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April 6, 2005

Environmental Health Sciences Researcher's Article among Most Cited

In 2002, Shyam Biswal, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published the groundbreaking article “Identification of Nrf2-Regulated Genes Induced by the Chemopreventive Agent Sulforaphane by Oligonucleotide Microarray.” The article identified how specific genes and enzymes enable sulforaphane, a compound in broccoli and other vegetables, to prevent cancer and remove toxins from cells. Since then, Dr. Biswal’s article has been highly cited by other researchers, placing it in the top 1 percent among the most cited articles in its subject category, according to Essential Science Indicators, ISI  Thompson.

Shyam Biswal, PhD

Shyam Biswal, PhD

This research was the first project to come out of the department’s new DNA Microarray Core Facility, which was started as a part of Johns Hopkins NIEHS Center in Urban Environmental Health. The Core Facility provides cutting-edge technologies for molecular biology research, allowing researchers to uncover the functions of genes and their interactions in genetic pathways by focusing research specifically on environmental genomics.

In the article, originally published in the journal Cancer Research, Dr. Biswal and his colleagues described the use of “gene chip” technology to decipher the complex network of pathways that are turned on by the activation of Nrf2 (Nuclear factor E2 p45-related factor 2) in response to anticancer agents such as sulforaphane. The gene chip allowed researchers to monitor the complex interactions of thousands of proteins on a whole genome rather than one at time. The study was also the first gene profiling analysis of a cancer-preventing agent using “gene chip” technology. The researchers said the findings provided a better understanding of the body’s defense mechanisms and could lead to the identification of other cancer-preventing food compounds and strategies.

Dr. Biswal notes that more recent studies show Nrf2 to be one of the most important transcription factors related to environmental diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and cancer, because it regulates pathways that have the potential to annihilate inflammation and a broad spectrum of carcinogens. He said future studies will determine the response of Nrf2 in several inflammatory diseases in population and help design clinical trials based on activation of the Nrf2 pathway for several environmental diseases.--Tim Parsons