April 5, 2012

New core to help strengthen research into free radicals

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Sergey Dikalov, Ph.D., directs Vanderbilt’s new Free Radicals in Medicine Core, or FRIMCORE. (photo by Joe Howell)

New core to help strengthen research into free radicals

Scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are pioneers in understanding “oxidative stress,” cellular damage caused by highly reactive molecules derived from oxygen that have been implicated in a wide range of diseases.

Now they have a resource to help them.

The Free Radicals in Medicine Core, or FRIMCORE, recently opened on the fifth floor of the Preston Research Building.

Directed by Sergey Dikalov, Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine, the core provides site-specific, selective and reliable measurements of “reactive oxygen species” such as superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, peroxynitrite and nitric oxide as well other “free radicals” in cells and tissue samples using the best available state-of-the-art techniques.

“Dr. Dikalov’s core is known as tops in the country, if not the international community, for measuring reactive oxygen species,” said Nancy Brown, M.D., chair of the Department of Medicine. “To have it here at Vanderbilt really enhances our ability to do research in this area.”

An internationally recognized expert in free radicals, Dikalov was recruited last July from Emory University, where he directed a similar resource, by his longtime mentor and colleague, David Harrison, M.D., director of the Vascular Biology Center and of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology.

“Accurate measurements of free radicals and related reactive oxygen species are essential for many biological studies,” said Harrison, who arrived from Emory in January 2011.

“Most laboratories and institutions rely on imprecise methods to accomplish this or don't even attempt this,” he said. “We established FRIMCORE with the goal of making these measurements possible and available to any investigator who wants to use them.”

FRIMCORE offers four key services:

• High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), which can detect superoxides in cells and in mitochondria, the “power plants” of the cell that are particularly vulnerable to superoxide attack;

• Electron spin resonance (ESR), which can detect short-lived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in fluids, cells, tissues and even in vivo experiments;

• Monochromatic-based fluorescence spectroscopy, which allows the highest specificity in analyzing ROS; and

• Vascular function analysis by monitoring endothelial production of nitric oxide and vascular ROS.

The core is staffed by three scientists who came with Dikalov from Emory: his wife Anna Dikalova, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Pediatrics (Neonatology); Rafal Nazarewicz, Ph.D., research instructor in Medicine; and Alfiya Bikineyeva, senior research specialist.

“Over the years, Dr. Dikalov and I have made every effort to adapt and develop methods such as ESR, fluorescent techniques and HPLC-based methods to studies of intact tissues, cells and subcellular fractions,” Harrison said. “These methods are now recognized … as state-of-the art.”

In addition to Emory and Vanderbilt, Dikalov said he is aware of two other free radical cores in the country, at the University of Iowa and University of Pittsburgh.

Vanderbilt’s FRIMCORE, he said, is unique, in part because of the strength of the university’s research community.

In 1990, for example, Jason Morrow, M.D., and Jackson Roberts, M.D., discovered a series of compounds called isoprostanes that can reliably detect and monitor oxidative stress in atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative and other diseases, and the normal aging process.

“I do not need to go far to have a great synergy in our scientific studies,” said Dikalov, a native of Russia who did postdoctoral work in Germany and at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina. “I personally have never experienced this anywhere else.”