NDP grad helps clear up age-old medical mystery
Aspirin and a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) have long been prescribed by doctors as a way to reduce inflammation in the body, inflammation that also can exacerbate heart disease, lung and kidney disease, as well as arthritis, cancer, and other ailments. But exactly why aspirin and fish oil do this has been a big mystery in the medical and scientific community. Until now.
Notre Dame Prep graduate Jeremy Winkler '02, along with a team of fellow scientists, recently completed research that goes a long way in explaining this phenomenon. It's research, he says, on which he spent pretty much the last quarter of his still-young life.
"I spent more than half of my 20s trying to make this molecule," Winkler says. "It wasn't easy, but it's finally finished!"
Inflammation in the body is a complex process, according to Winkler. He says until fairly recently it was thought to be a passive process that would slowly taper off over time. "However, a new class of compounds was discovered in inflammatory exudates that promote resolution and resolve inflammation," he says. "They are derived from omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA. One of these classes of compounds, termed "resolvins," are extremely potent in reducing inflammation in the body.
"What my work synthesizing this metabolite means is that in conjunction with our collaborators at Harvard we were able to confirm these compounds in the body and determine what they are targeting in order to fight chronic inflammation."
Doctorate from USC
Winkler, who finished his undergrad in 2006, double majored in chemistry and environmental studies with a minor in Spanish at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He decided to further pursue his interests in science by getting his doctorate in medicinal chemistry at the University of Southern California. He published 10 papers during his PhD studies and to date has presented his work at a number of conferences across the country, including one at Harvard University in May.
An article about his research published by the University of Southern California earlier this year said that by studying inflammation, the team determined that aspirin triggers the production of a new form of molecules called resolvins, which are naturally made by the body to shut off inflammation. In particular, the researchers found that one type of resolvin—resolvin D3—lingers at the site of inflammation, suggesting that it plays a particular role in helping to "conclude this
Treatment of arthritis
Winkler's ground-breaking research on resolvins also included fellow scientists Jasim Uddin, Charles N. Serhan and Nicos A. Petasis, who produced by chemical synthesis resolvin D3 from omega-3 fatty acids and aspirin-triggered resolvin D3 molecules in pure form, both of which were highly effective in reducing inflammation that can cause heart disease and arthritis.
Basically, what they discovered was that when aspirin and fish oil are combined into one treatment, they are better able to control some of the overactive immune responses patients sometimes get with long-term illnesses. The treatment of arthritis, in particular, will benefit from these findings, according to Winkler, who was pleasantly surprised by this result.
"I had no idea this would have such huge implications for arthritis," he commented at the conclusion of the research.
Winkler defended his thesis this past month and received an offer to do his post-doctoral research at Harvard. "I'm currently trying to decide if I want to go the academic route or try to get involved in the business side of things through consulting," he says.
At Notre Dame Prep
Looking back at his time at Notre Dame Prep, Winkler says the school had huge implications for him and for his career. "NDP was a great experience, and science teacher Susan Toczylowski stood out as a person who really got me excited about science," he says. "Her AP biology class was fantastic, and I remember working closely with her to establish NDP's first recycling program and environmental club. It definitely set a high standard for what I expected in college and how I found myself becoming a chemist."