- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
"Mr. GARAMENDI. Madam Speaker, I rise today to honor Bruce Hammock and his exemplary interdisciplinary career. He has been a legendary figure in his field for over four decades and his efforts have made critical advancements in our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, non- addictive solutions to managing chronic pain, and environmental conservation.
"Dr. Hammock's recent research on regulatory enzyme inhibitors and their effect on neuroinflammation has reshaped the way we understand both the cause and cure of the degenerative disease. Alongside his UC Davis team, Dr. Hammock partnered with Baylor University as well as other researchers across the globe to study soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) and its effect on the brains of mice. Dr. Hammock's study found that inhibiting sEH may offer a new pathway to reduce neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration; leading to a breakthrough in recognizing the potential benefits of sEH inhibitors in Alzheimer's treatment.
"Groundbreaking research is nothing new in the world of Dr. Hammock. He is currently a distinguished professor at UC Davis in the Department of Entomology and Nematology and part of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. During his time at the university Hammock has been at the helm of the Superfund Research Program for over three decades--a government-funded program focused on finding solutions to the complex health and environmental issues linked with the nation's hazardous waste sites.
"In addition to his invaluable contributions to science, Dr. Hammock has taken up another admirable charge--to make science and learning fun. Every year he and his lab organize a water balloon fight between faculty and students on the lawn of UC Davis' Briggs Hall where other labs and bystanders join in on the action. This event is a small glimpse into Hammock's unique character--one described by colleagues as enthusiastic, creative, and hard-working. Dr. Hammock's limitless drive and curiosity contribute both to the stellar reputation of UC Davis as an esteemed research institute and California's 3rd Congressional District as a whole. We wish him all the best in his endeavors and look forward to seeing all that he accomplishes in the future."
Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, joined the UC Davis faculty in 1980. He is the founding director (1987-present) of the UC Davis NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) Superfund Research Program and is a founding member (1990-present) of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Hammock co-discovered a human enzyme termed Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase (sEH), a key regulatory enzyme involved in the metabolism of fatty acids. It regulates a new class of natural chemical mediators, which in turn regulates inflammation, blood pressure and pain. Hammock and his lab have been involved in enzyme research for more than 50 years.
Hammock is the founder and chief executive officer of the Davis-based pharmaceutical company, EicOsis LLC, formed in 2011 to develop an orally active non-addictive drug for inflammatory and neuropathic pain for humans, as well as a version in development for treating painful conditions in companion animals. A drug candidate known as EC5026 and now in human trials, targets a novel pathway to block the underlying cause of certain types of pain
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.
Hammock and his laboratory are now deeply involved in COVID-19 research. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences today posted their work: "Biomarker Suggests Severity of COVD-19 Respiratory Distress."
"In a study funded in part by NIEHS, researchers reported April 1 that certain fatty acids in the blood of COVID-19 patients may predict the severity of adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)," the article began. "The fatty acids may also offer a target for treatment. ARDS, characterized by fluid buildup in the lungs, is the second leading cause of death in COVID-19 patients, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
"Bruce Hammock, Ph.D., longtime NIEHS grantee and director of the NIEHS-funded University of California, Davis (UC Davis) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center, led the study. His team examined six COVID-19 patients over five days and found that those with severe lung involvement showed higher levels of certain fatty acids compared with healthy control subjects. These fatty acids, called leukotoxins and leukotoxin diols, are known to play a role in inflammatory disease and ARDS, but this is the first study of their role in respiratory complications related to COVID-19."
Water Balloon Battles
Insisting that science should be fun, Hammock launched the Bruce Hammock Lab Water Balloon Battles nearly 20 years ago on the Briggs Hall lawn (outside his office) as a way to develop camaraderie in his lab; to take a 15-minute break; and to beat the triple-digit heat. The battle, usually waged on a sweltering July afternoon, is basically "15 Minutes of Aim" because that's how long it takes for the 30-some water warriors to toss 2000 water balloons at one another. Stray buckets of water are fair game, too.
Water balloon battle coordinator Christopher Morisseau, who holds the title of "professional researcher" in the Hammock lab, says the annual event is open to "all who want to get wet," which includes students and faculty of other UC Davis labs, spouses, children, and passersby. One year a police officer joined in.
The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 water battle. And COVID, coupled with the renovation of Briggs Hall and the grounds, may cancel this year's clash as well. (See images of the 16th annual event, a super-soaker that took place July 12, 2019.)
The tribute to Bruce Hammock in the Congressional Record is well deserved. And it's also good to see the Bruce Hammock Lab Water Balloon Battle mentioned. How many times have you seen a UC Davis water balloon battle entered in the Congressional Record?
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
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.”