You may have seen the news article about the distinguished professor at the University of California, Davis, who won a $6 million, eight-year "Outstanding Investigator" federal grant for his innovative and visionary health research. The award, part of the Revolutionizing Innovative, Visionary Environmental Health Research (RIVER) Program of the National Institutes of Environmental Health (NIEHS), is given rarely and is based on a track record of innovation and a "visionary" proposal to address serious problems in environmental health.
The kid born in Little Rock, Ark. who went on to win the prestigious grant is Bruce Dupree Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Society. He is known for his expertise in chemistry, toxicology, biochemistry and entomology. He meshes all four sciences in his 50-year research on how environmental chemicals impact human health.
"I collected insects, kept snakes, lizards, frogs, raccoons, possums, and a deer, etc.," he said, "and I loved the outdoors, canoeing, climbing and hiking. I went into forestry but became interested in a forest insect outbreak, then insects, then pesticides etc. It is hard to say where science leads. I was lucky in having an inspirational scoutmaster E.A. Bowen, who was a wonderful naturalist, a wonderful guy. He was also my dad's scoutmaster, an American Indian. My parents had to leave me on my own for several months when I was 16, and a wonderful biology teacher arranged for me to have a microscope and lab in a room at the high school and suggested ecology projects for me to do in local woods."
The rest, they say, is history. Remarkable history.
Hammock, now a septuagenarian, received his bachelor's degree in entomology (with minors in zoology and chemistry) magna cum laude from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in 1969. He received his doctorate in entomology-toxicology from UC Berkeley in 1973 with John Casida at UC Berkeley. Hammock served as a public health medical officer with the U.S. Army Academy of Health Science, San Antonio, and as a postdoctoral fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, Department of Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. He joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology) in 1980.
The program provides $6 million in funding over an eight-year period “to give scientists greater intellectual and administrative freedom as well as sustained support to achieve greater scientific impact,” according to NIEHS officials. RIVER provides a select few scientists with great latitude in addressing the most pressing scientific problems.
“Professor Hammock is especially deserving of this recognition for his important research over many years,” said Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “Environmental health is central to the mission of our college, and we anticipate that this award will empower him to continue making advances in areas with the potential to impact human well-being.”
“We both worked in the same building, and Bruce was one of the most hard-working, creative and enthusiastic colleagues I knew,” Burtis said. “The grant process often limits innovation. The intellectual freedom NIEHS is providing Hammock makes our university shine and is a smart investment on the part of the agency. Their investment in him in the past paid off and RIVER will pay off even more in the future.” When asked how the award would change his life, Hammock, a kayak enthusiast and instructor, responded: “I will give up kayaking the harder rivers, I certainly do not want to drown and have to give any of the funding back. Having been given this great freedom, it will be hard to live up to the expectations.”
Hammock, who has directed the NIEHS-UC Davis Superfund Research Program for the past 35 years, said many of his UC Davis collaborators are affiliated with the Superfund Program, including:
- Professor Aldrin Gomes who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, College of Biological Sciences, and the Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology, School of Medicine;
- Fawaz Haj, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Nutrition, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and the Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine
- Research scientist Christophe Morisseau of the Hammock lab, Department of Entomology and Nematology and the Comprehensive Cancer Center, and
- Cardiologist Nipavan Chiamvimonvat of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, UC Davis Health System
Gomes explained that rather than trying to find biological markers for individual environmental chemicals, this Superfund group is working together to find universal markers of stress and disease and understand how to prevent these diseases. ‘By stabilizing mitochondria, the endoplasmic reticulium and other cell organelles to stress,” Gomes said, “we are reducing toxicity, as well as understanding the very basis of tissue damage by commonly used drugs and pesticides and how to reverse it.”
Michael Lairmore, dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said he was pleased to hear that Hammock has won the NIEHS River Award. “Bruce is very deserving of this award,” Lairmore said. “He has pioneered trans-disciplinary research across campus and has engaged faculty in multiple colleges and schools to transform the way we treat diseases in multiple species. His creative approaches blend his natural curiosity with practical ways to translate his research findings into real world solutions to disease processes.”
“For example, Bruce sought me out shortly after I arrived at UC Davis with interest in reducing pain and our excessive use of opioids,” Fishman said. “Over time, he went on to develop an experimental pharmaceutical that is a promising unique non-opioid drug for treating chronic pain that will enter human trials this fall. With Hammock as a recipient, the NIH RIVER Program has declared its commitment to recognizing basic scientists who are developing profound solutions that address the opioid crisis.”
Harvard Medical School researcher and former physician, Dipak Panigraphy, said that “The pioneering studies from the Hammock laboratory not only have elucidated how certain environmental contaminants increase cancer risk, but our collaborative work shows promise for preventing metastasis and recurrence of cancer following surgical tumor resection and chemotherapy. These potentially paradigm shifting studies show that preoperative or peri-chemotherapeutic management of inflammation may stave off cancer recurrences.”
Said Hammock: “We would not have this without the scientific and intellectual input of Cindy McReynolds, program manager of the Superfund Program. Of course RIVER is a complement to the existing and past scientists who have worked on this project.”
Nationally recognized for his achievements, Hammock is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, which honors academic invention and encourages translations of inventions to benefit society. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the Entomological Society of America, and the recipient of scores of awards, including the first McGiff Memorial Awardee in Lipid Biochemistry; and the Bernard B. Brodie Award in Drug Metabolism, sponsored by the America Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
“Bruce Hammock and his research team are the perfect example of how UC Davis translates university research into societal impact,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor for Innovation and Technology Commercialization in the UC Davis Office of Research.
“As a result of their fundamental work in unraveling both insect and human regulatory biology, the Hammock laboratory elucidated a biochemical pathway that regulates inflammation, pain and senescence,” Pathak said. “Enabled by this knowledge, a novel drug candidate to treat chronic pain is expected to enter human phase 1a trials this fall--also supported by NIH. The drug is licensed by the university to EicOsis, a company that is directing its development and is a UC Davis spin-off.”
Hammock traces the history of his enzyme research to his studies in the Casida laboratory. He was researching insect developmental biology and green insecticides when he and colleague Sarjeet Gill, now a distinguished professor at UC Riverside, discovered the target enzyme in mammals that regulates epoxy fatty acids.
“My research led to the discovery that many regulatory molecules are controlled as much by degradation and biosynthesis,” Hammock said. “The epoxy fatty acids control blood pressure, fibrosis, immunity, tissue growth, depression, pain and inflammation to name a few processes.”
“Basically, I began by trying to figure out how a key enzyme, epoxide hydrolase, degrades a caterpillar's juvenile hormone, leading to metamorphosis from the larval stage to the adult insect,” Hammock said. He asked himself these questions: “Does the enzyme occur in plants? Does it occur in mammals?" It does, and particularly as the soluble epoxide hydrolase in mammals.
"It is always important to realize that the most significant translational science we do in the university is fundamental science,” said Hammock, marveling that “this work to treat pain in companion animals, horses and humans all began by asking how caterpillars turn into butterflies.”
A few minutes before the 16th annual Bruce Hammock Lab Water Balloon Battle began on the Briggs Hall lawn at the University of California, Davis, water warrior Jasmine Morriseau, 10, noticed "something" on the head of her twin brother, Cedric.
Could it be? It was. An immature praying mantis.
Specifically, a male Stagmomantis limbata, as identified by praying mantis expert Lohitashwa “Lohit” Garikipati. “I'd guess 5th instar by the size of the wingpads,” said Garikipati, a Bohart Museum of Entomology associate who just recently received his bachelor's degree in entomology.
It's not every day—or every year—that a praying mantis joins an entomologically based water balloon battle
The twins showed the insect, also known as a bordered mantis, to their older sister Evelyne, 15, and to their father Christophe Morisseau, a research scientist in the Hammock lab who coordinates the annual water balloon battles.
And then Jasmine gingerly placed the praying mantis on a nearby bush, out of the line of fire and out of the 96-degree heat.
The annual battle, aka “Bruce's Big Balloon Battle at Briggs,” is the brainchild of Bruce Hammock, a distinguished professor who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. It's a way of showing camaraderie and engaging in a little fun. They fill and toss 2000 water balloons, and then empty tubs of water on unsuspecting lab mates.
It's an international soakfest: the Hammock lab includes 30 researchers from eight countries: United States, China, France, Ukraine, Lebanon, Japan and Korea. United Stares, China, France, Ukraine, Lebanon, Japan, Korea and Viet Nam.
Sometimes other labs join in the fun, as did the scientists this year and last year in the Aldrin Gomes lab, UC Davis Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior.
The water warriors are so skilled that the battle usually lasts about 15 minutes—15 minutes of aim. Then they remove all the balloon remnants from the lawn, pose for their annual group photo, and head back to work.
Morisseau says that water balloon battles “provide team building efforts, stress relief and healthy exercise.” He created and displayed a poster, “Health Benefits of Water Balloon Fights,” last year at the Hammock Lab Alumni Reunion. “We recommend that any workplace establish water balloon fights on a yearly or twice yearly basis,” Morisseau concluded.
“We work hard and play hard,” said Hammock, a member of the UC Davis faculty since 1980 and the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)-UC Davis Superfund Research Program. Trained in chemistry, toxicology, biochemistry and entomology, he now targets chronic pain in humans and companion animals. For the past 20 years, the Hammock lab has been researching an inhibitor to an enzyme, epoxide hydrolase, which regulates epoxy fatty acids. “My research led to the discovery that many regulatory molecules are controlled as much by degradation and biosynthesis," Hammock said. "The epoxy fatty acids control blood pressure, fibrosis, immunity, tissue growth, depression, pain and inflammation to name a few processes.”
Hammock co-founded EicOsis LLC, a Davis-based company that recently received a $5 million investment from Open Philanthropy to move original research developed in the Hammock lab into human clinical trials. (See news story.) Nationally recognized for his scientific achievements, he is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, which honors academic invention and encourages translations of inventions to benefit society.
The Hammock lab also knows how to translate science into watery fun on a hot summer day.
- "Insect Gut--Pathogen Molecular Interactions" by Bryony C. Bonning, University of Florida
- "A New Assay to Screen for the Inhibitory Capacity of Air Pollutant Components on Antioxidant Enzyme Activities" by Norbert Stainer, Arthur Cho and Ralph Delfino, UC Irvine and UCLA
- "From Steriod to Non-Steroid: Discovery of Nonsteroidal Brassinolide-Like Compound" by Yoshiaki Nakagawa, Kyoto University, Japan
And then there was this poster: "Health Benefits of Water Balloon Fights."
Yes, you read that right: "Health Benefits of Water Balloon Battles." It was the brainchild of researcher Christophe Morisseau of the Hammock lab, who added humor to the weekend-long reunion that drew 100 laboratory alumni from 10 countries: former graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, collaborators, colleagues and other researchers. They gathered to honor their mentor and reminiscence. They know Bruce Hammock as a UC Davis distinguished professor who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the Comprehensive Cancer Center, and who directs the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)-UC Davis Superfund Research Program. They know him as "a genius" with 50-year expertise in chemistry, toxicology, biochemistry and entomology who seeks to alleviate pain in human and companion animals. (See news story). They also know him as a fellow who likes to have fun.
Fun? Hammock and Morisseau, aka "The Splash Brothers," launched the annual Bruce Hammock Water Balloon Battle, aka "Bruce's Big Balloon Battle at Briggs" and "Fifteen Minutes of Aim," 16 years ago. This year's event takes place at 3 p.m., Friday, July 12 on the northwest lawn of Briggs Hall on Kleiber Hall Drive. First (starting at 1 p.m.), the water warriors fill 2000 balloons. Then, at Morisseau's signal, the "15 Minutes of Aim" begins. When they diminish and deplete the water balloon supply, they empty tubs of water on unsuspecting lab mates. Other labs join in the fun, as do bystanders.
But back to the creative water balloon poster.
Morisseau, tongue in cheek (and probably balloon in hand and prospective target in eyesight), extolled the virtues of Water Balloon Fights, aka WBF, on his poster:
Hypothesis: Work is very stressful, and stress is known to affect health and happiness, thus leading to a short and sad life. We hypothesize that a little fun at work can bring a lot of goodness to the lab microcosm.
Methods: Get some people, as shown on the made-up graph at right: more people more fun, but optimal in the 30-50 ranges.
Fill the balloons. This is a group activity for team-building purpose.
Divide the people into fair and equal groups: the bosses against the rest of the crew.
Devise advance tactical and strategical battle plan: Let's get everybody wet.
Results: A lab without WBF yields infightings and conflicts, as well as sick-looking dudes. A lab with WBF yields to harmony at the workplace with healthy food practices and buffed guys.
Conclusions: Water balloon fights provide team building efforts, stress relief and healthy exercise. We recommend that any workplace establish water balloon fights on a yearly or twice yearly basis.
Morisseau illustrated his poster with contrived before-and-after photos of Hammock: before: a scrawny scientist and after, a buffed-up athlete. The poster now hangs outside their offices in Briggs Hall.
Disclaimer: Professor Hammock is known for his athleticism--from hiking mountains to kayaking. And the Hammock lab is known for its strong camaraderie. Indeed, not many scientists can draw 100 of their lab alumni from all over the world to a reunion!
That's how long it takes to toss 2,000 water balloons.
Or, rather, that's how long it takes the Bruce Hammock laboratory at the University of California, Davis, to toss 2,000 water balloons.
The 15th annual Bruce Hammock Lab Water Balloon Battle will take place at 3 p.m., Tuesday, July 3 on the north side of the Briggs Hall lawn, outside Hammock's office.
That's when Hammock, a UC Davis distinguished professor who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, turns water warrior.
Hammock lab researcher Christophe Morisseau, who coordinates the annual event, says balloon filling will begin at 1 p.m. on the grass by the loading dock. "Our policy: no filling, no throwing," he said, adding that you can also BYOB (Bring Your Own Balloons) or water guns. The event is open to all who want to get wet--including children and spouses.
The Hammock lab works hard and plays hard.
Trained as a entomologist, chemist and toxicologist--and who now focuses his research on human health--Bruce Hammock is known for his work on using natural chemical mediators to control inflammation and intractable pain. He co-discovered the soluble epoxide hydrolase, and many of his more than 1100 publications and patents are on the P450 branch of the arachidonate cascade where the soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) degrades natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory compounds. The founder of several companies, he has helped raise more than $50 million in private capital, and currently is chief executive officer of the Davis-based EicOsis, where an orally active non- addictive drug for inflammatory and neuropathic pain is being developed for human beings companion animals. EicOsis is supported by several seed-fund grants and a NIH/NINDS (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) Blueprint Development Grant.
Highly honored by his peers, Hammock is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, which honors academic invention and encourages translations of inventions to benefit society. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the Entomological Society of America, and the recipient of the Bernard B. Brodie Award in Drug Metabolism, sponsored by the America Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. He is the first McGiff Memorial Awardee in Lipid Biochemistry. The Eicosanoid Research Foundation recently honored him for work on oxidized lipids.
The Hammock laboratory has published almost 900 peer-reviewed papers on the sEH enzyme, which Hammock, then a graduate student and colleague Sarjeet Gill (now a UC Riverside professor) discovered in the laboratory of the late UC Berkeley Professor John Casida. (Sadly, Casida died June 30 at age 88 in his Berkeley home.)
At the time of the discovery of the enzyme that regulates epoxy fatty acids, Hammock was researching insect developmental biology and green insecticides. For many years Gill and Hammock were alone in studying this enzyme, but today its importance is well recognized in mammalian biology, with more than 17,000 peer-reviewed papers in the area. Hammock credits the NIEHS for supporting research in this area since the 1970s.
The Hammock lab is international. Those working in his lab include post docs, researchers, graduate students, visiting scholars, visiting graduate students, visiting summer students, short-term visiting scholars and student interns.
Of the 28 researchers currently in the lab, here's the breakdown by country:
- China: 15
- United States: 6
- France: 2
- Ukraine: 2
- Lebanon: 1
- Japan: 1
- Korea: 1
Although the Balloon Battle at Briggs is spearheaded by the Hammock lab, other labs will join in. They include the labs of Aldrin Gomes of the UC Davis Department Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, and Walter Leal of the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
So, if you're around Briggs Hall tomorrow at 3 p.m., stop by and watch the soakfest. The lawn will benefit, and the water warriors--and nearby spectators--will benefit as they cool off in in the summer heat.
But arrive early. These water warriors are pros. Sometimes it's not "15 Minutes of Aim" but "!0 Minutes of Aim."
Make that a scientist who knows about soluble epoxide hydrolase, and a physician who knows about acute kidney injury (AKI), formerly called acute renal failure.
"It makes my brain hurt (reading it)," commented a colleague who is neither.
However, it's an important research paper published in the current edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and it's co-authored by a distinguished UC Davis professor trained as an entomologist: Bruce Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The gist of it: newly published research by an international team of scientists, headed by the Jun-Yan Liu lab of Tongji University, Shanghai, China, and the Bruce Hammock lab at UC Davis, may provide promising therapeutic strategies for those suffering from acute kidney injury (AKI), formerly called acute renal failure. Access PNAS article.
“The soluble epoxide hydrolase or sEH degrades chemically stable fatty acid epoxides,” explained Hammock. “But sometimes it can be useful to block the function of sEH, so that beneficial fatty acid epoxides, like those from omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are not degraded. These fatty acid epoxides have been found to protect the kidney, reduce inflammation, inflammatory pain, and even chronic or neuropathic pain.”
In general, the epoxides of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from fish oil make the soluble epoxide hydrolase inhibitors even more effective, the Hammock lab has found. “However, in this case, the fish oil seemed to be deleterious rather than beneficial when combined with the sEH inhibitors with kidney injury,” Hammock said. This was unexpected and the investigators caution that fish oil may not always have beneficial effects.
Professor Jun-Yan Liu, a former postgraduate researcher and assistant project scientist in the Hammock lab, related that the lipid mediators that preserve the kidney in AKI are termed EETs. “Their levels can be changed by altering their degradation or biosynthesis with selective inhibitors. This increase in EET resulted in anticipated decreases in the plasma level of creatinine and urea nitrogen—both biomarkers for kidney injury.” He added that they are looking forward to the epoxide hydrolase inhibitors finishing phase I clinical trials in humans so they can be evaluated for preventing or treating AKI.
Specifically, the researchers discovered that a 14(15)-EET mitigated kidney injury and prolonged life, while another epoxide, 19(20)-EDP from fish oil, exacerbated the kidney injury and shortened life. “We found that epoxides of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and DHA-enriched fish oil worsened kidney injury prophylactically and therapeutically in multiple animal models of AKI,” wrote Liu, pointing out that fish oil has proven beneficial in a number of other investigations.
Statistics show that “the incidence of AKI in hospitalized patients increased dramatically from 4.9 percent in 1983 to 20 percent in 2012,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “The mortality from AKI is greater than 50 percent; worldwide, approximately 2 million people die of AKI every year. Therefore, novel, safe and effective approaches are urgently needed to prevent and treat AKI.”
Says Weiss: “Because AKI has no specific effective therapy and treatment is merely supportive frequently requiring hemodialysis any new treatment or therapeutic paradigm would be welcome in the nephrology community and has the potential to improve the lives of many patients with AKI."
Kidney injury expert Alan Parrish of the University of Missouri's School of Medicine, Columbia, also not involved in the research, called the findings “significant.”
“The collaborative studies between Dr. Liu's and Hammock's group are an elegant, and timely, contribution to our understanding of acute kidney injury (AKI),” said Parrish, vice chair for education and director of Graduate Studies for Medical Pharmacology at the medical school. “AKI has potentially devastating short-term consequences - high mortality - as well as the detrimental long-term impact on renal function. Importantly, specific interventions to treat AKI in patients have not yet been identified. These results are significant in that they provide a unique mechanistic insight into pathways targeted by soluble epoxide hydrolase inhibitors that attenuate AKI, providing a powerful rationale for future clinical trials in AKI patients.”
Bruce Hammock knows well the tragedy of AKI and its terrible toll. "When I was in a burn unit in the U.S. Army, many patients faced their last few hours with sepsis and AKI. I have had my mom and cousin die of acute renal failure. It is not all that rare, and there is not much a doctor can do now except watch. Dialysis normally comes too late--and dialysis comes with its own problems."
The paper is the work of scientists led by Jun-Yan Liu from the Center for the Nephrology and Metabolomics and Division of Nephrology and Rheumatology, Tongji University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China: Bing-Qing Deng, Ying Luo, Xin Kang, Chang-Bin Li, Jian Huang, Da-Yong Hu, Ming-Yu Wu, and Ai Peng; and Hammock and his lab researchers Jun Yang, Christophe Morrisseau, Kin Sing Stephen Lee at UC Davis.
"For humans, we are supported by the National Institutes of Health Blueprint Program to take this through Human Phase I," Hammock says. "We hope to be in Phase 1 next year. We are looking for support for Phase II. Once Phase 1 is finished, there should be an IND that can be referenced for physician-initiated trials. We are looking for angel or venture funding for similar FDA trials in horses and companion animals.”
“The epoxy fatty acids and sHE inhibitors block ER stress," Hammock says. "Thus, they should help with a number of disorders that arise from ER stress. We are first targeting neuropathic pain in humans and inflammatory pain in horses and companion animals.”
The intellectual property status? “Some licensed by the University of California to EicOsis LLC (a company founded by Hammock, the CEO) and others are EicOsis patents.”
Licensing? “Licensed exclusively to EicOsis, but EicOsis is interested in partnerships or sublicenses for specific indications.”
Access PNAS article
Hammock lab: http://www.biopestlab.ucdavis.edu/Epoxide_Hydrolase/