Campus: CSU Long Beach -- November 26, 2001
California State University, Long Beach Scientists Receive $2.6 Million Grant
from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences
A four-year grant worth more than $2.6 million for science research has
been awarded to six Cal State Long Beach faculty members by the National
Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), one of the National Institutes
of Health (NIH), according to CSULB President Robert C. Maxson.
Approximately $344,000 of the grant is being used to establish a Support
of Continuous Research Excellence (SCORE) program funded by NIGMS' Minority
Biomedical Research Support branch, said Professor Laura Kingsford, chair
of the Biological Sciences Department and SCORE program director. In addition,
five faculty members will work with undergraduate and graduate students
on research that has biomedical applications. The research projects cover
a variety of topics:
Iron is often thought of as something tough, but it is considered a transitional
metal at the atomic level, giving it properties that are valuable in both
chemistry and biology. CSULB Professor Lijuan Li, who specializes in inorganic
chemistry, organometallics and transitional metals, is collaborating with
Professor Peter C. Ford of UC Santa Barbara on a $551,000 study focusing
on biological applications of iron compounds in generating and controlling
"Ten or 15 years ago, nitric oxide was considered a very bad molecule-responsible
for L.A. smog, acid rain, an environmental pollutant, a toxic radical,"
said Li. "But in the last 10 years or so, biologists have found that
nitric oxide actually exists in the human body in very small concentrations.
It's responsible for long-term memory, controls clot aggregation and blood
pressure and can kill microorganisms. Because nitric oxide is so important,
there is a great need in the scientific society to have a compound that
can release it. There are many applications. You can directly use it as
a cardiovascular relaxing agent. You can use it to control cancer or tumor
growth," she explained.
"Nitric oxide activity in chemistry and biology is not yet fully
discovered. Biologists who want to study how nitric oxide works in different
systems need some kind of model compound to release nitric oxide to help
them do their pharmacokinetic studies" on how the body uses drugs,
Pharmaceutical firms have a major interest in such results for developing
heart, blood pressure or cancer medications. Even Viagra was the result
of nitric oxide studies.
The SCORE project focuses on isolating non-heme iron nitrosyl compounds,
which is iron bonded
to nitric oxide. Non-heme iron, absorbed from food, does not bind with
oxygen. "These type of molecules are responsible for cardiovascular
relaxation. There are possibilities that these types of iron nitrosyls
are acting as nitric oxide stores," said Li.
Biological Sciences Professor Kay Lee-Fruman is using her $474,000 SCORE
funding to look at a protein, or kinase, called SK62.
"I'm interested in this protein because it has some applications
in immunology," she said. Part of her work involves studying how
SK62 might be regulated by a drug called rapamycin. "People found
that what was happening inside the cell once the drug is administered
is that it inhibits the activity of a kinase called p70. It became more
evident that it may not be the only reason why rapamycin has its immunosuppressing
activity, so people are looking for other kinases that look similar or
that might be regulated by the same drug. Our protein, S6K2, is one of
those. We are looking for the function of this protein to see whether
it has any importance in immune cell function or any cell function."
Another aspect will examine white blood cell division, with implications
in the understanding of cancers of the bloodstream such as leukemia and
There might not appear to be a connection between goby fishes and medicine,
but the studies that Biological Sciences Professor Raymond R. Wilson is
conducting with his $480,000 in funding has implications for understanding
how invasive species, including human pathogens, can spread among natural
"I'm studying the mitochondrial DNA and nuclear genetics of two California
populations of yellowfin gobies together with a native population in China,"
Wilson explained. The gobies are native to Asian waters, but not to California
estuarine regions where they are now found, so it's believed that the
fish were brought over in merchant shipping ballast water sometime in
the early 20th century.
"The work is centered around looking at population genetic changes
in relation to the amount of time since the invasion occurred. We have
a specific prediction of what the frequency distribution of these mitochondrial
sequences should look like in data from recent invaders, so we're going
to test that prediction with gobies that we know are recent invaders,"
"If this model appears to hold up in this case, then it will be potentially
a very powerful model to apply in cases when we don't know the temporal
history of an invasion. When we finish in four years, we should know what
the population genetics of a recent invasive species looks like in detail.
We'll also know if the invasion is happening on a continuing basis. We
will hopefully be the place in the country that has created the most thorough
data model system for looking at invasive species in marine estuarine
Wilson said the NIH is interested in his fish study because "we propose
that we can develop a
genetic indicator of the relative recency of invasion. In the field of
epidemiology, for example, if foreign pathogens were coming into a system one might be able to use our model
for that application. One might be able to take a relatively small amount
of genetic data from the invasive pathogen to determine if it's been here
for only a few years, if it's isolated or not, or if it's continuing to
receive fresh immigration."
Other recipients include Biological Sciences Professor Editte Gharakhanian,
who received $483,000 to study protein trafficking and delivery to the
lysosomal vacuole of the bread yeast. Analogous to the mammalian lysosome,
the yeast vacuole is the cellular organelle responsible for degradation
of macromolecules such as proteins as well as in breakdown of toxins.
Her work will help further define genes, gene products, and the cellular
machinery involved in delivering the enzymes responsible for degradation
to the lysosome. Mislocalization of lysosomal proteins are involved in
many forms of cancer and in lysosomal storage diseases.
Chemistry/Biochemistry Professor Marco A. Lopez received $240,000 to study
the interaction of chemicals called imidazoles with molecules called hemes,
and how these imidazole-heme systems interact with dioxygen, carbon monoxide,
and nitric oxide (gaseous ligands). Imidazole-heme systems are studied
as models of hemeproteins.
The goal of these studies is to learn the details of how these models
of hemeproteins interact with gaseous ligands. Potential applications
of these studies are in the field of sickle-cell anemia, the preparation
of blood substitutes, and learning more of how nitric oxide carries out
its many newly-discovered processes. The journal Science named nitric
oxide "molecule of the year" for 1992. The 1998 Nobel Prize
in Medicine was awarded for work on showing that nitric oxide is an important
signaling compound that helps the body regulate key functions such as
blood pressure and preventing blood clots that can cause strokes.