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Senior Trainee to Establish Free Radical Lab

By Eddy Ball
February 2008

Ramirez, shown at Science Day in 2007, took advantage of the many resources at NIEHS.
Ramirez, shown at Science Day in 2007, took advantage of the many resources at NIEHS. "The good thing about the mentoring by Ron [Mason]," he said, "was that I had the freedom to pursue my career interests, and he was very supportive of all my initiatives." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS research fellow Dario Ramirez, Ph.D., leaves NIEHS in February to begin a new phase in his career and set up his own lab for his new job in Oklahoma City, after working for seven years in the NIEHS Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry (LPC).

On March 1, Ramirez assumes his new position as an assistant member of the Free Radical Biology and Aging Department at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF). He will begin work with the help of a three-year, $500,000 Rising Research Star award from the Presbyterian Health Foundation to fund start-up and postdoc recruitment - as well as a curriculum vitae listing the 18 peer-reviewed articles he has published and the nine awards he received during his tenure at NIEHS.

A native of Argentina, Ramirez attended the National University of San Luis, where he received his first master's in biochemistry and microbiology, a doctorate in biochemistry and immunotoxicology, and a second master's in immunology. It was during his years at the university that Ramirez first became interested in OMRF Exit NIEHS Website( "My [graduate school] advisor had actually worked there as a postdoc," he explained. "

Ramirez gave an award-winning lecture at the Fall 2006 GEMS meeting, one of many opportunities he used to make himself a highly visible young investigator at NIEHS and beyond.
Ramirez gave an award-winning lecture at the Fall 2006 GEMS meeting, one of many opportunities he used to make himself a highly visible young investigator at NIEHS and beyond. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

In 2001, Ramirez accepted a visiting fellowship at NIEHS under the direction of award-winning Research Chemist and head of the Free Radical Metabolism Group Ron Mason, Ph.D. Under Mason's direction, Ramirez honed his skills in the basic chemistry of free radicals and expanded the applications of a novel technique for detecting biomolecule-centered radicals, particularly with regard to DNA radicals, that he named immuno-spin trapping - while also keeping several other lines of research going simultaneously to demonstrate the power of this technique for understanding basic issues of redox biochemistry in chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine.

Ramirez considers that the production of biomolecule-centered free radicals during the organic response to redox changes and inflammation induced by metabolic and environmental stressors is key to characterizing the molecular mechanisms of a host of conditions, including obesity, asthma, cancer, diabetes and aging. "If we can understand how redox biochemistry is related to inflammation," he reasons, "then we can understand more completely how these diseases progress, find new diagnostic tools and establish new therapies."

Along with his most recent honor from the Presbyterian Health Foundation, Ramirez was recognized in 2007 for his Outstanding Scientific Accomplishment in Support of the Mission of the NIEHS and was presented in 2004 with the Young Investigator Award by the Society for Free Radical Biology and Medicine. He received the Fellow Award for Research Excellence twice, in 2004 and 2006, and a Poster Presentation Award during Science Day 2007. In 2006, he was a member of the first group of trainees to receive K-99/R00 Pathway to Independence transition awards.

Asked about his thoughts for the future, Ramirez said, "I am very committed to the public health of the United States, ... [and] I think I can do better science here that will actually help other countries. I am very proud to be part of OMRF, leading an initiative to find a way to address important health issues, such as chronic inflammatory diseases," he continued, "and following the many other OMRF researchers who have made seminal discoveries in the field of redox biochemistry and spin trapping."

Networking and Mentors' Support

For Ramirez, the road to ORMF began early in his tenure at NIEHS with a combination of mentoring, networking, hard work and serendipity.

Ramirez' awards - and the encouragement of his mentors, Mason, Laboratory of Structural Biology Head Ken Tomer, Ph.D., Leesa Detering, Ph.D., LPC Head John Pritchard, Ph.D., colleagues on the Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis Society Exit NIEHS Website( board of directors, and Deputy Scientific Director Bill Schrader, Ph.D. - helped him engage in a number of professional development activities.

Ramirez, who describes himself as "a good listener," developed an intricate network of colleagues and potential collaborators virtually everywhere he went. "I presented my research at as many different meetings as I could," he explained. "I wanted my research to be noticed and I expected my scientific contributions to be applied to solve important aspects of oxidative stress and inflammation in human diseases, where free radicals are important players."

It was his Award for Best Postdoctoral Talk at the 2006 GEMS Fall Meeting that ultimately led to his position at OMRF. Ramirez used an LPC advance against the cash award to finance a trip to the American Association of Immunologists 2007 Annual Meeting in Miami Beach. There he met a recruiter from OMRF who took his CV and began the process that landed his new position and the start-up grant for his lab.

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