News & Events

UC Davis Researcher Receives $270,000 Grant to Study Tobacco-Caused Disease

August 24, 2007

DAVIS--A University of California, Davis researcher has received a three-year $270,000 new investigator award from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP) to study how tobacco exposure initiates complications in the lungs, leading to severe inflammatory response and chronic obstruction of the lungs.

Ayala LuriaAyala Luria, a staff research associate in the laboratory of distinguished entomology professor Bruce Hammock, said her grant, "Oxylipin Mediators Prevent Smoke-Inducted Lung Inflammation," aims to "investigate the mechanism of action and regulatory pathways of pulmonary inflammatory-associated disease, to understand its cause, and to develop an effective treatment to prevent it."

Her research addresses a significant cause of global morbidity and mortality: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). "This disease and its complications," she said, "are expected to become the third leading cause of death by the year of 2020."

"In our laboratory, under the mentorship of Dr. Hammock, we found that increasing endogenous levels of anti-inflammatory mediators significantly reduce the inflammatory response," Luria said, explaining that "These mediators are products of arachidonic acids-- polyunsaturated fatty acids with an oxygen ring--that have strong biological activity. We increase their intracellular levels by inhibiting their degradation (by the enzyme soluble epoxide hydrolase) or by molecular approaches."

Luria said the project aims to answer "an urgent demand for therapeutic involvement that will control the underlying inflammatory and destructive process" of COPD. Even when COPD patients with long tobacco use quit smoking, the "inflammatory response of many COPD patients doesn’t resolve with the cessation of smoking," the scientist said.

"We are using 30 years of knowledge of Dr. Hammock to make it applicable for a future cure."

Luria will work with Hammock and consultants Kent Pinkerton and Alan Buckpitt of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, who previously provided guidance, training and resources. Luria also praised the support of Walter Leal, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology.

Luria received one of five new investigator grants awarded this year by TRDRP, which supports research that focuses on the prevention, causes, and treatment of tobacco-related disease and the reduction of the human and economic costs of tobacco use in California.

Luria, who joined the Hammock lab in 2004 to work on the molecular mechanism of soluble epoxide hydrolase in animal models, previously held postdoctoral positions involving the structure of the plasma membrane and nuclear receptors during embryo development. She has a master’s degree and doctorate in molecular biology and biochemistry from the Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel.

TRDP is funded through Proposition 99, "The Tobacco Tax and Health Protection Act of 1988," which instituted a 25-cent-per pack cigarette surtax to fund research on tobacco-related diseases in the state.