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Research Impact

How Will EHSC Research Impact Public Health?

Dr. William Baird
How do cigarettes cause cancer and what can be done to prevent this? How do dietary foods such as red raspberries help to prevent environmental agents from causing cancer in humans? By answering these questions, my research may be able to reduce cancer incidence through dietary changes.

Dr. Elisar Barbar
We are investigating fundamental questions regarding the structural and chemical basis for the activity of motor proteins. Motor proteins provide force for the movement of chromosomes along ‘train tracks’ in the cell called microtubules and hence are an attractive target for therapeutic cancer intervention.

Dr. Joseph Beckman
My research focuses upon a novel oxidant called peroxynitrite that is produced by the body in response to infections and many environmental stresses. Much of our work focuses upon the role of peroxynitrite in Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and other forms of neurodegeneration. We hope to understand what causes ALS and how to slow the progression of the disease. On a larger scale, we hope to minimize oxidant production from inflammatory responses to environmental stresses that may play a key role in chronic diseases. We are also interested in the role of micronutrients such as zinc in modulating the progress of ALS. In addition, a protein modification I discovered (nitrotyrosine) now appears to be a powerful predictor of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, dietary elevation of urate levels, which is a competitive inhibitor of tyrosine nitration, may be protective against multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Recent discoveries in Germany suggest components of chocolate may also be protective via similar mechanisms.

Dr. Andrew Buermeyer
In my research, I seek to understand how cancer develops, and specifically how defective DNA repair pathways contribute to the development of cancer. The most important discovery in my field of research in the last ten years demonstrated that inherited deficiency for DNA mismatch repair function causes increased susceptibility to cancer. The research identified specific mutations in several different DNA mismatch repair genes as causative for Lynch Syndrome, the most common form of inherited predisposition to colorectal cancer.We hope to identify environmental exposures and/or lifestyle choices that interact with genetic predispositions for the development of cancer to increase or decrease an individual's risk of cancer. Such knowledge will aid in developing intervention strategies to minimize risk of disease and/or increase the effectiveness of disease treatments.

Dr. Jennifer Field
We develop analytical methods that measure the concentration of organic contaminants in environmental samples. In addition, in collaboration with engineers and microbiologists, we develop technologies that detect the rate of transformation of organic pollutants in contaminated groundwater. If you know the rate of transformation of organic chemicals in groundwater, you can predict the amount of time required to transform the organic contaminant to less toxic products. This aids in risk assessment for people who use groundwater as a drinking water supply.

Dr. Balz Frei
My research focuses on the prevention of cardiovascular diseases (CVD, i.e., heart disease and stroke) by diet and lifestyle. CVD is by far the leading cause of death in the US, and diet and lifestyle are the most important modifiable factors in determining CVD risk. Simple, clear, and science-based advice on diet and lifestyle can help the public make the right choices to lead a healthy and long life. Such advice, if followed, will also help reduce health care costs by emphasizing prevention over treatment. One of the most important discoveries in the area of diet and health is that 70% of colon cancer, 70% of stroke, 80% of heart disease, and 90% of type II diabetes are potentially preventable by diet and lifestyle modifications. Another important discovery is that there are good and bad fats and good and bad carbohydrates, and that the amount of calories from each of these groups is much less important than the type of fat (saturated or trans vs unsaturated) or carbohydrate (refined vs. whole grain) consumed.

Dr. Julie Greenwood
We are trying to understand how cells migrate in order to control the spread of tumor cells in cancer. We are trying to understand how cells migrate in order to control the spread of tumor cells in cancer. Understanding cell adhesion in cancer has lead to a mechanism for targeting tumor cells as a potential therapy.

Dr. Michael Gross
We study how the nervous system is formed. This will help find therapies for neurodegenerative disease, spinal cord injuries, and may aid in the discovery of new analgesics. Until the basic understanding of nervous system development is understood, none of the mentioned therapies are possible. My research lays the foundation for rational drug design. Understanding how the nervous system develops will increase our knowledge of what parts of ourselves can be attributed to nature and nurture. We can discover the boundary between a genetic nervous disorder and an environmentally induced nervous disorder.

Dr. Tory Hagen
My lab examines the basic biology of the aging process and how certain dietary compounds we call “age-essential” micronutrients, may increase resistance to oxidative and toxicological stresses. These studies are important for our goal of increasing or maintaining good health in the elderly. The only known regimen to consistently increase mean lifespan is to calorically restrict animals by as much as 60% of their ad libitum diet. This is considered too onerous of a diet to recommend as a dietary guide (as we can’t even get the public to eat properly on a less restricted diet). A very recent finding has shown that similar benefits in increasing lifespan can be achieved by providing a bioflavanoid, resveratrol, to experimental models. If proven effective, we will look back on 2003 as the year where increasing longevity by 1/3 was achieved by providing a single dietary micronutrient in the diet.

Dr. Emily Ho
My research examines how deficiencies in certain nutrients may increase your risk for developing cancer and investigates how certain dietary components may be more protective against cancer development, especially prostate cancer. Although family history and ethnic background play an important role in one's risk for cancer- dietary habits and nutrition also play a key role. Around 1/3 of all human cancers may be related to diet.A significant proportion of cancers could be prevented through proper nutrition. My research will help reinforce the importance of good nutrition in the prevention of cancer.

Dr. Jane Ishmael
My research will provide insight into the structure and function of brain areas that are important for learning and memory. This research may ultimately help individuals suffering from Alzheimer's disease or at risk for stroke.

Dr. Andrew Karplus
Proteins carryout pretty much all functions of life. Disease often involves misfunction of proteins, and medicines often work by targeting proteins. Learning how proteins work provides crucial basic knowledge that contributes to new cures and reatments for all kinds of diseases. Basic research into protein structure is the foundation for modern structure-based drug development and also the development of engineered proteins as drugs. We also contribute to the general understanding of molecular mechanisms underlying cell growth regulation and cancer.

Dr. Nancy Kerkvliet
We are studying how TCDD, a highly toxic environmental chemical, alters the immune system, which is important for fighting disease. TCDD causes its toxic effects by binding to a unique protein (the Ah receptor) that is present in many types of cells. The Ah receptor may not have been discovered without studies on TCDD. Understanding the normal functions of the Ah receptor within the immune system may result in clinical applications useful in the treatment of allergy, autoimmunity, and/or transplant rejection. Read more about Dr. Kerkvliet and her research at Unsolved Mysteries of Human Health.

Dr. Chrissa Kioussi
We are studying the mechanisms involved in the generation of a healthy heart. The heart is the first organ to occur with the most complex developmental morphological events, sensitive to genetic and environmental perturbations. Congenital heart defects occur in 1% of live births. This remarkably high incidence of congenital cardiac defects points to the need to better understand the molecular mechanisms regulating heart development. We are able to generate transgenic mice that mimic human genetic disorders as a model to study human disease.

Dr. Christiane Löhr
My laboratory is focusing on the prevention of UV radiation caused cancer through the use of phytonutrients. My lab is also investigating the connection between chronic inflammation or infection and the promotion of cancer (lymphoma) using animal models.

The public is well aware of the negative association between high UV radiation exposure and human health. However, the general public as a whole often chooses to ignore the risks of exposure to UV radiation. My research will help reinforce the importance of good nutrition and protection from UV radiation in preventing cancer. In addition, my lab uses diagnostic techniques to solve local cases of bioterrorism or animal poisonings in Oregon.

Dr. Claudia Maier
I study the role 'bad' reactive radicals play in aging and age-related diseases, for instance, heart failure and Parkinson's disease by using state of the art bioanalytical tools. Our research translates to new therapeutic avenues to prevent and reverse age-related processes or inflammation.

Dr. Gary Merrill
Our laboratory discovered that p53 is a cellular protein critical for suppressing tumors in humans. We are investigating the possibility that p53 is unable to perform its critical cancer-preventing function in oxidatively-stressed cells or in highly vascularized tissues that are exposed to high levels of oxygen. We have invented a biochemical technique for determining the oxidation state of proteins inside human cells, and are using the technique to determine the oxidation state of p53 and other important regulatory proteins during normal and cancerous cell growth and during tissue inflammation and cardiovascular disease. In addition, we are using yeast, the simplest eukaryotic cell, to develop a new class of antibodies that can specifically bind proteins that are oxidized or modified in response to normal cellular signals or environmental toxins.

Dr. Cliff Pereira
Statistics in the scientific disciplines have a dual nature - a part of science and a part of scientific methodology. Statistics is unique among all academic disciplines in that statistical thought is needed at every stage in most research investigations, including planning the study, selecting the sample, managing the data, analyzing the data and interpreting the results. Therefore, Statisticians (especially those involved in consulting) tend to spend more time than other scientists in "outreach" to the other scientific disciplines.

Dr. Rosita Rodriquez-Proteau
My laboratory has been studying the effects of plant extracts (hops,raspberries, green tea), plant polyphenols and their derivatives on the transport of drugs and carcinogens across intestinal and lung epithelial cell monolayers. The focus of our research is to understand the mechanisms through which natural compounds change drug bioavailability, prevent carcinogen exposure, and modulate gene expression. Our goal is to obtain a better understanding of the potential effects of plant materials found in our diet, their possible health benefits, and their potential role in the treatment of disease. Everyday people take supplements such as green tea or isoflavones or alter their diet to consume plant constituents (flavonoids) from spinach, broccoli, grapefruit juice, and soy products as well as many others to better their health. These supplements and flavonoids found in the diet can alter the metabolism and transport of drugs that they are taking concurrently. These alterations can either result in toxicity (high drug plasma concentrations) or subtherapeutic conditions (low drug plasma concentrations).

Dr. Staci Simonich
My laboratory studies how air pollutants move globally and are deposited to remote ecosystems and how humans and the environment are exposed to pollutants. The value of our research to the public is that we are beginning to understand how air pollutants move globally and have the potential to impact human health and the environment. Read more about Dr. Simonich and her research at Unsolved Mysteries of Human Health.

Dr. Fred Stevens
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for people over the age of 65. We are studying the damaging impact of lipid oxidation on the heart mitochondria and how this affects function of the heart as a function of age. Understanding the decline of heart function during aging as the result of innate inflammation can lead to new therapeutic or dietary ways to prevent or retard heart disease.

Dr. Robert Tanguay
My research focuses on understanding the risk that chemicals pose to developing humans. Generally, fetuses are more sensitive to chemicals. The value is that we can use animal models (zebrafish) to figure out how a chemical causes injury. Then we can find ways to prevent or treat affected individuals. Read more about Dr. Tanguay and his research at Unsolved Mysteries of Human Health.

Dr. Maret Traber
We study the human requirements for vitamin E, so our results are directly applicable for use in public policy. Many of our research publications were cited in the latest recommendations for vitamin E requirements by the Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Science. Our research demonstrates that common activities such as cigarette smoking or endurance exercise increases the requirements for vitamin E. Vitamin E supplements are taken by as many as 35 million Americans. Our publication this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that if those supplements are taken only with a glass of water and not with a meal, then there is virtually no absorption of the vitamin E.

Dr. David Williams
My laboratory focuses on the prevention of cancer by diet. Currently we are trying to identify phytochemicals that can be incorporated into the maternal diet to protect the fetus from chemical carcinogens that cross the placenta. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., costing billions of dollars in health care and untold amounts of suffering. Our goal is to reduce this cost and suffering through prevention of this disease. The most important application with respect to my own work is the discovery that certain dietary supplements, such as indole-3-carbinol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) have health risks in addition to potential benefits. The public needs to be educated about such risks so that they can make informed decisions about dietary supplements.