UC Davis grant zeroes in on novel asthma diagnosis and treatment

June 19, 2009

DAVIS--An entomology professor at the University of California, Davis who discovered a novel therapeutic target for treating inflammation, has received a three-year $750,000 grant from the American Asthma Foundation to investigate whether his discovery will work on asthma, a chronic disease affecting 300 million people worldwide, including 23 million Americans.

"In our study, we propose to evaluate whether the new field of metabolomics can be used to diagnose asthma and follow its treatment," said principal investigator Bruce Hammock, a distinguished professor and member of the National Academy of Sciences. Metabolomics involves the study of metabolic products of cells, which scientists use to distinguish a diseased state from a healthy state.

"Our study also will evaluate if there is a scientific basis to do human clinical trials on soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) inhibitors in asthma, which has recently been demonstrated as a novel therapeutic treatment for treating inflammation," Hammock said. "Control of airway inflammation is critical in asthma treatment. We'll be investigating this target for asthma management."

The UC Davis grant, "Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase Is a Novel Therapeutic Target in Asthma" was one of 12 successful applications from a pool of 327. Funds will be used solely for research. Analytical chemist Jun Yang, a postdoctoral researcher in the Hammock lab, wrote the proposal.

Hammock, Kenyon and Yang all have experienced asthma in their families. Hammock's two sons developed asthma "and that's why we moved from the Riverside area, in the South Coast Air Basin, to Davis -- to alleviate their asthma," Hammock said. Kenyon's six-year-old daughter has asthma, as does Yang's father-in-law.

Co-investigator is asthma specialist and researcher Nicholas Kenyon, co-director of the UC Davis Asthma Network and associate professor of medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, UC Davis Medical Center.

"We believe these pathways are very important in the airway inflammation that occurs in asthma patients," said Kenyon, who directs the predoctoral research training program of the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC). "Presently, we have medications that block related pathways in asthma, but what we will look at is very new. We are excited to see if soluble epoxide hydrolase inhibitors, with or without these other medications, can improve the quality of life for patients with persistent asthma."

Yang said the project "will use the new omics technology -- metabolomics --to assist the diagnosis and monitor asthma therapy."

"The metabolomics is already used to predict the drug toxicity in the earlier stage and it is also expected to play an important role in the personal medicine," Yang said. "We anticipate that this technology will eventually help us to find new ways to diagnose asthma as well as monitor its treatment."

Through its national grants program, the American Asthma Foundation (AAF) sponsors highly innovative, cutting-edge research, recruiting investigators "to think outside the box" to bring new perspectives to diseases of the lung, according to its Web site.

Hammock lab researchers have demonstrated that sEH inhibitors are strongly synergistic with current asthma drugs: cycloxygenase inhibitors and several of the blockers of leukotriene biosynthesis.

"We hope to both evaluate sEH inhibitors alone in treating asthma but also to combine them with other inflammatory drugs to improve their efficacy and reduce their side effects," Hammock said. "Both the analytical and novel chemical probes will give us a better understanding of the basic causes of asthma."

The enzyme is involved in the metabolism of arachidonic acid, a key signaling molecule implicated in diabetes, hypertension and inflammatory disorders, Hammock explained. "It's an enzyme in the same arachidonic biochemical pathway where many other common pharmaceuticals such as aspirin, Advil, Aleve, Ibuprofen, Motrin and others are active."

The prevalence of asthma has increased 75 percent from 1980 to 1994, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Surveillance for Asthma.

Hammock's current research sprang his initial work on fundamental insect biology. He and UC Riverside cell biologist Sarjeet Gill discovered the enzyme in 1969 at UC Berkeley.

Hammock holds a joint appointment in Cancer Research with the UC Davis Medical Center. He directs the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Program on the UC Davis campus, as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Training Program in Biotechnology, and the NIEHS Combined Analytical Laboratory.
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University of California - Davis

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