UNMC launches research program in free radical biology

Matt Zimmerman, Ph.D., assistant professor in cellular and integrative physiology, was recently named director of the newly created Free Radicals in Medicine Program at UNMC.

"There are only a handful of premier free radical research programs in the country," Dr. Zimmerman said. "My goal is to help develop such a program here at UNMC."

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Matt Zimmerman, Ph.D.
In March, he held a retreat at the University of Nebraska at Omaha bringing together investigators involved in free radical research at UNMC as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The retreat was attended by 25 scientists with expertise in at least 10 different disciplines.

On a legend's shoulders

A UNMC legend -- Denham Harman, M.D., Ph.D. -- is known as the Father of the Free Radical Theory on Aging. Dr. Harman, who is now 96, served on the UNMC faculty from 1958 until 2010 and was nominated six times for the Nobel Prize.

He theorized that free radicals -- highly reactive molecules produced in the normal cellular processes -- cause aging and disease through their destructive actions in cells and tissues. He further added to the theory with pioneering research on the role of antioxidants and how they can reduce effects of free radicals.

"We're here on Dr. Harman's shoulders," Dr. Zimmerman said. "We want to take (his work) to the next level and focus on a variety of diseases associated with aging."

A wide spectrum of ailments

These conditions include:

  • Hypertension;
  • Heart failure;
  • Diabetes;
  • Cancer;
  • Arthritis;
  • Infection and inflammation;
  • Respiratory and lung disease;
  • Vascular disease;
  • Liver disease;
  • Neurodegeneration.

"Free radicals and other oxidation products continue to emerge as a common contributor to diseases," said Jennifer Larsen, M.D., vice chancellor for research. "Expanding our free radicals research program will benefit a number of investigators across colleges, research programs, and even across the university as a whole."

Funds for free-radical research available

Dr. Larsen's office will fund three $25,000 pilot projects in free radical research. The Request for Applications for these pilot projects can be found online. The winning projects will be selected by July 1.

Starting in the fall, Dr. Zimmerman plans to begin a monthly free radicals in medicine seminar series.


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