By Wendy Sarubbi | February 27, 2015 11:44 am

Dr. Victor Davidson, a professor at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, has been honored with a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his “distinctly superior” long-term research efforts. The NIH gives the award to a select few researchers each year with the goal that such long-term financial support for their scientific efforts will “allow investigators the opportunity to take greater risks, be more adventurous in their lines of inquiry or take time to develop new techniques.”

Dr. Davidson has 27 years of continued grant support from the NIH. The MERIT Award means his NIH funding will continue uninterrupted for at least five years. His research focus is on enzymes – proteins that serve as the body’s powerhouses. Such proteins allow chemical reactions for functions like breathing, metabolism and blood clotting to take place much faster than they would otherwise occur.

Because enzymes are so integral to every bodily function, they are necessary for survival and form interconnected pathways between all body functions. Dr. Davidson’s research specifically studies how enzymes transfer electrons and activate molecular oxygen while minimizing oxidative damage to the body. Such oxidative stress is linked to many conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and inflammatory diseases like arthritis. Learning how enzymes work – and how they protect against oxidative damage – may hold the key to finding treatments for disease or solutions to healthier aging he said.

Dr. Griffith Parks, director of the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, said Dr. Davidson’s MERIT Award illustrates the significance of the scientific research being done at UCF. “Dr. Davidson is an outstanding researcher who has been recognized by the NIH for his major contributions to the fundamental understanding of how proteins function,” he said. “We should all be proud that one of our Burnett School colleagues has this prestigious award in biomedical research.”

Dr. Davidson said one of the challenges of studying the role of enzymes is being able to see how they work, how they move through the cells and what can damage them. He has developed several new systems in his lab that use native and genetically engineered water soluble enzymes. In these systems, the enzyme-catalyzed reactions can be observed and reaction intermediates can be captured via crystallization and other biochemical and biophysical techniques. Through these systems, scientists can now see how enzymes react to oxygenation – and what parts of the cells are damaged by such chemical changes. “If we can see it, we can determine exactly how something works,” Dr. Davidson said, “and we have a better chance to intervene.”

By understanding such damage, scientists may be able to find treatments for conditions “pre-pre-clinically” before a condition like high cholesterol even shows up on a blood test and before the patient becomes symptomatic. Dr. Davidson gave the example of a person who became serious ill “all of a sudden.” Such illness may be triggered by environmental or genetic damage to enzymes, he said.

Dr. Davidson said he was “very grateful” for the award and the NIH’s recognition of the strength of his ongoing research. “I like to see and figure out how something works,” he said of his scientific work. “It’s like solving a puzzle.”

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