Tag Archives: research

Feature: The sting’s the thing

Dr. Angel Yanagihara
Dr. Angel Yanagihara

Angel Yanagihara knows first-hand the painful effects of Hawaiian box jellyfish stings. During a long-distance morning swim off Waikīkī Beach in July 1997, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa assistant research professor encountered a swarm of the nearly invisible jellyfish. She suffered multiple stings, resulting in immediate and excruciating pain, gasping and wheezing, and angry red welts—symptoms that took nearly three months to totally disappear.

That encounter changed the direction of Yanagihara’s research as a biochemist at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center. She was amazed to find that Australian Box jellies have the potential to kill an adult man in 5-20 minutes, yet there was no reliable antidote to the sting of these most primitive venomous animals on the planet. Yanagihara launched a mission to discover what makes the venom of the related but smaller Hawaiian box jelly such a potent stinging cocktail, with the hopes of finding a substance that would not simply treat the symptoms, but would stop the toxin after penetrating a victim’s skin.

To deconstruct the venom, Yanagihara systematically analyzed the components of box jellyfish venom and characterized their biological effects. She found that the blood-puncturing toxins not only led to red blood cell rupture, but also platelet depletion and white blood cell activation launching a profound inflammatory response called Irukandji Syndrome. “The greatest challenge in this research effort has been to ‘invent the wheel’ in developing analytical biochemical approaches,” said Yanagihara. “That capture the full suite of active components that comprise the venom contained in microscopic stinging cells.”

And then, in 2009, came success: The biochemist developed a blocker that worked in both human blood and a live animal model. “Our efforts to utilize biochemical tools to develop targeted therapeutics—to ultimately address the monthly pain and suffering that the local Hawaiian Box jellies inflict on swimmers—are finally coming to a tangible end point,” she said. Multiple patents have been submitted and a recent agreement was finalized with Waterlife Research of Maui, which plans to release a commercial product based on these findings within the next six months.

Yanagihara’s research was featured on a PBS NOVA documentary titled, “Venom,” which aired in February 2011. To view the entire episode, visit http://www.pbrc.hawaii.edu/. In addition, she and her husband, fellow UH Mānoa Professor Ric Yanagihara, are also featured on the BioMedical Faces of Science website at www.biomedicalfacesofscience.com.

For more information contact Angel Yanagihara at (808) 956-8328 or angel@pbrc.hawaii.edu.

Top photo: Hawaiian box jellyfish, courtesy of © Andre Seale / www.Artesub.com.

Feature: Master of disaster

National Disaster Preparedness Training Center logo

On March 11, 2011, residents throughout the Pacific and on the mainland’s west coast braced themselves for a tsunami, generated from a destructive 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan. While the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center took the lead in alerting ocean-side venues, it was a training facility nestled in Mānoa Valley, led by University of Hawai‘i researchers, that has been working behind the scenes daily to make sure response to such natural disasters is adept and widespread.

At the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC) at the Mānoa Innovation Center, Executive Director and UH Mānoa Professor Karl Kim and his team routinely provide all-hazards training throughout the U.S. and its territories, with an emphasis on natural hazards in island and coastal communities. NDPTC is one of seven federally funded members of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, which collectively conduct research to develop and deliver disaster training for responders, decision-makers, policy analysts and urban planners—ensuring that they are prepared to respond in an event of a catastrophe.

Among the many ongoing training courses offered at the NDPTC is a FEMA-certified Tsunami Awareness course (AWR-217) that provides a basic understanding of tsunamis, hazard assessment, warning and dissemination, and community response strategies to effectively reduce tsunami risk. The goal of the 8-hour course is to enhance participants’ abilities to support their organizational preparedness and response efforts. No advanced knowledge and experience of tsunamis is required in order to sign up for the course.

Organizers note that effective response requires pre-event planning and preparation to ensure that the public knows what to do and where to evacuate before destructive waves arrive, and to know when it is all-clear and safe to return. “This is the first FEMA-certified course on tsunamis offered through NDPTC, which we developed because of the serious threat to Hawai‘i and other Pacific island communities,” said Kim. “We’re fortunate to have a strong collaborative relationship with NOAA, International Tsunami Information Center, Pacific Services Center and the Pacific Risk Management ‘ohana, as well as many other state and local agencies.” Kim added that the NDPTC has worked with partners in American Samoa to have course materials translated into Samoan.

This month, trainings will be conducted and delivered to first-responders in American Samoa, Guam and Honolulu. Participants interested in signing up for the Honolulu course on March 30 can go to http://ndptc.hawaii.edu/training.html. To learn more about the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center, visit http://ndptc.hawaii.edu/index.php.

For more information, contact Karl Kim at (808) 988-5144 or karlk@hawaii.edu.

Top photo: On September 29, 2009, an 8.3-magnitude earthquake in the South Pacific triggered a massive tsunami in American Samoa.