UC Merced Connect: Professor helps transform carbon monoxide into sickle cell treatment

You probably know that carbon monoxide can be lethal. But one UC Merced professor is working to harness its health benefits to treat people with sickle cell disease.

Henry Forman, a professor of biochemistry and chemistry at UC Merced, has developed a way to provide therapeutic levels of the gas to patients. He’s working with Edward D. Gomperts, clinical professor of pediatrics and pathology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and attending hematologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Gomperts had the idea to use carbon monoxide to prevent red blood cells from changing into the sickle form, Forman said. Those misshapen blood cells can get stuck in blood vessels and prevent oxygen from reaching vital organs.

Forman, an expert in noxious gases, said he was approached by Gomperts to create a way to administer safe doses of carbon monoxide. He developed a liquid solution that patients can drink.

“This isn’t a cure, but it actually has the potential to be really helpful,” Forman said. “We are in the very early development of this.”

Researchers are looking for funding to pursue testing. The concept is promising not only for sickle cell patients, but for those who suffer from other inflammatory diseases.

Forman, who also is a research professor of gerontology at USC, devotes just a fraction of his research time to the sickle cell treatment. His other projects include looking at how cigarette smoking can change cells and spread cancer throughout the body.

The campus could benefit in several ways from his work on the sickle cell treatment, including through a licensing agreement. UC Merced, USC and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles mutually agreed that the hospital would take the lead in managing the invention.

Last summer, the hospital granted an exclusive license to Hillhurst Pharmaceuticals, a California-based startup company. That license gives the company the right to develop, test, manufacture and eventually sell the treatment if it clears testing and regulatory hurdles.

David Cepoi, intellectual property and licensing officer at UC Merced, said part of the university’s mission is making the inventions and discoveries of faculty, staff and graduate students available for societal benefit.

Such work can help raise the profile of UC Merced. Another benefit is that startup companies such as Hillhurst Pharmaceuticals are an important spark to the economy and job growth.

“This is one more company founded in California resulting from an invention developed, at least partly, at UC Merced,” Cepoi said.

Political science professors publish frequently with top journals, presses

UC Merced political science professors publish in leading journals and with top university presses at a rate that outpaces just about every other elite institution, according to a recent report.

That finding – an example of the faculty’s research prowess – comes from a study produced by Professor Nathan Monroe that evaluated each faculty member’s publication rate since earning his or her Ph.D.

“Our faculty is publishing cutting-edge research in the top outlets in the field at an extremely high rate,” Monroe said. “If our faculty and Ph.D. program continue to grow, we expect to be widely recognized as one of the top political science programs in the country.”

In publishing in the top six journals and top six presses, UC Merced is behind only Washington University (St. Louis) in the mean rate of publication. It’s ahead of many other universities, including Harvard, Stanford, UC San Diego, Yale and other institutions highly ranked by U.S. News and World Report.

The study also showed that UC Merced’s 10 political science faculty members publish at the highest rate in the top six journals and fall to second when looking only at faculty members who have earned a Ph.D. since 1998.

In political science, where grant dollars are scarce, peer-reviewed journal and book publications are the most important metric of faculty success, the study notes. The finding highlights the campus’s emphasis on researching important topics that create new understanding in political science.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the university communications staff. To contact them, email