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for Research and Practice in Chemistry, Biology, Engineering, Pharmacy, Aging, the Environment, Public Health & Medicine

PI: Kelvin J. A. Davies, PhD, D.Sc. – Davis School of Gerontology and Dornsife College

Co-I: Enrique Cadenas MD, PhD – School of Pharmacy & Keck School of Medicine

Administrative Core Faculty:

  • Neil Kaplowitz, MD– Keck School of Medicine & School of Pharmacy
  • Constantinos Sioutas, Sc.D. – Viterbi School of Engineering
  • John Tower, PhD – Dornsife College & Davis School of Gerontology
  • Edward Crandall, PhD, MD – Keck School of Medicine
  • Nicos A. Petasis, PhD  – Dornsife College, Viterbi Engineering, & Keck Medicine
  • Henry J. Forman, PhD – Davis School of Gerontology

Free Radical Biology & Medicine (FRBM) is, by nature, an interdisciplinary field. The first free radical researchers were chemists who quickly recognized the importance of one-electron (free radical) oxidation/reduction reactions. Physicists and engineers soon joined in and invented a new technology to directly study free radical species: electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy (EPR) or electron spin resonance spectroscopy (ESR).

Since the 1960s, biologists have shown that energy production by the mitochondria in all our cells involves a series of free radical reactions, as does the immune system’s response to invading microorganisms. Toxicologists and environmental scientists have shown that many herbicides and pesticides employ free radical reaction mechanisms, and pharmacists and pharmacologists have found that the toxic effects of many useful drugs (from acetaminophen to anti-cancer compounds) are caused by free radical “redox cycling.”

The fields of nutrition and public health are currently deeply divided over the potential benefits of dietary antioxidant supplements, but all agree that frank deficiency causes disease; vitamin C deficiency, for example, clearly causes survey. The medical and pharmaceutical fields are now deeply involved in free radical research. Cataract, for example, is a disease clearly caused by photo-oxidative, free radical damage to lens crystallin proteins. Similarly, cancer and heart disease, neurodegeneration (including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) and diabetes, liver disease and rheumatoid arthritis, to name just a few of the major diseases, all plainly involve significant free radical damage, although the causes (and cures) are often still unclear.

Even the very process of aging has been proposed as the result of free radical damage.

USC has been a world leader in the free radical field since the 1980s. The director of USC’s Free Radical Institute is Kelvin J. A. Davies PhD, D.Sc. (currently of the Davis School of Gerontology and Dornsife College, and formerly of the Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy). Prof. Davies is the founding editor-in-chief of Free Radical Biology & Medicine, the major research journal in the field. Davies has been president of the Oxygen Club of California, president of the US Society for Free Radical Biology & Medicine, and president of the International Society for Free Radical Research. Davies has also won just about every prize and award in the free radical field.

The co-director of the Institute, is Enrique Cadenas MD, PhD (School of Pharmacy and Keck School of Medicine). Prof Cadenas is CEO of the Oxygen Club of California, has served on the council of the US Society for Free Radical Biology & Medicine, and was both Treasurer and then President of the International Society for Free Radical Research. Davies and Cadenas have authored hundreds of research articles, book chapters, and books on Free Radical Biology & Medicine and are frequent plenary speakers at major national and international meetings, conferences, and workshops. Profs. Davies and Cadenas have recently been knighted by the Republic of France for their services to science and international cooperation.

Neil Kaplowitz, MD, Constantinos Sioutas, Sc.D., John Tower, PhD Henry J. Forman, PhD., and Nicos A. Petasis, PhD are all world-renowned scientists who have made major contributions to our understanding of free radicals in their own fields of expertise.  There are more than 50 tenured/tenure-track USC investigators whose work directly involves free radical research. No other university in the world can claim the kind of dominance USC holds in the free radical field.

We aim to tackle the “big questions” in FRBM including such major translational issues as the role(s) of free radicals in:

  • cancer
  • neurodegeneration
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • liver disesae
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • aging
  • muscle degeneration
  • drug design and discovery
  • nutrition
  • public health

We seek to build teams of:

  • physician scientists
  • biochemists/molecular biologists
  • engineers
  • gerontologists
  • pharmacists
  • dentists
  • nutritionists
  • public health experts

Some of our additional goals include:

  • Consolidate the Free Radical Biology & Medicine expertise at USC and raise awareness among researchers from diverse home schools and departments regarding the possibilities for interdisciplinary discovery, translational, reverse-translational, industrial and clinical cooperation
  • Identify several major unanswered questions and/or goals in Free Radical Biology & Medicine that USC researchers would be best able to tackle
  • Organize teams of researchers, around the questions/goals identified in 2) above
  • Establish graduate course, undergraduate course and an interdisciplinary MS/PhD program
  • Organize national and international conferences
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