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Chemistry/Biochemistry Professor's Breakthrough Provides New Ways to Design Drugs for Arthritis, Inflammation and Cancer

egarcin.jpg Photo Caption: Research by Elsa Garcin, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of Nature Chemical Biology.

A proper balance of nitric oxide (NO) – the body’s highly reactive, gas-based signaling molecule and the stuff that makes Viagra work -- is crucial to health. Too much NO production caused by one particular enzyme has been linked to inflammation, arthritis, cancer and other illnesses. But NO also has its beneficial side, with closely related enzymes responsible for maintaining enough NO to regulate blood pressure and allow proper blood flow to different organs.

Elsa Garcin, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, was co-author of a recent Nature Chemical Biology article that described a new method to specifically target harmful NO production while preserving beneficial NO levels. Garcin, who came to UMBC from the Scripps Research Institute, co-authored "Anchored plasticity opens doors for selective inhibitor design in nitric oxide synthase" with her former Scripps colleague, Prof. Elizabeth Getzoff.


“Nitric oxide is vital to many important functions such as blood pressure and neurotransmission related to brain function and learning,” said Garcin. “There are three different enzymes that produce NO: one for blood pressure, one for brain function/neurotransmission and one for defense against attacks by bacteria or tumor cells. But when the immune system-related enzyme gets out of balance, you can get inflammation, arthritis and other pathological conditions.”

Garcin and her colleagues looked at the binding of various drugs that inhibit these enzymes by using x-ray crystallography. Their research could provide new solutions for the development of selective drugs for a variety of health problems.

“We can actually design drugs that could help with arthritis and other inflammatory diseases,” said Garcin. “These findings could also be useful for people who are seeking to specifically target one harmful biochemical function but leave the beneficial ones untouched, to treat HIV or cancer for example.”

Garcin, who hails from France, has a personal motivation in her work. “My family has a long history of cardiovascular disease despite a typical French diet that includes red wine, garlic, olive oil and other foods that help to prevent those conditions, so I’ve always been interested in new ways to improve cardiovascular health.”

Multimedia: Watch on online video related to Garcin’s paper at:

Posted: November 20, 2008, 12:00 PM