Charles Chalfant, Ph.D., an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, has built a high-profile research program around two recently identified players in inflammation.

In recognition of his work, the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has awarded Chalfant with the Aventi Young Investigator Award in Lipid Research. The award honors outstanding research contributions by young investigators with no more than 15 years of experience.

Inflammation is a complex process that includes a whole host of biochemical and cell signaling processes, which interact in complex ways to coordinate the body’s response to injury. Chalfant’s work focuses on a lipid called ceramide-1-phosphate and the enzyme responsible for its synthesis, ceramide kinase.

“The lipid itself and the enzyme were described in 1989,” Chalfant says, but only recently–and based in large part on his work — have their functions been revealed.

Chalfant has systematically shown how key these molecules are in the inflammatory response. They stimulate a massive buildup of local hormones known as eicosanoids, which serve a wide range of functions including pain, fever, tissue growth, blood clotting and immune regulation.

Chalfant’s research could lead eventually to novel treatments for inflammation. There’s certainly a need for alternatives to aspirin and ibuprofen, as the most recent ones, the COX-2 inhibitors, have been hampered by serious side effects. Chronic inflammation is also implicated in such diseases as arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and asthma.

By Jill Adams