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Food for Thought
Free Radicals
Law School Opening
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February 2010 Briefs

Bygone Days, The 1940s had its share of ups and downs with celebrity visit, WW II. Read more

Brain Drain? Healthy lunch habits can mean a more productive day at the office. Read more

Ring Container Technologies Inc. has made a $300,000 gift to establish the Ring Companies Professorship Fund in the Herff College of Engineering at the U of M. The Professorships will allow the Herff College to retain highcaliber faculty.

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Jahan's research leads to safer food products, medical implants

By: Greg Russell

Dr. M. Shah Jahan has added a new twist to an old “spin.” And with this twist comes an ever-extending reach and increased recognition for the University of Memphis’ Department of Physics.

Jahan, chair of physics, has partnered with Dr. William Boatright of the Animal and Food Sciences Department at the University of Kentucky to make certain food products safer by reducing the level of free radicals in them.

Specifically, the pair is investigating the causes and consequences of free radicals in soy proteins, which are used in food products throughout the world. Since soybean consumption is rising dramatically— it is the second largest crop in the United States — finding ways to make the processing of soy safer is becoming more and more important.

High levels of free radicals in foods containing soybeans can damage cells and are implicated in causing cancer and other diseases. Jahan’s lab finds the levels of free radicals in different conditions of the soy, such as moisture level, and investigates ways to reduce the oxidation degradation.

Dr. Jahan conducting research with students MacKenzie Sinden-Redding and Sarah Johnson.
Dr. Jahan conducting research with students MacKenzie Sinden-Redding and Sarah Johnson.

Human consumption of isolated soy proteins has increased in the past decade in part because of perceived health benefits associated with consuming soy products.

But Boatright said that retail samples of soy protein found in powdered soy drink mixes had free radical levels that were 10 to 100 times greater than found in food protein sources such as whey protein, egg albumin and casein. Besides potentially causing diseases, high levels of free radicals can also reduce shelf life and nutritional value of foods.

“Ultimately our research findings should lead to improvements in food production and processing technologies that will reduce free radicals,” Boatright said. “Our research would not be possible without the expertise of Jahan.”

Jahan and Boatright collectively received a $424,884 grant from the USDA to study soy protein with the overall goal of improving food-processing technologies.

Jahan is studying the levels of free radicals in soy proteins using the same state-of-the-art electron spin resonance spectrometer acquired by the U of M in 2001 for other research. Jahan has used the spectrometer to dramatically improve and refine materials used in hip and knee replacements. The spectrometer lets Jahan analyze polyethylene, used to build implants, at the molecular level, and reveals free radical levels. The results of Jahan’s research allow medical companies to improve their products and make them more efficient and lasting once inserted into a human.

It is within this area of his research that Jahan has added even a second twist.

Changes can occur to medical implants as a result of radiation sterilization and other chemical processing. Degradation can occur, too, as the result of a medical implant being in the body for a long period. “To combat or quench free radicals, we are adding antioxidants such as Vitamin E to polyethylene to increase the life of hip and knee joint components,” said Jahan. “This is a brand new addition to our research.”

Jahan’s lab in Manning Hall provides test services and conducts research for medical device industries throughout the United States, England and Europe.

“It is very important that the industries who manufacture joint replacement materials and the surgeons who are implanting them know what lies at the molecular level. Is the material clean and does it have any defects or imperfections?”

In the field of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) free radical research, Jahan is considered one of the world’s utmost authorities. His research was recently published in the UHMWPE Biomaterials Handbook, which is considered the authoritative literature on the subject.

Though his lab is designated as a Biomaterials Research Laboratory, Jahan also tests organic and inorganic materials such as polymers and nanomaterials.

Jahan has been working in the free-radical field for about 40 years. The program at the U of M started in 1984 with a home-assembled free radical detector. In 2001, a brand new, state-of-the-art ESR spectrometer at a cost of $300,000 was included in his laboratory. He also added a lab technician, former student Benjamin Walters, because of the expanding nature of the research conducted in the lab.

Jahan has published nine book chapters, three technical publications, 61 refereed journal articles, 57 international conference presentations and 100 national and regional presentations. His research in orthopaedic biomaterials led to the establishment of an Industry/University Center for Biosurfaces in 1997, an NSF-funded partnership program with the State University of New York, Buffalo. Jahan has served as site director for the U of M location since 2001. The Web address is http://biosurface.memphis.edu.

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