David Baskin, MD
Kenneth R. Peak Presidential Distinguished Chair, Department of Neurosurgery
Professor of Neurosurgery
Institute for Academic Medicine
The long-term goals of Dr. Baskin’s laboratory are to elucidate the DNA mechanisms in various types of neurological disease and to develop novel diagnostics and treatments for primary brain tumors and autistic spectrum disorder. Dr. Baskin has recently developed methodologies to quantify the levels of different types of DNA damage and of labeled antibody staining in the field of fluorescence microscopy, using a new type of labeled tissue phantoms. His laboratory has introduced innovative techniques that allow the quantification of five different types of DNA damage: blunt-ended breaks, overhanging breaks, 3'OH ends and nicks, 3'PO4 ends and nicks, and also damaged/oxidized DNA bases. These techniques are in the process of being patented.
In addition, and in conjunction with these tools for examining DNA damage, his research group is pursuing mitochondrially-targeted chemotherapeutic agents. These pro-drug agents are activated by enzyme systems known to be up-regulated in certain cancers. The active drug then attacks mitochondrial DNA and mitochondrial RNA, causing loss of mitochondria and cell death. In collaboration with Dr. James Tour, of the Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, Dr. Baskin's group is investigating the use of nanoscale carbon clusters in numerous biomedical applications, including as a means to deliver chemotherapeutic agents that are targeted specifically to cancer cells, as well as use as cellular protective agents.
The relationship between environmental pollutants and autism is also a major research topic being pursued by Dr. Baskin and his group. They have been evaluating the role of possible causative agents, including the classical toxin, organic mercury, which he has shown to have high toxicity in a subgroup of autistic individuals. A second class of causative agents being investigated by his group is hormone disrupting agents, such as the agro-chemicals DDT and Atrazine. The lab’s preliminary data suggests that there is a major difference in the response of cells from autistic individuals, compared to external controls.