Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine
Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Division Director, Cardiac Anesthesia
Director, Integrated Vascular Biology Laboratory
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Sheikh Zayed Tower
1800 Orleans Street
Baltimore, MD 21287
Appointment Phone: 410-955-7519
The work of Dr. Daniel Berkowitz is probably as close to rocket science as an anesthesiologist is going to get. Dr. Berkowitz is trying to understand the mechanisms that underlie vascular disorders, but one of his main concentrations is the effect of deep space radiation on the cardiovascular system. In space, astronauts are exposed to dangerous levels of high-energy radiation. Therefore, NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute are funding Dr. Berkowitz to determine not only the damage that such energy causes, but what interventions or therapeutics could be used to reverse the damage.
Radiation can cause cells in the body to produce dangerous molecules known as oxidants. Because oxidants are known to damage DNA, in the past, radiation exposure was investigated mostly as a cancer risk. But the cells that line our blood vessels (endothelial cells) are also highly vulnerable to oxidant damage. To learn more about this phenomenon, Dr. Berkowitz and his graduate student Kevin Soucy are conducting experiments at the Brookhaven National Laboratory near Stony Brook, New York, where they have access to a particle accelerator, which creates radiation similar to what astronauts could encounter. In pre-clinical studies, Dr. Berkowitz and his team use the radiation produced to examine its effects on vascular stiffness and endothelial cell function.
Dr. Berkowitz believes that the high-energy radiation activates an enzyme called xanthine oxidase (XO) and that XO is responsible for maintaining a chronic cycle of oxidant production. He thinks that the use of an XO inhibitor can interrupt this cycle of stress to the cells and thereby limit the damage. This ability to target the XO enzyme could have additional applications, such as for patients who need radiotherapy or in the event of a terrorist attack. In the long term, he hopes to uncover the molecular mechanisms responsible for cardiovascular injury as well as natural pathways of repair.
Dr. Berkowitz is a man who clearly enjoys his work. He says that he loves testing hypotheses associated with basic cellular mechanisms and discovering how these processes are altered in various disease states. What’s more, he likes to teach his students how to think about disease processes in these terms and how to apply basic science to clinical problems. Dr. Berkowitz asserted that the work that he and his students are doing now will be highly valuable when we establish colonies on the moon and send astronauts to Mars. Notice that he said when, not if.
- Society for Airway Management Membership Committee
- American Society of Anesthesiology Clinical Neurosciences Subcommittee