Richard M. Rocco, PhD

Richard Rocco

Richard M. Rocco, PhD

Position: Associate Professor
Samuel Merritt University
Department of Basic Sciences

Research Biography

The main focus of Dr. Rocco’s research is on the discovery of the mechanisms behind the complications of type 2 diabetes. These well-known but poorly understood complications include peripheral neuropathy, nephropathy, retinopathy and microvascular disorders. Research is directed toward understanding the mechanisms that lead from protein glycation to the formation of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). One AGE in particular, carboxymethyl lysine (CML) is a dysfunctional protein that has been shown to induce apoptosis in cell cultures. CML plasma and tissue levels are elevated in patients with various types and stages of diabetic complications compared to controls. Experimental data from the SMU laboratory have confirmed the work of others that has shown that the drug pyridoxamine inhibits the formation of CML. We have extended these observations by showing that hydroxyl free radicals are required for the formation of CML and that pyridoxamine acts through direct inhibition of the formation of these free radicals. A paper describing this work is in preparation and will be submitted for publication.

The orthopedics department at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, CA has funded a translational research project to test the hypothesis that plasma CML levels will correlate with the presence and severity of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. A total of 150 patients and controls will be examined for peripheral neuropathy. This is the first time a specific study on diabetic peripheral neuropathy and CML has been conducted and it is expected that a publication will result.

Dr. Rocco also has an interest in developing simple, low maintenance, and inexpensive medical technologies appropriate for use in medically underserved areas of the world. Twice a year, faculty and students from SMU provide medical care to the Kuna people in a remote clinic in the jungles of Panama. The clinic is resource limited and lacks electricity. The SMU research lab was able to convert a standard microscope from a 110-volt light source to a battery operated LED unit. The electrical diagram was designed with the volunteer help from a graduate student in the Electrical Engineering Department at UC Berkeley. The cost of the parts for the conversion was under $30. A paper describing the design modifications, wiring diagram and outcome measures in improved diagnosis of urinary track infections during a ten-day period in the clinic was accepted for an oral presentation at the Ninth Annual Global Health Conference at Yale University in 2012. Additional technology innovations being developed for use in a remote clinic include a disposable low-cost urine concentration device. This is needed because batteries will not drive a centrifuge at the g-forces required for this application.


Rocco, R. M., DeRosa, M., August-Schwartz, S. A low-cost light source for the conversion of a standard microscope into a battery-operated portable field unit. Oral presentation: Ninth Annual Global Health & Innovation Confernence. Yale University, New Haven, CT April 21-22, 2012.

Rocco, R. M., Cullen, B., Chan, C., Morgan. G., Eragi, G., Akhbari, K., Khadavi, J. Selection of a consistent technique for use with the 128-Hz tuning fork. Poster presented: American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons Scientific Conference, Washington, DC March 5-8, 2009.

Rocco, R. M., Akhbari, K., Chan, V., Cullen, B., Eragi, G., Khadavi, K.,Morgan, C., Venson, J. Association of 128-Hz tuning fork results with two other measures of distal peripheral neuropathy and Hemoglobin A1c levels. Poster presented: American Podiatric Medical Association Annual Scientific Meeting, Toronto, Canada, July, 2009.

Rocco, R. M., Housepian, C., Bentley, D. Ribose glycation accelerates hydroxyl free radical induced fragmentation of albumin. Submitted October 15, 2012 Biochemical Biophysical Research Communications.

Evans, J., Manzi, J., Rocco, R.M. Clinical correlation between the advanced glycation end product (AGE) CML and diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Kaiser-SMU study, October-December 2012.


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