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A Winning Combination
CHORI Junior Scientist Receives Prestigious Research Award

"We wanted to have a molecular beacon that could be used to asses people's health state rather than just characterizing people as either sick or healthy."

Jung Suh, PhD, a CHORI junior scientist in the Center for Nutrition and Metabolism, has just received a highly competitive and exclusive research award to conduct three different research projects using a new assay method developed Drs. Suh and Mark Shigenaga, PhD.

Traditionally, people have used assays to look at a single molecule at a time, or a smaller set of molecules, whereas Dr. Suh’s novel method, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Chromatography B, allows researchers to quantify sensitive biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress, providing the most detailed and comprehensive snapshot of the body’s metabolism.

The sets of extremely sensitive assays Dr. Suh and his colleagues developed can be used to examine metabolic consequences that may arise in the body due to poor diet, aging or disease conditions.

"Our test is a very broad analysis that accurately quantifies 80 different key metabolites that are critical for cellular energy, protecting against anti-oxidants, and communication in and between different cells," explains Dr. Suh.

The novel assay has multiple applications, from looking at drug toxicity to identifying possible genetic targets that could be causing disease, and is so promising that Dr. Suh just received a three year, 450 thousand dollar research award to pursue three different research projects that utilize the assay.

"Receiving an award like this is an amazing opportunity for a junior scientist," says Dr. Suh, who, as an emerging scientist relatively early in his career has to generate his research funds strictly through public and private grants.

"This provides an initial seed funding required fro tackling high-risk projects that may not be easily funded by traditional mechanisms."

As a result of the award, Dr. Suh will be able to focus on utilizing the novel assay to investigate how metabolism in patients change in response to different types of dieseases and how experimental therapies may impact altered metabolic states. This information could be critical to identifying certain metabolic characteristics (or biomarkers) which, if present in a patient, could predict an adverse complication before it happens, allowing preventative measures to be taken.
"With this kind of information, we could greatly improve patient care and overall patient health. The methods may eventually lead to specific nutrition-based preventive and therapeutic strategies."
Initially, Dr. Suh will be focusing on applying his method to two different diseases. Niemann Pick's Disease Type C (NPC), often called children's Alzheimer's disease, is a devastating disease in children, which is fatal and currently has no proven treatments.

"There is a huge need for clear biomarkers so that novel treatment strategies can be developed, and so that the effectiveness of different therapies can actually be assessed," explains Dr. Suh.

The new award will also support Dr. Suh in using the assay to try and understand the biological basis of autism, a developmental disability starting in early childhood that has become increasingly common in the United States.

The biological mechanisms of how autism actually develops are very poorly understood. We are finding more and more that it is a multisystem biological disorder that doesn't affect only the brain, but alters all levels of biology," Dr. Suh explains.
"The assay should help us get a much better picture of what is going on in the body on a biochemical level, which could eventually be the key to developing gene therapy for autism."

While there are subtle differences in how Dr. Suh's novel assay is being applied each of the two projects, all of them are geared toward providing doctors invaluable information in understanding and treating these complex and often devastating diseases. Thanks to the winning combination of the new award and Dr. Suh's dedication to research, CHORI is one step closer to providing the essential keys to treat, cure, and improve the quality of life of patients with these conditions.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM

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