November 4, 2005

Environmental disease prevention focus of symposium

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Environmental disease prevention focus of symposium

The Center in Molecular Toxicology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center hosted the 63rd annual meeting of directors and administrators of NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) Centers on Monday.

More than 100 researchers and administrators from the 26 NIEHS Centers across the nation attended the daylong symposium entitled “Oxidative damage: Targets for the prevention of environmental diseases.”

Oxidative stress is a biological process that can cause cell damage and death via the interaction of free radicals with the body's tissues. Speakers from Vanderbilt and other NIEHS Centers discussed the role of this process in human disease and methods to measure oxidative stress in humans, a major strength and focus of VUMC Center researchers.

Oxidative stress, said Joseph Beckman, director of the NIEHS center at Oregon State University, “is a lot like the weather — many people talk about it, but we do little with it clinically.”

Beckman reviewed studies on the role of antioxidant nutrients, like vitamin E and C, in human conditions of coronary artery disease, Alzheimer's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease). Because some of these diseases are associated with genetic mutations in the body's natural antioxidant defenses and antioxidant treatment has been shown to prevent or delay the onset of certain conditions, Beckman suggested that antioxidants and micronutrients might be effective in primary disease prevention.

As opposed to targeting very specific aspects of disease, antioxidants may be a 'generic' preventive measure for a wide range of diseases, which could have a positive impact on the entire health care system.

“Primary disease prevention would be the most cost effective means of controlling health care costs and improving the health of the population,” Beckman said.

Vanderbilt researchers, Ned Porter, Ph.D., Lawrence Marnett, Ph.D., Daniel Liebler, Ph.D., Raymond Burk, M.D., Jason Morrow, M.D., and John Oates, M.D., also presented recent highlights of their respective studies involving oxidative stress.

First established in 1964, the NIEHS center grants support programs with shared resources and facilities to promote multidisciplinary and collaborative research programs in the environmental health sciences. Vanderbilt's Center in Molecular Toxicology has been continuously funded by the NIEHS since 1967.