UK Chemistry, College of Medicine to Host Biochemist Rafael Radi March 2, 3

By Jenny Wells-Hosley

A photo of Rafael Radi in a lab. Next week, the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the Department of Chemistry in the UK College of Arts and Sciences will host renowned biochemist Rafael Radi for two special events on campus.

Radi will serve as the College of Medicine's Dean's Distinguished Lecturer at noon Monday, March 2, in Room HG611, the Chandler Hospital auditorium in Pavilion H. The following day, he will present a seminar for the chemistry department at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 3, in the William T. Young Library's UK Athletics Auditorium. The events will highlight both clinical and basic science aspects of his research on nitric oxide and its beneficial and harmful effects.

Radi is professor and chair of biochemistry and director of Centro de Investigaciones Biomedicas at University de la Republica in Montevideo, Uruguay. He is also a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

"Persons of this caliber offer faculty and students an extraordinary opportunity to learn the highest level of science and medical advances," said Allan Butterfield, the Alumni Association Endowed Professor of Biological Chemistry at UK.

UKNow recently connected with Dr. Radi to learn more about his research and upcoming presentations.

UKNow: What is the most exciting part of your research? Describe some of the results and advancements that are taking place in your lab.

Radi: I really enjoy what we do in our lab and the new scientific and institutional developments generated by the group in Montevideo, with a strong focus on redox chemistry, biology and biomedicine. One set of projects involves the characterization of the reactions of short-lived oxidants and free radicals with biological targets, intermediates and product identification. Some of the main transient species we study are superoxide radical, nitric oxide and our preferred and most studied molecule, peroxynitrite. Peroxynitrite is an unusual and biologically relevant peroxide that promotes a series of oxidation and nitration reactions in vitro and in vivo; peroxynitrite is in fact both a stealthy oxidant and molecular culprit in different disease states.

We now also are heavily utilizing structural biology methods, both experimental and computational, to unravel how oxidative modifications in proteins lead to changes in structure and function that may help explain redox-dependent changes in cell homeostasis. Another emphasis of research involves the characterization of redox processes in the context of pathological-relevant processes in cell and animal models of disease, with a current focus on infection and neurodegeneration; in this sense, the interplay of biologically generated oxidants with redox sensors and/or antioxidant mechanisms represent key events in disease progression. Establishing and understanding these processes at the molecular level contribute to development of novel redox-based therapeutics, which can be applied to a third set of projects which are of translational origin, in either large animals or humans. Thus, the activities of our lab (center) spans from chemistry all the way to medicine, with an integrated and interdisciplinary approach, with a basis on redox processes connected to various metabolic and signaling pathways that may be disrupted in pathology. In fact, we moved from being a lab to a center through the years, to better reflect the nature of the work that we do.

UKNow: Your March 2 presentation at UK College of Medicine will have more of a clinical research focus, while the March 3 seminar in UK’s Department of Chemistry will explore the basic science of your work. Why is it important to promote both types of research?

Radi: This is one of the aspects I really enjoy from doing science. I find this approach very important in my role of chair of our Department of Biochemistry in the School of Medicine, as showing the relevance of the basic biochemical research to relevant clinical conditions, has really helped us gain respect and support in the medical environment. I find it fascinating to show that some of the chemical/biochemical aspects that we study in very simplified and controlled model systems can then be tested and translated to more complex biological systems and even be part of the molecular mechanisms of disease. Through this path, I think that many groups worldwide, including fundamental discoveries at the University of Kentucky, are helping to find novel treatments for a variety of disease states, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurodegeneration. Thus, my "two" scientific worlds, basic redox biochemistry and medicine, interact very smoothly with each other, and I myself participate in both very basic biochemical conferences as well as in clinical meetings. The overall message I try to pass to the medical community is that disease processes and their potential neutralization or cure, rely always in molecular mechanisms that we must laboriously unravel to the last detail in order to develop successful therapeutics.

UKNow: Describe your role within the National Academy of Science.

Radi: I was very honored in 2015 when I was informed that I was elected as a Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS); as I was the first scientist in Uruguay to get this large recognition, there was also a lot of local impact both at the university and national levels. Once you become a member of such a prestigious academy, you are asked to serve as an example on how to do and promote science in a solid, creative, consistent and ethical way for the new generation of scientists. There is a lot of responsibility on that. You have to also serve as an advocate for science and development for local and international institutions and, also at the government level. I now serve as president of the Academia Nacional de Ciencias del Uruguay, and my association with the U.S. NAS also helps my credibility with local and regional authorities, who are not always knowledgeable about science issues. I participate in the annual meetings of the NAS and therefore I can provide my views and perspectives from abroad on global topics, such as climate change, emerging infectious diseases and environmental issues, with a South American perspective.

UKNow: Your host for the two lectures at the University of Kentucky is Allan Butterfield in the Department of Chemistry and Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. But, I understand you also know Daret St. Clair in the UK Department of Toxicology and Cancer Biology. Can you comment on their research on redox biochemistry and its relevance to your own research?

Radi: The University of Kentucky is very fortunate to have two of the top international leaders in the areas of redox biology and medicine. Both Daret and Allan are highly recognized worldwide, and their contributions have been fundamental to increase our knowledge on how redox processes influence the initiation and progression of devastating disease processes such as cancer and neurodegeneration, respectively. Both have helped to shape the redox field with their continuous and elegant discoveries and are major players in the redox community, leaders in their areas and very well appreciated by peers worldwide. In fact, the most important international redox society, The Society for Redox Biology and Medicine (SfRBM) has recognized them with their two top awards to Daret (Lifetime Achievement Award, 2018) and Allan (Discovery Award, 2013). This contention is a paradigmatic example of the contribution and international impact of the research performed by both Daret and Allan and their research groups at UK to the redox biology and medicine field.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.


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