William Chan, a professor in University of the Pacific’s Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, instructs two students in his lab. Chan was recently awarded a three-year, $367,000 grant to continue biochemical research.

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Science and Technology

Pacific researcher wins NIH grant to continue biochemical research

Accomplishments by other Pacific faculty also noted
Jul 17, 2014

Dr. William Chan is too modest to say that he's working toward a cure for cancer. But the National Institutes of Health is so interested in the University of the Pacific professor's work that it has awarded him a three-year, $367,000 grant to continue research on one small piece of this complex public health puzzle.

The 2014 grant is the second largest of several NIH grants Chan has received since coming to Pacific in 1996, totaling more than $1 million in funding.

With the money from this grant, Chan will be able to further the research he has done on the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a human cellular component, which reacts to environmental pollutants and plays a role in the body's response to cancer and autoimmune diseases.

"The biochemical research I do is very expensive," said Chan. His experiments require numerous products such as antibodies, gels, buffers and cell cultures. "The primary use of the NIH grant is to support the expense of the experiments."

Chan holds doctorates in pharmacy and in pharmaceutical chemistry, and started doing research on the AhR as a postdoctoral scholar at Northwestern University in the early 1990s. "Researchers discovered this receptor in the mid-1970s, and interest has only grown as scientists have recognized its role in autoimmune diseases," he said.

The AhR interacts with molecules such as dioxins, which get into the food chain from industrial pollution and auto exhaust. "Dioxins are known to cause cancer in rodents," said Chan, "and they are very resistant to degradation in our bodies. They hang around for a long time."

The World Health Organization notes that the half-life of dioxins in the body - the time it takes their concentration to decrease by half - is estimated to be seven to 11 years.

Chan said that his research is examining how the AhR levels - found to be higher in individuals with some cancers - may be lowered on a cellular level. "If we can understand how we can lower the receptor amounts in these cancer cells to stop the cancer growth, then we could make a drug to control this process," said Chan.

The public health implications for such a discovery are significant. According to the NIH, more than 30 million Americans are afflicted with cancer or autoimmune diseases.

Chan's laboratory at the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Stockton has 10 pharmacy, undergraduate and graduate students each year actively involved in conducting experiments. In fact, said Chan, student participation in biomedical research is one of the goals for this type of NIH grant.

"The NIH places a high priority on students taking part in biomedical research so that they can get excited about it and possibly pursue this as a career," said Chan. "Pacific is quite competitively placed to receive these grants because of our emphasis on undergraduate teaching."

Chan's work has implications for the worldwide search for cures to a number of diseases, but his personal mission is to inspire future scientists to share his joy of biochemical research.

"I do this research for the excitement of science, and for the good of humankind," said Chan. "I might not be the one to create a drug curing cancer, but I might play a very small part in helping it to happen."

More news about University of the Pacific faculty and staff accomplishments:

• Robert Coburn, Conservatory of Music, had his composition, "Interstitial Traces" performed as part of the opening event of the Oodaaq Festival in Rennes, France. The work for alto and baritone saxophone, computer soundscape, and animation was created in 2013 in collaboration with French animator Celia Eid and has been performed throughout Europe. The Oodaaq Festival celebrates video art and other art forms that question contemporary imagery.

• Cindy Lyon, chair of the department of dental practice and community service at Pacific's Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, has been chosen as a 2014-2015 Fellow in the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program. ELAM aims to expand the national pool of qualified women candidates for leadership in academic medicine, dentistry, and public health. Lyon will develop a project addressing a specific need of the dental school and will participate in a national forum presenting the results of the project at the end of the year. Lyon was instrumental in developing the curriculum and obtaining accreditation for the nation's first three-year baccalaureate dental hygiene program at Dugoni.

• Chris Goff, Mathematics, has had two English translations accepted for inclusion in the Euler Archive, a dynamic library and online database that provides digitized versions of original publications and access to current research on pioneering mathematician Leonhard Euler. Goff provided the first translations of these papers from Latin to a modern language as part of a worldwide effort to translate all of Euler's work by the year 2033, which will mark the 250th year of Euler's death.

• Scott Larwood, School of Engineering and Computer Science, along with co-authors Daniel Schow (2013 graduate from Pacific) and a colleague from UC Davis had their manuscript "Design Studies of Swept Wind Turbine Blades" accepted for publication in the journal Renewable Energy.

• Anne Bloom, McGeorge School of Law, spoke on a panel celebrating the work of Marc Galanter at the annual meeting of the Law and Society Association in Minneapolis, MN, on May 31, 2014. This year marks the 40 year anniversary of legal scholar Marc Galanter's famous "Why the 'Haves' Come Out Ahead" article. Bloom and other panelists discussed the scholarly, teaching, and policy impact the article has had on those interested in law and society.