Reproductive Endocrinology; Apoptosis and cell death; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Endocrinology; Gene Expression; Molecular genetics; Signal Transduction; Toxicology and Xenobiotics; Vitamins and Trace Nutrient
I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. I have a secondary appointment as Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Oral Biology in the School of Dental Medicine. My research interests focus on the study of how hormones and nutrients affect cell growth, differentiation, and survival. I study these processes in bone osteoblasts and breast normal epithelial cells as well as cancers of both tissues. I have discovered how natural estrogens as well as dietary phytochemicals sustain osteoblast longevity and contribute to bone growth. In collaboration with Dr Atif Awad of the University at Buffalo School of Public Health, I have identified dietary factors that inhibit the growth of cancers of the prostate and breast. We have published primary research papers, significant review articles, and two books entitled "Nutrition and Cancer Prevention" and Adipose Tissue and Inflammation".
Infectious Diseases; Infectious Disease; Microbial Pathogenesis; Vitamins and Trace Nutrient
I care for patients who are hospitalized at Erie County Medical Center where I also serve as the hospital epidemiologist addressing infection control. I teach medical students, residents, and fellows in both hospital and classroom settings. In UB’s schools of medicine and dentistry, I teach a variety of topics including microbiology, pharmacology and toxicology, oral biology, and gastrointestinal systems, host defenses, and global health. I also conduct laboratory research on diarrhea-producing strains of E. coli bacteria. My lab focuses on enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC), Shiga-toxigenic E. coli (STEC, aka EHEC) and enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC). We are working on the role of intestinal host defenses such as nitric oxide and on the immune modulatory effects of adenosine. We have discovered that zinc can directly inhibit the virulence of pathogenic bacteria, and we are working on turning these laboratory findings into treatments. In our work on zinc we collaborate with Michael Duffey, PhD, in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics. Recently we have discovered that zinc can inhibit the development of resistance to antibiotics in Escherichia coli and other bacteria. Zinc does this by its ability to inhibit the SOS response, a bacterial stress response triggered by damage to the bacterial DNA. We are collaborating with Dr. Mark Sutton of Biochemistry to better determine the mechanism of zinc in this regard. I am interested in international medicine and global health and participate in an annual medical mission trip to Honduras, a trip in which student volunteers are encouraged to participate. Closer to home, I am a volunteer physician at Good Neighbors Health Center, a free clinic for the underserved on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo. Resident physicians are encouraged to volunteer, and students may also be able to arrange clinical experiences. I am Co-Medical Director, with Dr. Ryosuke Osawa, of the Erie County TB Clinic. Learning experiences in my laboratory, in infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, or in international health, may be available for motivated students, residents, and fellows.
Protein Function and Structure; Proteins and metalloenzymes; Vitamins and Trace Nutrient
Cytochrome P450 enzymes are ubiquitous catalysts that play integral roles in biochemical pathways throughout nature. In mammals, members of this class of enzyme serve a variety of functions that include drug metabolism, steroid biosynthesis and the activation and deactivation of vitamin D, to name a few. Cytochrome P450 enzymes are also heavily involved in bacterial and plant biochemistry. The overall goal of my lab is to use a combination of biochemical and biophysical tools to investigate structure and function in cytochrome P450 enzymes, thereby contributing toward an understanding of how this important class of enzymes work as well as informing the design of novel drugs. This goal is divided between two efforts. First, we are interested in characterizing the ligand binding interactions of the enzyme CYP24A1, the principle enzyme responsible for deactivating vitamin D. Describing the interaction between CYP24A1 and vitamin D has the potential to illuminate how the vitamin D structure becomes modified at a particular site. This insight could impact the design of vitamin D analogs with benefits for an array of human health conditions, including bone density disorders, diabetes and chronic kidney disease (CKD). A parallel effort in my lab is a structural study of the enzyme CYP121 of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the disease-causing pathogen in tuberculosis (TB). The resurgence of standard TB and the rise of drug-resistant forms of TB are quickly becoming a global pandemic, with TB claiming more lives worldwide in 2014 than HIV. CYP121 is essential for survival of the bacterium and thus has emerged as one of the more promising antitubercular drug targets. Students and postdocs joining my lab will be exposed to a multidisciplinary set of research tools, including expression and purification of recombinant membrane protein, nuclear magnetic resonance, protein X-ray crystallography and P450 ligand binding assays.
Cell growth, differentiation and development; Microbiology; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Regulation of metabolism; Signal Transduction; Toxicology and Xenobiotics; Vitamins and Trace Nutrient
Dr. Willsky’s research focuses on the role of oxovanadium compounds in cellular metabolism. V is a trace metal believed to be required for growth. Oral administration of oxovanadium compounds alleviates the symptoms of Diabetes in animal models and humans. The techniques of genetics, microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, pharmacology, magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and cell physiology are used. The diabetes-altered gene expression of genes involved in lipid metabolism, oxidative stress and signal transduction is returned to normal by V treatment of rats with STZ-induced diabetes, as demonstrated using DNA microarrays. Inhibition of tyrosine protein phosphatases is believed to be a major cause of the insulin-like effects of V. Our results implicate the interaction of V with cellular oxidation-reduction reactions as being important in the anti-diabetic mechanism of V complexes. A new project in the lab studies the mode of action of medicinal plant mixtures used by the native healers of Peru.