effect of air pollution in people.

How has your role here changed over the years?

My primary research interest has stayed the same over the years — how environmental agents impact human airway inflammation in people with and without asthma, along with the development of interventions to mitigate the effects of these agents. In addition to these research efforts, I led the development of the Division of Allergy and Immunology in the Department of Pediatrics in 2001, which at times has included the Departments of Rheumatology and Infectious Diseases. I’ve also held multiple leadership roles:

  • 2002-2020 – Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology
  • 2002-2020 – Director of the CEMALB
  • 2004-2016 – Associate Chair for Research, Department of Pediatrics
  • 2011-Present – Senior Associate Dean for Translational Research, School of Medicine
  • 2016-2021 – Vice Chair for Translational Research, Department of Pediatrics
  • 2017-2018 – Interim Director of the Institute for the Environment

I’ve had many collaborations to expand research at Carolina. In 2007, I was recruited into the effort to land a Clinical and Translational Science Awards grant at Carolina, specifically to direct the child health core. This was achieved in 2008 and led to the launching of NC TraCS.

I worked with leaders at RENCI as they applied for UNC-Chapel Hill to be a site in the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences’ Biomedical Data Translator network. When we became part of the network, Carolina’s theme was merging environmental and electronic health care data to explore the role of environmental exposures on several health outcomes.

In my research based in the CEMALB, I collaborate extensively with our on-site EPA colleagues, others at the SOM and maintain my interactions with the Marsico Lung Institute, RENCI and the Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center, resulting in multiple projects:

  • I direct a NIH program project grant focused on developing novel clearance interventions for muco-obstruction in asthma
  • I am the lead medical monitor for the multi-center National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute PrecISE study
  • I continue to serve as a clinical subject matter expert in the Biomedical Data Translator Project
  • I am a co-project leader on a Department of Defense-funded study to assess oral steroids as an intervention for wood smoke-induced inflammation
  • I lead the pilot projects program for NC TraCS
  • I am PI on a study to examine a vitamin E-based intervention for wood smoke-induced lung disease
  • I lead a study characterizing human response to wood smoke

In my role as senior associate dean, I am co-leading the task force to launch an Academic Research Organization to serve as a coordinating center for multi-site clinical trials. The goal is to provide a platform so that Carolina investigators who wish to lead multi-center studies can lead NIH and pharma studies from a UNC-based entity. I also serve on the ONE UNC Clinical Research steering task force led by Shakira Henderson, which is working to synergize clinical research operations and capability across the entire UNC Health Network.

What’s kept you at Carolina?

Overall, the collaborative nature of the clinical and research community at UNC-Chapel Hill is simply impossible to replicate. I have had an opportunity to participate in key initiatives for translational research during my career. My direct role in leading environmental health and asthma research at Carolina, developing the Division of Allergy and Immunology in Pediatrics, founding the A/I training program, and working in the SOM Office of Research were all opportunities that have kept me here.

What contribution are you most proud of?

Our air pollution research has been cited many times by the EPA in official reviews and in the Code of Federal Regulations. In 2015, our research collaboration with the EPA led to changing the ozone standard in the U.S. to 0.070 parts per million ozone. I am also proud of establishing an allergy/immunology division and training program.

What is a uniquely Carolina experience you’ve had?

In addition to my research career, I have served as the faculty advisor to the UNC Judo Club since its inception in 1994. Through the years, over 300 students and staff have participated in the club, with the only gap occurring in spring of 2020 due to COVID-19.  Many of our students obtain brown belt rank while here, and a handful have been promoted to black belt rank after starting out as new white belt students. These are impressive accomplishments, as it typically takes two to three years to qualify as a brown belt and six years to obtain a black belt.

Rooted recognizes long-standing members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community who have aided in the advancement of research by staying at Carolina. They are crucial to the research enterprise, experts in their fields, and loyal Tar Heels. Know someone we should feature? Nominate a researcher.

Read more Rooted stories here.

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