Pacific Research Center for Marine Biomedicine   Gaining new
knowledge about the profound impacts
of the ocean on human health
Pacific Research Center for Marine Biomedicine
wave grahic

Research Assistant AnitaAbout PRCMB

The Pacific Research Center for Marine Biomedicine (PRCMB) is conducting hypothesis-driven, interdisciplinary research on harmful algal blooms (HAB), water- and vector-borne diseases, and marine-derived pharmaceuticals and probes, in the thematic context of tropical coastal waters and small islands. By converging the complementary strengths and multidisciplinary expertise within the School of Ocean & Earth Sciences & Technology (SOEST), the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), the College of Natural Sciences (CNS), the Water Resources Research Center (WRRC), the Pacific Biomedical Research Center (PBRC), and the Cancer Research Center of Hawai‘i (CRCH), as well as the State of Hawai‘i Department of Health (DOH), the Center conducts trans-disciplinary research to gain new knowledge about the profound impacts of the ocean on human health. PRCMB investigators will provide expertise in epidemiology and biostatistics, infectious diseases and public health, microbiology and immunology, bioinformatics, functional genomics and proteomics, analytical and synthetic chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics, oceanography and geochemistry, computational biology and phylogenetics, and biomedical and biochemical engineering. In turn, this newfound knowledge will advance national health and lead to improved strategies to reduce the burden of human diseases resulting from acute and chronic exposures to risks in the ocean environment.


The long-term goal of the Pacific Research Center for Marine Biomedicine is to gain new knowledge about the profound impacts of the ocean on human health. This will be achieved by:

Specific Aim 1. Through the collaboration of an interactive milieu of oceanographers and medical researchers, conduct hypothesis-driven interdisciplinary research on harmful algal blooms, water- and vector-borne diseases, and marine-derived pharmaceuticals and probes, in the thematic context of tropical coastal waters and small islands.

Specific Aim 2. Through its Pilot Project Program, carry out exploratory research that complements major projects or addresses gaps in the scientific agenda of the new Center.

Specific Aim 3. Through its Facilities Core, isolate and maintain cultures of tropical marine microbes in support of Center projects and engage faculty from other disciplines to collaborate with Center investigators.

Research Core

Tropical coastal waters and small islands constitute the specific geographic thematic research focus of the Pacific Research Center for Marine Biomedicine. The unique marine environment and strategic location of the Hawaiian Islands provide an unparalleled setting from which to systematically address the three special emphasis areas. PRCMB takes full advantage of these opportunities in applying a cross-disciplinary approach to the discovery of marine-derived pharmaceutical agents and pharmacological probes, to obtaining new insights into the controls of water-borne diseases, and to elucidating the biological diversity of harmful algal blooms.

Research Project 1: Ciguatera – Dinoflagellate Nutrient Profile and Ecology, Rapid Detection Methods, and Human Health - Go to Project 1: Ciguatera

In the tropics, ciguatera fish poisoning is the primary and most important human-health manifestation of harmful algal blooms. Ciguatera, which is the most commonly reported marine toxin disease in the world, results from the consumption of certain fish having high levels of ciguatoxins, produced by the benthic dinoflagellate, Gambierdiscus toxicus. Despite the widespread occurrence of ciguatera in the Pacific Ocean, western Indian Ocean and Caribbean Sea, the ecology and nutrient profile of the dinoflagellate G. toxicus, as well as the biochemical pathways involved in the synthesis of the ciguatoxin structural polyether congeners, are poorly understood. Moreover, reliable and effective methods of testing for ciguatoxins are not readily available. Our long-term goal is to develop effective prevention and detection strategies for ciguatera, resulting in the improved health and well being of humans living in tropical ecosystems.

Research Project 2: Microbial Pathogens in Tropical Coastal Waters: An Ecosystem Approach to Determine Risk and Prevent Water-Borne Diseases - Go to Project 2: Microbial Pathogens

Infectious diseases caused by water-borne pathogens are one of the most important public health and economic problems facing the tropical Asia-Pacific region. The objectives of this research are to use ecosystem and molecular approaches to elucidate mechanisms by which pathogens and pathogen indicators survive and how the former may acquire virulence sufficient to cause diseases in humans. The central hypothesis is that the tropical coastal ecosystem represents a distinct environment that differs significantly from temperate analogs. As a result, the strategy for water quality assessment and management must be tailored for the tropical environment.

Research Project 3: Pharmaceutical Lead and Pharmacological Probe Discovery - Go to Project 3: Discovery

The main goal of this research is the discovery of new natural products with biological activity from marine microorganisms. In collaboration with the Facilities Core, we will test the hypothesis that new microbes found in the open ocean and in marine biofilms can be brought into culture by application of unrelated to microorganisms known hitherto and that this novel biology will be reflected in the chemical diversity of the compounds they produce. We expect that many of these compounds will have pharmacological relevance.

Pilot Project Program

This Program further enhances research excellence in the area of oceans and human health. Short-term, modest grant support (of $25,000 to $50,000) is provided to a maximum of four investigators from varying disciplines each year, to generate preliminary data in new or emerging areas, which either complement or expand the current research projects. In particular, priority is given to pilot projects, which have a high potential of competing for independent support from NSF or NIH.

Verbal and written announcements about the Pilot Project Program are distributed widely through existing community and university networks, encouraging applications from under-represented minority investigators and women. The evaluation of pilot project proposals will be based on scientific merit, innovation, qualifications and academic potential of the applicant investigator, potential contribution of the research to the general thematic focus and special emphasis areas of the Center, and overall relevance either locally, regionally or globally. - Go to Pilot Projects page

Facilities Core

This core facility consists of three components: isolation, characterization and cultivation. The core facility builds on existing assets previously in place at the University of Hawaii (UH). UH researchers have ready access to the open and coastal waters of the subtropical Pacific Ocean as well as to the coral reef systems found in the Kaneohe Bay via the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. Specific projects include the development of improved enrichment culture isolation techniques designed to select for diverse marine bacteria (based on RFLP patterns and 16S rRNA gene sequences), including those with novel metabolic pathways (e.g., photoheterotrophs, chemolithoautotrophs). Photoautotropic microbes known to be in relatively high abundance but still not represented in our culture collections (i.e., microalgae and cyanobacteria) will be targeted. Once the isolates have been characterized by performing genetic and biomarker analyses, they are cultivated to yield sufficient biomass for bioactivity screening and secondary metabolite isolation. This core facility functions as a conduit between the three research cores by serving as (1) a repository for maintaining microbes isolated by collaborators and other Center researchers (e.g., G. toxicus by Research Project 1 and pathogenic bacteria by Research Project 2); (2) an analytical facility for use by other PRCMB and UH researchers (e.g., access to the core facility’s GC/MS and LC/MS/MS instrumentation, DNA sequencer and flow cytometer systems); and (3) a source of microbial biomass for screening and isolating secondary metabolites. Center researchers and collaborators will isolate 1000+ new microbes, including at least 950 marine bacterial and 50 microalgal strains, annually. - Go to Facilities Core page

Pacific Research Center for Marine Biomedicine Organizational ChartAdministrative Core

The Administrative Core will focus on three principal functions: (1) administration, (2) research mentoring, and (3) development and coordination of personnel and scientific programs. Please follow this link to our Participants page for names and contact information. Click here for our organizational chart or on the thumb image to the right.


The Core is directed by Ed Laws, Director, and Ric Yanagihara, Co-Director, who have extensive administrative skills and strong, complementary backgrounds in research. The Center Director will have overall responsibility of the administrative and fiscal oversight of PRCMB. With assistance from the Co-Director, they will develop a PRCMB Evaluation Plan and the PRCMB Research Seminar Series, a year-long series of monthly seminars with presentations by distinguished scholars.

Research Mentoring

The Administrative Core will be responsible for implementing a plan for individualized structured mentoring, as a means of further expanding the pool of future interdisciplinary researchers in marine biomedicine.

Development and Coordination

A principal development function is establishing a Recruitment Plan for three tenure-track faculty positions (which have been committed to the Center by deans and director of participating units), as a means of building capacity in complementary disciplines. With advice and guidance from the External Advisory Committee (EAC) and the Internal Steering Committee (ISC), the Directors and Core Leaders will develop a PRCMB Strategic Plan for building research capacity and research excellence in marine biomedicine during and beyond COHH support. Finally, sharing of data, technologies and products with other Centers and with potential end users will constitute an important function. As such, the Administrative Core will be staffed by a Technology Transfer Specialist who will facilitate dialogue with researchers from other COHH Centers, and academic institutions, governmental agencies, and private companies.

Center Director, Principal Investigator

Dr. Edward A. Laws
School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology
University of Hawaii
Ph: (808) 956-7633


Dr. Richard Yanagihara
John A. Burns School of Medicine
University of Hawaii
Ph: (808) 956-0920

Administrative Office

Kathy Oshiro
Business / Program Manager
1680 East-West Road, POST 105
Honolulu, HI 96822-2327
Ph: (808) 956-6647
Fax: (808) 956-5308

Kevin Kelly
Technology Transfer Specialist
Ph: (808) 956-6651

David Kimball
Computer Information Specialist / Web Master
Ph: (808) 956-6399

Michelle Goya
Fiscal / Administrative Assistant
Phone: (808) 956-6396



Research Core

Pilot Projects

Facilities Core

Seminar Series




wave grahic
color bar

Pacific Research Center for Marine Biomedicine
A COHH Program funded by the National Science Foundation (OCE04-32479) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (P50 ES012740)
at the University of Hawaii at Manoa