November 1, 2017

Xu Lab Awarded NSF Grant to Study Lipid Peroxidation

Dr. Libin Xu, Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry

Lipid peroxidation is the process in which a reactive atom or group of atoms (free radicals) capture electrons from the lipids in cell membranes, resulting in cell damage. This process plays an important role in the pathophysiology of many human conditions – aging, atherosclerosis, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases – so it is critically important to understand the mechanisms by which these molecules are oxidized.

The Libin Xu lab in Medicinal Chemistry has been awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation in the amount of $405,000, which the lab will use to research the fundamental chemistry of free radical oxidation of organic molecules, including biologically important lipids and vitamins.

“The goal of this grant is to develop a chemical method, called ‘peroxyl radical clock,’ to measure the rate-determining steps of lipid peroxidation,” said Dr. Xu. “We want to understand the reaction mechanisms of biologically important lipids, including the biosynthetic precursors of cholesterol, arachidonic acid (in collaboration with my colleague Dr. Rheem Totah), and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K.”

This project could have broad benefits to human health: understanding the reactivity of these lipids would allow the team to assess the susceptibility of human tissues to oxidative stress, particularly when the levels of oxidizable lipids are elevated. The oxidation products can also be biomarkers of human disease. Many of these products have some detrimental effect on physiological processes, and being able to measure and assess them would give health scientists more information on which to base effective therapies.

“Most of the preliminary data for this project was generated by outstanding undergraduate researchers in my lab,” said Dr. Xu. “Andrew Dinh, David Lee, and David Kennedy have all moved on to the next chapter of their careers, but they made a strong impact on our research. I was very fortunate to work with them during the startup years of my lab.” He added, “This is a good example of how undergraduate researchers can truly contribute to basic science.”