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USC-led alcoholic liver disease center awarded $8.1 million

The Southern California Research Center for Alcoholic Liver and Pancreatic Diseases and Cirrhosis has renewed a five-year, $8.1 million federal grant to study how alcohol, genes and environmental factors combine to damage the liver and pancreas.

Center Director Hide Tsukamoto, professor of pathology at the Keck School of Medicine, said the grant, which is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would support ongoing programmatic developments of the center.

He added the grant award reflects the center’s prominence in the field and noted that since 2004 center investigators have published 155 articles in highly respected journals such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cell Metabolism, Journal of Immunology, Journal of Virology, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Gastroenterology, and Hepatology.

“That attests to the quality of science pursued by center members,” Tsukamoto said.

Despite the decline in NIH funding in recent years and the increasingly competitive nature of attracting federal grants, Tsukamoto said the center has steadily increased its federal awards since 1999.

By 2003, besides a $1.2 million center grant, the center members received about $3.7 million annually in grant funding—a figure that rose to $5.6 million by 2007, he said, “demonstrating strong productivity by the center investigators.”

Founded in 1998, the center is a collaborative effort among the leaders in the study of alcoholic liver and pancreatic diseases (ALPD) and cirrhosis in Southern California, including researchers academically affiliated with UCLA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and UC San Diego.

In addition to the 15 collaborative projects among local members, the center’s collaborations increasingly include researchers from across the globe, Tsukamoto said.

For example, the center’s Animal Model and Non-Parenchymal Liver Cell Core Laboratories and their sample sharing programs have provided services to 17 investigators from 15 institutions around the world for collaborative research.

Tsukamoto said that superb research productivity by senior investigators Neil Kaplowitz and Shelly Lu—at USC—as well as senior investigators at partner institutions such as Jose Fernandez-Checa, Samuel French, Steve Pandol, Anna Gukovskaya and David Brenner “continue to be a key driving force for our success.”

He also noted that other new leaders, including young scientists, and new programs are making pivotal contributions to the growth of the center. They include:

• Kinji Asahina from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, who joined USC as assistant professor of research pathology and leads a developmental biology program focused on embryonic liver mesenchymal cells within the center;

• Keigo Machida, assistant professor of molecular immunology and microbiology at the Keck School and co-director for the center’s animal core, who recently published a ground-breaking paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the obligatory role of the stem cell marker Nanog in liver tumor development caused by hepatitis virus protein NS5A and alcohol;

• Vijay Kalra, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Keck School and director of the center’s education and training program, which runs a wide spectrum of academic enrichment from the undergraduate research fellowship, graduate education, to institutional pre- and postdoctoral training program;

• Tom Valente, professor and director of the Master of Public Health program, and Keane Lai, clinical instructor of clinical pathology, who co-direct the center’s community outreach and organize, implement, and evaluate community seminars held in collaboration with the LA County Alcohol and Drug Program; and

• The new Global Outreach Program, supported in part by NIH, which has led to the development of annual international symposia on alcoholic liver and pancreatic diseases and cirrhosis.

USC-led alcoholic liver disease center awarded $8.1 million

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