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Challenge Accepted: Durham Innovations

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1 minute

The City of Medicine has a history of groundbreaking innovation, precisely when the community needed it. The present day is no exception.

Posted By Discover Durham Staff

Durham is no stranger to innovation.

Built into the fabric of Durham are robust institutions determined to share their advancements with the greater community, showing that a win for one organization is a win for us all. With Duke University, Duke University Health System, North Carolina Central University, Durham Technical Community College, and hundreds of start-ups, refurbished biotechnological hubs, and historical figures who have pioneered new ventures that have propelled Durham forward, we have a cherished legacy of forward-thinkers that inform our hope for the future.

If you want a physical tour of where innovation lives in Durham, look around: from Black Wall Street to Research Triangle Park, countless innovative institutions and advancements have taken root in Durham — it's why we're no stranger to coming up with solutions to novel issues.

Commendable advancements in the face of a current crisis

The entire global community has been forced to think on its feet during this COVID-19 pandemic, and innovative solutions have often emerged from unlikely sources.

Durham County Library Assists During Coronavirus
Durham County Library is 3D printing face shields for first responders. The newly renovated Durham County Main Library houses two maker spaces, both equipped with new technology including 3D printers and a laser cutter. While COVID-19 has delayed the opening of the new library, which was slated to open to the public in April 2020, the library is finding ways to utilize the available technology to continue serving the public.

Daniel Davis, Technology Support Analyst, and Stephanie Bonestell, Public Relations Officer, are working to print numerous face shields each day. The library currently has materials to 3D print and laser cut items for a total of 180 shields and is working to procure additional materials. “We’re grateful to have access to the library's resources so that we can support our community and the incredible work of our first responders,” said Stephanie Bonestell. Durham County Library is giving the face shields to Durham County Emergency Management, who has approval to distribute the shields to Emergency Medical Services (EMS). EMS will be able to utilize the face shields in caring for the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Durham Distilleries Turn Gin to Gold
Although Durham Distillery owners Melissa and Lee Katrincic came up with this innovative solution first, Bedlam Vodka, Brothers Vilgalys, and Mystic Farm and Distillery are also offering hospitality partners donations of a highly effective sanitizing solution of ethanol and distilled water that is created during the process of distilling their alcohol. At this concentration, microbes are killed upon spraying and evaporation, and hospitality workers have been using it to serve customers safely.

Duke Creates 50,000 Face Shields
Duke Health Engineering and Operations
has assembled a group of around 25 employees to create necessary protective gear for those on the front lines. “We have painters, electricians, mechanics, office staff and team members from shops across our group all working together,” Robin Thomas, Engineering & Operations executive director said. “It will take a combination of everybody to be successful.”

There’s also a separate collaboration between faculty members from the Pratt School of Engineering and the Duke University School of Nursing to 3-D print face shield components that can be sterilized and reused.


Duke Health is also conducting vaccine research using an on-campus cryo-electron microscope, decontaminating N95 masks for reuse, focusing Duke researchers on confronting the coronavirus, and participating in the first national study for coronavirus therapy.

Duke University Prowess

Duke is one of the most prestigious universities in the country, consistently included near the top of the U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings. Some of their most highly regarded programs include law, medicine, the humanities and social sciences. It is also home to the world-renowned Duke Lemur Center, the breathtaking Duke Chapel, the highly-curated Nasher Museum of Art, legendary Cameron Indoor Stadium and beautiful Sarah P. Duke Gardens. What's more, it's scholars are successful in learning new things from the football field to the Duke Forest: they've conducted research on the environmental effects of coal ash, provided scientific expertise for a new NC Climate Change Assessment, and created 3D technology to protect football players on the gridiron. The same Duke Football trio who discovered the advancement later won the NFL 1st and Future innovation competition.

Duke University Health System Advancements

Were you aware that it was a Duke Health team that performed the first bilateral hand transplant, a first-of-its-kind operation to create bioengineered blood vessels, and used polio virus therapy to treat brain cancer? The teams at the health system are responsible for a litany of firsts, but are also responsible for driving progress each and every day toward distinctive care for every single patient.

North Carolina Central University Moves Initiatives Forward

The Center for Innovation in Health Disparities Research (CIHDR) is a partnership between the Department of Nursing at Winston-Salem State University and North Carolina Central University and the School of Nursing at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Center is funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institutes of Health.

The Center was created to advance three primary goals: to increase the number of minority nurse researchers, develop programs of health disparities research, and improve the way we collaborate with and conduct research with minority populations and communities. This is one of many programs and collaborations NCCU is a part of, including a partnership between NCCU researchers and regional researchers to study how African American and Hispanic communities are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

In the same vein, members of North Carolina Central University’s health disparities research team is providing epidemiology assistance and other critical services to several local health departments to assist in the battle against the coronavirus that is impacting the nation and the world. The Health Equity, Environment and Population Health program, known as HOPE, is offering assistance in the North Carolina counties of Cabarrus, Anson and Rowan counties, where public health systems may lack funding and staff to adequately serve patients during the pandemic.

Innovation is manifesting itself in business spaces as well, with North Carolina Central University's School of Business partnering with the Society for Financial Education and Professional Development to launch an innovative peer-to-peer financial literacy program for students.

NCCU Business


The Ambassador Program engages students at NCCU and 11 other universities in efforts to promote and teach financial literacy on campus. The program is funded by Wells Fargo Hands-on Banking on behalf of the nonprofit financial education society.

Research Triangle Park Launches Successful Inventions

Enjoying trivia at home with friends and family? Impress them with the following facts about this robust hub in Durham. Research Triangle Park (RTP) is the leading and largest high technology research and science park in North America. Just four miles from downtown Durham and encompassed on three sides by the City of Durham, RTP is a thriving epicenter for business, collaboration, and group meetings. Formed in 1959, the 7,000-acre park contains more than 250 businesses where 50,000 people work. RTP has been credited with bringing science and technology jobs to NC and retaining top talent from area universities.

If you can believe it, Durhamites have invented the barcode, BC Headache Power, AZT, 3-D Ultra-sound, Astroturf, and LED lighting ... all with the backing of an innovative hub bound for even more greatness.

In 1967, Taxol was introduced by Bristol-Myers Squibb & GlaxoSmithKline. (Taxol is a plant alkaloid chemotherapy drug that attacks cancer cells while they are dividing.)

In 1987, the US FDA approved azidothymidine (AZT), the first-ever drug approved to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. It was developed by Burroughs Wellcome (since merged to become part of GSK). It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines.

And in 2019, Pretomanid, RTI International’s treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis, received FDA approval. Today, Cisco has committed $225M in cash and product to fight coronavirus.

Soon, Boxyard RTP will emerge in 2020, creating a community where these innovative minds can meet, eat, connect and unwind.


Other Innovative Hubs

The Chesterfield was built in 1948 to produce cigarettes but it’s now a workplace for scientists, clinicians and entrepreneurs.

Durham Tech is currently in the midst of The Forge Great Futures campaign, which is raising $5 million to ensure our students can fulfill their dreams of a better future. Through this campaign, tomorrow’s workforce will learn in cutting-edge technical labs, collaborate in innovative workspaces, and develop ready-to-work skills for careers in industry.

Do you have a Durham advancement that isn't listed here? E-mail updates@discoverdurham.com so we can include it in this post.

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Discover Durham Staff



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