PULLMAN, Wash. — Marc W. Fariss, associate professor of Pharmacy at Washington State University, has been awarded a Gasper and Irene Lazzara Professorship, a 10-year grant of $500,000 from the Gasper and Irene Lazzara Charitable Foundation, for his research on the use of vitamin E derivatives in cancer prevention and treatment.
The important role of vitamin E in protecting our cells from the toxic effects of oxygen free radicals is now well recognized, Fariss said. “Unfortunately our cells often have difficulty maintaining adequate vitamin E levels. This inadequacy appears to be due to several factors, including the fact that our cells are incapable of producing this protective vitamin (a dietary source is required) and that low-fat diets are often deficient in vitamin E,” he said.
Diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and aging are thought to be caused by oxygen free radicals. Fariss has been investigating ways to increase the vitamin E content of cells in order “to provide a means to protect ourselves from these deadly diseases,” he said.
Recently Fariss’ laboratory discovered several vitamin E derivatives, including vitamin E succinate, whose cellular accumulation and protective properties are superior to the forms of vitamin E normally found in our diet. Fariss and others also have found that in addition to protecting normal cells, vitamin E succinate treatment is lethal to many different types of tumor cells. Vitamin E succinate treatment may provide the means both to protect ourselves against cancer formation as well as to selectively kill cancer cells once they have formed, Fariss said.
“This grant from the Lazzara Foundation will allow us to explore how vitamin E succinate and related compounds can be used clinically to both prevent and treat cancer,” Fariss said. He has been studying the effects of vitamin E since the early 1980s and has traveled the country giving seminars on the effects of vitamin E.
Fariss, the first recipient of the Gasper and Irene Lazzara Professorship, came to WSU in 1995 from the Medical College of Virginia at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he earned his doctorate and was a member of the faculty. Although Fariss is relatively new to Pullman and Washington State University, his ancestors are not. Sen. A. T. Fariss moved to Pullman with his brother Frank in 1884 as railroad contractors. Sen. A. T. Fariss was one of the local civic leaders who played a key role in securing Pullman as the site for the new Washington Agricultural College and School of Science, now known as WSU.
The Gasper and Irene Lazzara Professorship funds research relevant to developing strategies for the prevention and treatment of cancer, particularly melanoma and metastatic liver cancer. Other funding for Fariss’ research includes grants and research gifts from federal, industry and private supporters.