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Science Program Grant Goes To Valerian Kagan, Ph.D., D.Sc.

PITTSBURGH, June 22, 2005 — Valerian Kagan, Ph.D., D.Sc., professor and vice chairman of the department of environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health , is part of an international team of scientists that has been awarded a grant from the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), a life sciences research foundation based in Strasbourg, France.

The grant, “Oxidative Lipodomics of Programmed Cell Clearance: From Nematodes to Humans,” is funded at $450,000 annually for three years. Co-investigators include Bengt Fadeel, M.D. of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden; Peter Quinn, D.Sc., King’s College, London; and Ding Xue, Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder.

“While we know that lipids are important to the way cells communicate with each other, the nature and biochemistry of the way that these molecules cooperate with other cell components remains poorly understood,” said Dr. Kagan, who also is director of the school’s Center for Free Radical and Antioxidant Health. “Our grant project focuses on the biochemical sequences of lipid oxidation and appearance on the cell surface to act as signals distinguishing damaged cells from those cells that function normally.”

Lipids are among the primary structural components necessary for living cells to thrive.

Dr. Kagan and his international colleagues will investigate the machinery of phagocytes, immune system cells whose primary role is to remove cells that have been irrevocably damaged by toxic chemicals. Cells damaged beyond repair trigger a genetically predetermined program of self-elimination or death, also called apoptosis. The Kagan team refers to the removal of apoptotic cells as “programmed cell clearance,” and plans to study the way that various oxidized lipids are formed and act upon the cell membrane.

“The overall aim for our team is to characterize the evolutionary conserved ways that oxidized phospholipids on the surface of dying cells interact with their molecular receptors on phagocytes and signaling partners in different species from worms known as C. Elegans to animal and human cells,” explained Dr. Kagan. “We hope that this multidisciplinary approach will help us to decipher the complex blueprint of the way that unwanted cells are eliminated from living organisms.”

The Kagan team’s project represents the kind of cutting edge research in fundamental biology that the Human Frontier Science Program seeks to reward.

Founded in 1989, the HFSP organization offers support to international research and training at the frontier of the life sciences. Financial support for the organization comes from the G7 nations, Switzerland and the European Union. The HFSP supports innovative and interdisciplinary basic research focused on the complex mechanisms of living organisms. Funded research projects range from molecular and cellular approaches to systems and cognitive neuroscience. A clear emphasis is placed upon novel collaborations that bring biologists together with scientists from fields such as physics, mathematics, chemistry, computer science and engineering to focus on problems at the frontier of the life sciences.

HFSP has supported more than 4,000 scientists from 64 countries over the past 15 years. The organization received more than 700 applications from all over the world in 2005 and awarded a total of 27 grants.

Founded in 1948 and fully accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health, GSPH is world-renowned for contributions that have influenced public health practices and medical care for millions of people. One of the top-ranked schools of public health in the United States, GSPH was the first fully accredited school of public health in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with alumni who are among the leaders in their fields of public health. A member of the Association of Schools of Public Health, GSPH currently ranks third among schools of public health in NIH funding received. The only school of public health in the nation with a chair in minority health, GSPH is a leader in research related to women's health, HIV/AIDS and human genetics, among others. For more information about GSPH, visit the GSPH Web site at .

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