Chemiexcitation in Human Disease

Grantee: Douglas E. Brash, PhD, Professor, Departments Therapeutic Radiology and Dermatology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA, and Etelvino Bechara, PhD, Professor, Institute of Chemistry, University Sao Paulo & Federal University, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Amount: DKK 281,000

Grant category: Research grants in open competition

Year: 2016

Geography: Brazil, USA

The LEO Foundation has granted support to a conference on chemiexcitation in human disease to be held at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, NY. The initiative will bring together a select group of internationally renowned scientists with the goal of combining expertise from several fields to explore the ramifications of a previously unrecognized mode of disease – chemical excitation of electrons (“chemiexcitation”).

Chemiexcitation is a high-energy biophysical process that underlies bioluminescence, but it had not been observed in mammals until a finding that chemiexcitation sent melanocytes down the path to melanoma when two key enzymes were activated by ultraviolet light.

The insight driving the conference is that the same chemistry will occur wherever nitric oxide, superoxide, and melanin are present at the same time, so chemiexcitation may also be a hidden step in diseases where sunlight is not involved.

The three chemical reactants co-occur during inflammation and ischemia-reperfusion injury, so chemiexcitation may underlie skin cancers arising in burn scars and it may operate during wound healing, hypertrophic scarring, skin flap reconstructive surgery, and skin aging. The same reactants are also present in neurodegenerations such as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s, in deafness induced by noise or drugs, and in macular degeneration.

A first outcome of the 3.5 day conference will be a white paper outlining plausible chemiexcitation pathways for the diseases or pathologic reactions as well as identifying promising avenues of scientific investigation and feasible routes to blocking chemiexcitation.

A second outcome will be a website to provide a technical foundation for new colleagues – including young scientists. Modified versions of slides from the conference will be posted, including a recollection of what is already understood in each area, and presented as a list of principles and expositions in the style of Molecular Biology of the Gene. The website will also present lists of resources and the chemistry, biology, and pathology questions that are still in need of an answer.