Criminal Defense Attorney inCharleston, SC

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CDH Law Firm: Giving Hope to
Criminal Defense Clients in
Charleston, SC

Getting charged with a crime in Charleston can be a traumatic experience. Even "petty" crimes can cause an individual's life to fall apart professionally and personally. Spending time in jail is bad enough, but the ramifications of a criminal record run deep, resulting in loss of employment, loss of friends, and even family. For many people, having a zealous criminal defense attorney in Charleston, SC, to defend their rights is the only shot they have of living a normal life.

That's why, if you have been charged with a crime, you need the help of a veteran criminal defense lawyer early in the legal process. That's where CDH Law Firm comes in – to give you or your loved one hope when you need it the most.

Our criminal defense law firm was founded to help people just like you - hardworking men and women who are looking at diminished employment opportunities and a possible lifetime of embarrassment. But with our team of experts fighting by your side, you have a much better chance of maintaining your freedom and living a normal, productive life. When it comes to criminal law in Charleston, we've seen it all. With decades of combined experience, there is no case too complicated or severe for us to handle, from common DUI charges to complicated cases involving juvenile crimes. Unlike some of our competition, we prioritize personalized service and cutting-edge criminal defense strategies to effectively represent our clients.

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Clients rank Cobb Dill & Hammett, LLC as the top choice for Charleston criminal defense because we provide:

  • One-on-One Counsel
  • Free Consultation
  • Education on the Charleston Legal Process and Its Risks
  • Ardent, Effective Representation
  • Commitment to Our Clients and Defending Their Rights
  • Prompt Inquiry Response
  • Robust Experience with Criminal Law Cases in Charleston
  • Innovative Defense Strategies
  • Effective, Thorough Research and Investigation

Choosing the right criminal defense lawyer in Charleston can mean the difference between conviction and acquittal. Our firm has represented thousands of clients in the Lowcountry, and we're ready to defend you too. Some of our specialties include:

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The-Cobb-Dill-Hammett-Difference

DUI Cases
in Charleston, SC

DUI penalties in Charleston can be very harsh. Many first-time DUI offenders must endure a lifelong criminal record, license suspension, and the possibility of spending time in jail. Officers and judges take DUI very seriously, with 30% of traffic fatalities in South Carolina involving impaired drivers, according to NHTSA. Criminal convictions can have lasting impacts on your life, which is why CDH Law Firm works so hard to get these charges dismissed or negotiated down. In some cases, we help clients avoid jail time altogether.

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When you hire our DUI defense firm, our team will always work towards your best interests and will go above and beyond to achieve the best outcome in your case. Depending on the circumstances of your DUI charges, we will investigate whether:
  • Your DUI stop was legal
  • You were administered a field sobriety test correctly
  • The breathalyzer used was calibrated correctly and properly maintained
  • Urine and blood tests were administered and collected properly

The bottom line? Our criminal law defense attorneys will do everything possible to keep you out of jail with a clean permanent record. It all starts with a free consultation, where we will take time to explain the DUI process. We'll also discuss your defense options and speak at length about the differences between going to trial and accepting a plea bargain.

DUI Penalties in Charleston, SC

The consequences of a DUI in Charleston depend on a number of factors, including your blood alcohol level and how many DUIs you have received in the last 10 years. If you're convicted, the DUI charge will remain on your criminal history and can be seen by anyone who runs a background check on you. Sometimes, a judge will require you to enter alcohol treatment or install an interlock device on your automobile.

If you're on the fence about hiring a criminal defense lawyer in Charleston, SC, consider the following DUI consequences:

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First Offense

Offense

48 hours to 90 days

in jail

with fines ranging from

$400 to $1,000

Second Offense

Offense

Five days to three years

in jail

with fines ranging from

$2,100 to $6,500

Third Offense

Offense

60 days to five years

in jail

with fines ranging from

$3,800 to $10,000

Additional consequences can include:

1

Alcohol or Drug Treatment

When convicted of DUI in South Carolina, most offenders must join the Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program. This program mandates that offenders complete a drug and alcohol assessment and follow the recommended treatment options.

 Criminal Defense Attorney Charleston, SC

2

Community Service

Some first-time DUI offenders in Charleston may choose to complete community service in lieu of jail time. Community service hours are usually equal to the length of jail time an offender would be required to serve.

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Sanctions to Your Driver's License

Typically, when a person is convicted of driving under the influence in Charleston, their driver's license is restricted or suspended. The length of restriction or suspension depends on how many prior DUI convictions an individual has.

First DUI Offense

First-time DUI offenders must endure a six-month license suspension. Drivers convicted with a blood-alcohol level of .15% or more do not qualify for a provisional license. However, sometimes they may still drive using an ignition interlock device.

Second DUI Offense

Offenders convicted of a second DUI charge must use an ignition interlock device (IID) for two years.

Third DUI Offense

Offenders convicted of a third DUI charge must use an ignition interlock device (IID) for three years. That term increases to four years if the driver is convicted of three DUIs in five years.

Immobilized Vehicle

For offenders with two or more convictions, the judge will immobilize their vehicle if it is not equipped with an IID. When a judge immobilizes a vehicle, the owner must turn over their registration and license plate. Clearly, the consequences of receiving a DUI in Charleston can be life-changing, and not in a good way. The good news is that with CDH Law Firm, you have a real chance at beating your charges and avoiding serious fines and jail time. Every case is different, which is why it's so important that you call our office as soon as possible if you are charged with a DUI.

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Traffic Violation Cases

Most drivers brush off traffic law violations as minor offenses, but the fact of the matter is they are criminal matters to be taken seriously. Despite popular opinion, Traffic Violation cases in Charleston can carry significant consequences like fines and even incarceration. If you or someone you love has been convicted of several traffic offenses, your license could be suspended, restricting your ability to work and feed your family.

Every driver should take Traffic Violations seriously. If you're charged with a traffic crime, it's time to protect yourself and your family with a trusted criminal defense lawyer in Charleston, SC. Cobb Dill Hammett, LLC is ready to provide the legal guidance and advice you need to beat your traffic charges. We'll research the merits of your case, explain what charges you're facing, discuss your defense options, and strategize an effective defense on your behalf.

Common Charleston
Traffic Violations That CDH Law
Firm Fights

There are dozens and dozens of traffic laws in Charleston, all of which affect drivers in some way. Our Charleston defense attorneys fight a full range of violations, including but not limited to the following:

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  • Driving Under Suspension: If you drive while your license is suspended, revoked, or canceled, you could be looking at 30 days in jail and fines up to $300.
  • Driving Under the Influence: Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated on drugs or alcohol is illegal and often results in jail time and fines.
  • Reckless Driving: You could be ordered to pay up to $200 in fines or jailed for up to 30 days if you drive with wanton disregard for the safety of other people.
  • Racing: You can be cited and fined if you aid or participate in street racing.
  • Hit and Run: When you leave the scene of an accident that involved injury to another party, you can be arrested. This serious charge can lead to up to one year in jail and fines of up to $5,000 for first-time offenders.
  • Disregard Traffic Signals: Drivers must obey all traffic signals and control devices, less they be ticketed and sometimes fined.

As seasoned traffic violation lawyers, we know how frustrating it can be to get charged with a Traffic Violation. While some traffic charges can be minor, others are severe and can affect your life for years to come. Don't leave your fate up to chance – call CDH Law Firm today for the highest-quality Traffic Violation representation in Charleston.

Juvenile Crime Cases in
Charleston, SC

At Cobb Dill Hammett, LLC, we understand that children are still growing and learning about the world around them. As such, they may make mistakes that get them into trouble with the law. Children and teens who are arrested in Charleston can face much different futures than other children their age. Some face intensive probation, while others are made to spend time in jail.

This happens most often when a child's parents fail to retain legal counsel for their son or daughter. Cases referred to the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice often move quicker than adult cases, so finding a good lawyer is of utmost importance. With that said, a compassionate criminal defense attorney in Charleston, SC, can educate you and your child about their alleged charges. To help prevent your child from going to a detention center, we will devise a strategy to achieve favorable results in their case.

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Juvenile Detention Hearings

Unlike adults, juveniles don't have a constitutional right to a bond hearing. Instead, once your child is taken into custody a Detention Hearing is conducted within 48 hours. This hearing is similar to a combination of a Bond Hearing and a Preliminary Hearing. Unfortunately, there is little time to prepare for these hearings, which is why you must move quickly and call CDH law firm as soon as possible.

Our team gathers police reports, petitions, interviews your child at the DJJ, speaks with you about the case and talks to the prosecutor to discover if they have plans for detention. In most cases, we strive to avoid detention and seek alternatives like divisionary programs or treatment facilities. This strategy better addresses your child's issues and keeps them out of the juvenile legal system in Charleston. If your child is charged with a crime, and South Carolina decides to prosecute, your child will appear before a family court judge, who will find them delinquent or not delinquent. There are no juries in juvenile cases in South Carolina, which is why it's crucial to have a lawyer present to defend your child if they go in front of a judge.

Common penalties for juveniles charged with crimes in Charleston include:

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  • Probation: Children charged with probation are released to their parents or guardians. Depending on their charges, they must abide by certain stipulations while at home and may be subject to random drug screenings. Violation of probation often results in jail time.
  • 90 Days in Juvenile Detention Center: When probation is not a viable option, prosecutors may push for 90 days of jail time in a juvenile detention facility.
  • Juvenile Detention: Children who commit very serious crimes can be sent to a juvenile detention center for a long time. These sentences can last up to the child's 21st birthday.
  • School Expulsion: When a child is convicted of a crime, their school is notified of the offense. Sometimes, the administration may decide to expel the child from school for the misdemeanors or felonies they commit.

We Fight to Protect
Your Rights So You Can
Provide for Your Family

Whether you are facing a DUI charge or a serious traffic violation, CDH Law Firm is here to fight for your rights so you can continue living life. The future might seem bleak, but our criminal defense lawyers in Charleston, SC, have the tools, experience, and strategy to win your case, as we have with so many others. Don't lose hope – call our office today and maintain your freedom tomorrow.

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Latest News in Charleston, SC

Newly integrated tool enables better tracking of clinical trial metrics

Before new treatments can reach the clinic, they must be tested in clinical trials to see if they are safe and effective. Trials that do not enroll enough participants present roadblocks for advancing care to the clinic because they offer no scientific insight, waste money and time and inflate the costs of new treatments.Improving clinical trial efficiency – ensuring robust patient enrollment while minimizing costs and waste – is a high priority for the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) consortium, which ser...

Before new treatments can reach the clinic, they must be tested in clinical trials to see if they are safe and effective. Trials that do not enroll enough participants present roadblocks for advancing care to the clinic because they offer no scientific insight, waste money and time and inflate the costs of new treatments.

Improving clinical trial efficiency – ensuring robust patient enrollment while minimizing costs and waste – is a high priority for the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) consortium, which serves as a laboratory for testing new ways to speed the translation of care into the clinic.

In a recent article in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science (JCTS), a team at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), which is the academic home of the South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research (SCTR) Institute, describes an integrated tool that is helping them to track clinical trial enrollment and cost effectiveness across the MUSC Health System. The tool integrates a commercial clinical trial management system (CTMS), with the MUSC-created Research Integrated Network of Systems (RINS), which tracks study-level data across otherwise siloed systems. The integration enables study teams, administrators and evaluators to ensure that the trials are the best fit for the enterprise and to track the progress of their studies.

“We needed a platform where we could track all of our studies that were recruiting patients, all the patients who were enrolled in research and whether they were also clinical patients at MUSC." -- Royce Sampson

“We needed a platform where we could track all of our studies that were recruiting patients, all the patients who were enrolled in research and whether they were also clinical patients at MUSC. Additionally, bringing a clinical trials management system into RINS will allow us to really look at financials, particularly for industry trials,” said Royce Sampson, lead author of the JCTS article. Sampson is the director of the Office of Clinical Research (OCR) and chief operations officer and associate director of SCTR.

RINS was created by SCTR and the Biomedical Informatics Center (BMIC) team to capture protocol-level data across systems. None of the existing systems were capturing patient associations, so a CTMS was identified to fill that gap. Integrating a CTMS provided the missing piece of the puzzle, according to Jillian Harvey, Ph.D., senior author of the JCTS article. Harvey is the evaluation director for SCTR and an associate professor in the College of Health Professions.

“In the past, we’ve had challenges accessing the data needed to track clinical trial metrics,” said Harvey. “CTMS/RINS allows us to get our hands around tracking and reporting our outcomes and being efficient with our data and evaluation.”

“In the past, we’ve had challenges accessing the data needed to track clinical trial metrics. CTMS/RINS allows us to get our hands around tracking and reporting our outcomes and being efficient with our data and evaluation.” -- Jillian Harvey, Ph.D.

Previously, tracking clinical trial metrics too often meant manually pulling and calculating data. Teams would pass on whatever data sets they had. Leila Forney, DNP, an associate director in the OCR, recalls the arduous job of pulling together data for a CTSA grant renewal, which took nine months. Now, the process is much easier.

“Having an electronic platform for clinical trial data really helps you think about the metrics you’re seeing and determine where you can make improvements,” said Forney. “It also helps us ensure that the data is accurate.”

The implementation of the CTMS was led by Steve Shapiro.

The newly integrated tool also aids MUSC researchers in choosing the appropriate trials and right-sizing them – setting a realistic enrollment goal – for the institution.

“CTMS/RINS is helping us take an even more informed approach to the trials that we’re selecting, where we’re placing them, where the greatest needs are and where the gaps are,” said Signe Denmark, an associate director in the OCR. “We’re becoming better overall at knowing what our clinical trial portfolio looks like and how we manage it.”

With the enterprise’s recent expansion into more South Carolina counties as part of MUSC Health’s Regional Health Network (RHN), financial and patient accrual data available through CTMS/RINS can help clinical research leaders to select not just the right trials but the right location for those trials.

“We’re exploring how we can offer more research opportunities to these rural communities,” said Sampson. “People in Florence, Marion, Lancaster and Chester counties live hundreds of miles from the nearest academic medical center or cancer treatment center, where clinical trials are typically offered. The CTMS/RINS integration could help us to select the appropriate trials to bring to them. That’s going to be the innovation.”

The integration also standardizes data collection across study teams and primes them to continue updating their data.

“With a system like a clinical trials management system, when study teams start using this as a main source to track their study, they are responsible for keeping their information updated. So, it’s more transparent, too,” said Wenjun He, Ph.D., research assistant professor at BMIC.

MUSC can report these performance metrics to the trial sponsors, giving the institution’s study teams a competitive edge.

“CTMS/RINS is helping us take an even more informed approach to the trials that we’re selecting, where we’re placing them, where the greatest needs are and where the gaps are.” -- Signe Denmark

Early adopters of CTMS/RINS were the OCR, which used it to launch and track COVID-19 clinical trials, and the Hollings Cancer Center (HCC) Clinical Trials Office.

“Hollings Cancer Center began using the new clinical trials management system in the Fall of 2020 to maintain all study- and patient-level data,” said Tricia Bentz, administrative director for the Clinical Trials Office at HCC. “The CTMS/RINS integration has improved the data quality of study details within institutional systems and generated new efficiencies and work tools for management and staff. The integrated data structure is a promising foundation for real-time reporting and support of data-driven strategic planning.”

Since March, all new study teams have been required to enroll their studies into the new CTMS. This process will be ongoing and supported by OCR staff. Continuous improvements will be made to MUSC’s CTMS/RINS integration. Plans are already underway to take it to the next level and create dashboards to provide transparent, easily accessible data to support study teams, explained Sampson.

The CTMS/RINS integration will not only benefit MUSC’s clinical trials but could also provide a model for CTSAs nationwide, albeit one that would need to be tailored to each institution’s particular data ecosystem.

“It’s in the core of our mission to make the process from discovery to population impact faster and more efficient, with better outcomes,” said Harvey. “This just rolls into the mission of the CTSA as an area we need to look at.”

Reference

Sampson, R., Shapiro, S., He, W., Denmark, S., Kirchoff, K., Hutson, K., . . . Harvey, J. (2022). An integrated approach to improve clinical trial efficiency: Linking a clinical trial management system into the Research Integrated Network of Systems. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science,6(1), E63. doi:10.1017/cts.2022.382

Sydney Bollinger Sydney Bollinger is the special projects coordinator for the South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research Institute at MUSC.

Categories: Research, Innovation

Teachers leaving public schools for reasons other than pay

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Teachers are leaving public education in droves. The latest data compiled by SC for Ed, a teacher advocacy group, shows more than 3,400 open positions across the state.As of June 12, that number is closer to 650 for just the Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester District Two school districts.Vacancies by district:*Source: SC for EdThe number of teachers leaving year over year is starting to level out, however.This year the three districts show a 10.4% turnover rate on average, down f...

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Teachers are leaving public education in droves. The latest data compiled by SC for Ed, a teacher advocacy group, shows more than 3,400 open positions across the state.

As of June 12, that number is closer to 650 for just the Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester District Two school districts.

Vacancies by district:

*Source: SC for Ed

The number of teachers leaving year over year is starting to level out, however.

This year the three districts show a 10.4% turnover rate on average, down from an average of 12.5 percent last year. However, the number of teachers fleeing public education (and education in general) is concerning for advocates who have been pushing state leaders to dedicate more resources to educators at every level.

Abby Watson is among those leaving the Charleston County School District this year. She worked at Goodwin Elementary for a year before deciding to leave.

She says keeping up with ever-evolving district initiatives did not give her the feeling of stability. Specifically, she mentioned the plan to merge Goodwin Elementary with Lambs and Hunley Park in the next few years.

“There was a lot of uncertainty for my job,” Watson said. “We would have to reapply and all of that. It kind of freaked me out so I wanted to start looking, just in case, to have some security.”

She says the primary motivator for her was to move to a district that more aligns with her values. She is now set to start teaching second grade at a private Catholic school in West Ashley.

“They provide a little bit more freedom for the teachers as well,” Watson said. “It’s not so scripted. We can kind of take what the suggested curriculum is and make it into our own and provide what I think is sometimes a better education.”

The idea of large school districts across the state being out of touch with their employees and constantly implementing changing strategies is not a new criticism. Sydney Van Bulck, another teacher at Goodwin this year, says the expectations put on teachers are unrealistic.

“For educators, it’s a lack of respect,” Van Bulck said. “It’s a lack of funding. Really the system is being pitted against teachers. Morale is low, pay is low and it’s all kind of compacting together.”

Watson agrees.

“I think the public schools have a lot of really great programs, but I think there’s a lot of pressure to teach to the test,” Watson said. “We have to make sure that we get our scores up and have to make sure that everything is perfect and it’s ultimately too much. I can’t handle the pressure.”

Unlike Watson, Van Bulck is leaving education entirely. While Watson is leaving to find a job with a better culture and more security, Van Bulck’s reason for leaving, like so many others, is financial.

“The ultimate reason that made me make the decision was the pay,” Van Bulck said. “With the housing crisis in Charleston the way that it is right now and as a single person living here on my own, I can’t afford housing and be a teacher here in Charleston.”

While pay is routinely cited as a top reason teachers leave, the turnover data does not necessarily support the idea that starting pay is the most important factor. The Charleston County School District has the highest starting salary and the highest turnover rate.

Starting salary by district:

*Source: SC for Ed

Cost of living seems to be the determining factor when weighed against starting pay. According to BestPlaces.net, Berkeley County has the lowest cost of living, followed by Dorchester and then Charleston counties.

The Charleston County School District has several programs designed to retrain and recruit teachers. You can find more on some of those programs here:

Copyright 2022 WCSC. All rights reserved.

Charleston to consider making dog tethering illegal

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The City of Charleston is reviewing its animal cruelty rules and is expected to present new guidelines to the city council that, among other things, would make tethering illegal.Tethering is the practice of tying up an animal to restrict its ability to move.The exact language of any proposal has not yet been released, but the idea has some traction with people like Virginia Ellison.She started an online petition before she knew the city was working on making tethering illegal. She says leaving d...

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The City of Charleston is reviewing its animal cruelty rules and is expected to present new guidelines to the city council that, among other things, would make tethering illegal.

Tethering is the practice of tying up an animal to restrict its ability to move.

The exact language of any proposal has not yet been released, but the idea has some traction with people like Virginia Ellison.

She started an online petition before she knew the city was working on making tethering illegal. She says leaving dogs tied up outside in hundred-degree temperatures is animal cruelty.

“I thought that chaining animals in Charleston was already illegal and considered inhumane until I was recently was exposed to someone in my community who chained their dog 24/7 in all types of weather - in the heat like today,” Ellison said. “It is cruel to the animals. They depend on us for their physical and mental wellbeing, and it’s our obligation to take care of them.”

Tethering has been made illegal in other cities. Most recently, Georgetown approved banning the practice in April.

Meredith Jones is the medical director for Pet Helpers, a 501(c)3 adoption center and spay/neuter clinic in Charleston. She says leaving dogs tied up can be extremely dangerous.

“They can get tangled up in the tethers . . . which can cause all sorts of wounds and pretty serious issues with their legs, tails, even death if they get caught up too much and strangulate themselves,” Jones said, noting that sometimes the tethers and collars become imbedded in the dog’s flesh. “It requires a lot of supportive care, sometimes surgery to fix that, and a lot of time the dog has some variation of a scar for the rest of their life.”

Pet Helpers also runs a program called Unchain Charleston that helps pets with fencing and dog houses, so pets don’t have to be tethered when they are outside.

It is unknown when the changes to the current ordinance would be sent to city leaders.

Copyright 2022 WCSC. All rights reserved.

SC Aquarium celebrates introduction of funding legislation on World Sea Turtle Day

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- June 16 is World Sea Turtle Day, and the South Carolina Aquarium is celebrating coming one step closer to closing the funding gap for sea turtle conservation efforts.The SC Aquarium, in partnership with the National Aquarium and New England Aquarium, has been working with federal legislators to address the lack of funding given to organizations that provide sea turtle response and rehabilitation.New legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday by Sens. Markey (D-Mass.) and Cornyn (R-Texas) coul...

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- June 16 is World Sea Turtle Day, and the South Carolina Aquarium is celebrating coming one step closer to closing the funding gap for sea turtle conservation efforts.

The SC Aquarium, in partnership with the National Aquarium and New England Aquarium, has been working with federal legislators to address the lack of funding given to organizations that provide sea turtle response and rehabilitation.

New legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday by Sens. Markey (D-Mass.) and Cornyn (R-Texas) could be the answer.

The Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act creates a new grant program at the Department of Commerce to fund the rescue and recovery of sea turtles across the United States.

The legislation authorizes an additional $5 million in new funding annually from 2023 through 2028.

“We have a responsibility to protect the threatened and endangered sea turtles that call our waters home,” Sen. Markey said in a press release. “As our sea turtles continue to face greater existential threats, this legislation will help to keep our marine diversity alive. This funding will support rescue and recovery efforts, as well as the study of sea turtles so that future generations can know these animals as friends, not fiction.”

Officials from the SC Aquarium said the program will “fill a crucial gap in sea turtle conservation by providing much-needed direct support” to groups like the Aquarium’s own Sea Turtle Care Center.

The Sea Turtle Care Center treats sea turtles for a variety of ailments, including debilitated turtle syndrome, predation and boat strike wounds, injuries from interactions with fishing gear, and cold-stun. Officials say it costs an average of $35 per day for each patient’s treatment.

“The South Carolina Aquarium has been dedicated to rehabilitating sick and injured sea turtles for over 20 years. Sea turtles are ambassadors for conservation and drive awareness and actionable change for a better tomorrow,” South Carolina Aquarium President and CEO Kevin Mills said. “Their stories are critical to connecting people to water, wildlife and wild places, and we are grateful to work alongside National Aquarium and New England Aquarium in the movement to secure federal financial assistance to continue this meaningful work.”

To date, the center has successfully rehabilitated and released 355 sea turtles.

Restoring vision by recharging cells' batteries

In May, an interdisciplinary MUSC research team won an inaugural Blue Sky Award, which provided $100,000 in funding for its project to restore vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by recharging the eye cells’ batteries. The Blue Sky Award was created to encourage high-risk, high-reward research that has the potential to make a profound impact on patient care but is unlikely to attract traditional funding due to the difficulties of the projects.The team is led by ...

In May, an interdisciplinary MUSC research team won an inaugural Blue Sky Award, which provided $100,000 in funding for its project to restore vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by recharging the eye cells’ batteries. The Blue Sky Award was created to encourage high-risk, high-reward research that has the potential to make a profound impact on patient care but is unlikely to attract traditional funding due to the difficulties of the projects.

The team is led by Baerbel Rohrer, Ph.D., of the College of Medicine, and Andrew Jakymiw, Ph.D., of the College of Dental Medicine, and included their graduate students Kyrie Wilson and Charles Holjencin. Rohrer is the Endowed Chair of Gene and Pharmaceutical Treatment of Retinal Degenerative Disease. Jakymiw is an expert in developing cell-penetrating peptides for drug delivery.

Together, they intend to tackle a disease that affects more than 10 million Americans: AMD. The disease causes vision to worsen slowly and eventually leads to blindness. Current therapies are inadequate, as they can only lessen the symptoms and aim, at best, to postpone the loss of vision. Existing therapies also require patients to return again and again for treatment.

“We knew that if we could treat the disease at the root cause, and not just the symptoms, that would be a huge step forward in regenerative medicine." -- Kyrie Wilson

Team members weren’t satisfied with just slowing down the disease. They wanted to develop a curative therapy that could protect and even restore vision.

“We knew that if we could treat the disease at the root cause, and not just the symptoms, that would be a huge step forward in regenerative medicine,” said Wilson.

At its root, AMD is caused by an insufficient supply of energy to eye cells.

“Every single activity of a cell requires energy,” said Rohrer. “Once you lose that energy, you will lose proper function of the cells. That will eventually lead to disease and vision loss.”

“This new approach is like a quantum leap. If this were to work, it would just significantly change not just the trajectory of my lab but the trajectory of treatment for AMD." -- Baerbel Rohrer, Ph.D.

Mitochondria are the batteries that supply energy to cells, and they have their own DNA – mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA – to help them to do that. When their DNA becomes damaged, mitochondria cease to function properly and cannot provide cells with the energy they need.

Over time or because of stress, errors can be introduced into mtDNA as it copies itself. Rohrer likens the process to the game of “telephone.” In the game, a person whispers a word into the ear of another person. That person then whispers the word into the ear of the next person and so on down the line.

“Whatever ends up after five people is probably not the word that you picked to start with,” said Rohrer. “And it’s pretty much the same thing with copying mtDNA.”

Instead of trying to target and fix many copy errors, Rohrer and Wilson wondered whether a better approach would be to prevent the mistakes in the first place. They could do so by providing the mitochondria a new blueprint, or template, for copying their DNA, essentially “resetting” the word in the telephone game.

“You need a new template,” said Wilson. “You need to go back and have the perfect words again and know what you’re trying to say.”

"Essentially, we have a delivery mechanism that carries its own instructions for cell delivery." -- Charles Holjencin

Rohrer and Wilson realized that they would need a vehicle to deliver the template to the mitochondria. It would have to be able to dodge the body’s immune system and be accepted by the mitochondria. They reached out to Jakymiw, who had expertise with small nucleic acid-based drug delivery.

“We had actually never delivered anything that large to that point,” said Jakymiw. “I mean we’re talking about like 16 kilobases, which is a pretty big molecule.”

Although the two laboratories had had initial discussions, it was the announcement of the Blue Sky Award that solidified the collaboration and jump started the project.

“Some outcomes of the preliminary work that has evolved over the last few months suggest that we can potentially deliver this large amount of DNA and target it efficiently enough to restore vision for individuals affected by AMD,” continued Jakymiw.

"You can also design the small proteins so that they can recognize a particular ‘zip code’ and deliver the cargo to that particular site within the cell.” -- Andrew Jakymiw, Ph.D.

Jakymiw and Holjencin decorate the surface of the mtDNA with small proteins that carry instructions for the cells and mitochondria on how to take up this newly formed nanoparticle.

“Essentially, we have a delivery mechanism that carries its own instructions for cell delivery,” said Holjencin, who is creating the nanoparticles being used in the project.

“You can also design the small proteins so that they can recognize a particular ‘zip code’ and deliver the cargo to that particular site within the cell,” said Jakymiw.

These small proteins also provide a potential “invisibility cloak” to protect the nanoparticles from the body’s immune system.

To date, the team has shown that the small proteins can package the mtDNA within nanoparticles and deploy it to the struggling mitochondria. They have also shown that it persists there for at least four weeks. In previous studies, mtDNA disappeared after just 48 hours.

“We will eventually end up looking for the presence of mtDNA at probably eight weeks, maybe even out to 16 weeks,” said Wilson.

“And obviously what we would want for humans is that that this translates into many years as opposed to having to repeat these treatments on a regular basis,” said Rohrer.

The hope is that introducing the template would set off a series of events that could lead to restored vision. The mitochondria might share the template with its neighbors, which could, likewise, pass it on. As the quality of mtDNA improves in more and more mitochondria, they could again supply sufficient energy to eye cells, restoring vision.

“This new approach is like a quantum leap. If this were to work, it would just significantly change not just the trajectory of my lab but the trajectory of treatment for AMD,” said Rohrer.

The collaborative biorepository project between MUSC and SCSU is expanding with the hopes of reaching more medically underserved communities.

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