CORVALLIS, Ore. - The Linus Pauling Institute has completed its move to Oregon State University and is gearing up a major research program on the use of nutrition to address some of the world's leading disease problems.
With a $3 million endowment, a core group of researchers in place and ambitious plans for expansion, the institute hopes to build aggressively on the work of the late Linus Pauling, an OSU alumnus and two-time Nobel laureate who founded it in 1973.
Studies on heart disease, environmental toxicology, immune system suppression and cancer are already under way, officials say, focusing on the potential role of micronutrients in the cause, treatment or prevention of disease - and the promotion of optimal health.
"The health needs of the American public, especially in the areas of aging and degenerative disease, are staggering," said Donald Reed, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at OSU, who is serving as interim director of the Pauling Institute.
Pauling, said Reed, pioneered the study of micronutrients, nutrition and disease decades ago, when such "radical" ideas were often relegated to the scientific sidelines and long before they became more politically popular.
He was also one of the first researchers to examine the broader power of nutrients, Reed said - not just the minimum amounts necessary to prevent overt disease, but the optimum levels that could nurture health and longevity.
Pauling's research and writings on vitamin C have revolutionized the public viewpoints and use of this nutrient, and the Pauling Institute has now broadened its research scope into the wider field of micronutrients, the molecular basis of cancer, genetics, virology and neurotoxicology.
Modern medical research, experts say, is being forced to take a second, more respectful look at the profound potential of vitamins, antioxidants, micronutrients, phytochemicals and other compounds for their role in disease prevention, treatment, or health promotion.
At OSU, Reed said, the Pauling Institute hopes to become itself as a leading force in that research. From 1980-95, the small but influential group ranked in the top 20 of independent research institutions in the United States in "citation impact," a measure of the influence of its publications on other scientists.
Among other topics, Reed said, the institute will address:
-Safe levels of usage for a variety of micronutrients;
-The range of disease problems in which micronutrient supplementation may have value;
-Diet modifications that could be useful with degenerative diseases which can now be more readily diagnosed or predicted, such as Alzheimers;
-The range of functions of antioxidants, including not only their direct metabolic impacts but also their role as chemical "messengers";
-The mechanisms of action of micronutrients;
-The need for more scientific collaboration, clinical studies and epidemiological studies with micronutrients.
"OSU has a long history of studying the impact of our environment, including diet and nutrition, on human health," Reed said, "so this will be a natural outgrowth for the university."
According to Steve Lawson, administrative officer of the Pauling Institute, it is realistic to expect rapid growth of its operations at OSU in the near future.
"Right now, we have five researchers directly working for the institute and five more OSU faculty who will be associated as affiliates," Lawson said. "Within a decade we could be working with a core group of up to 25 scientists and a $5 million annual research budget."
In keeping with the university's educational mission, Lawson said, graduate fellowships, student scholarships, educational seminars and other initiatives should evolve. If resources permit, a new facility could also be built, he said.
Researchers who moved with the Pauling Institute from California are now at work on the Corvallis campus.
They include Conor MacEvilly, a biochemist who is examining the impact of ultraviolet radiation on skin cells, and the potential of antioxidants for intervention; Waheed Roomi, a chemical toxicologist examining how vitamin C might aid in detoxifying environmental and occupational toxins; and Vadim Ivanov, a heart disease researcher looking at the potential value of antioxidants in preventing atherosclerosis.
Also under way is a search for a new permanent director of the Pauling Institute, who will hold an endowed chair at the university, officials say.