Kenichi (Ken) Tamama, MD, PhD

Associate Professor of Pathology, Division of Clinical Chemistry

Dr. Tamama is a member of the Division of Clinical Chemistry. He is Medical Director of the Clinical Toxicology Laboratory and CP Informatics. He is also Director of Pathology Resident Training in Clinical Chemistry.

Clinical Expertise

As a board-certified clinical pathologist, Dr. Tamama oversees Clinical Toxicology Laboratory in UPMC Clinical Laboratory Building (CLB) and sign out Toxicology cases generated by mass spectrometry. He is also working on the assay development of newly emerging drugs of abuse and test optimization with the Medical Toxicology team. He also led the Clinical Toxicology Laboratory team to upgrade the GC-MS-based platform to the LC-high resolution MS.  Outside the Clinical Toxicology Laboratory, he oversees POCT Laboratories in Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and co-signing serum protein electrophoresis cases in Clinical Immunology Laboratory in UPMC CLB. He also oversees the CP Informatics in the UPMC Clinical Laboratories.


  • Diplomate of American Board of Pathology (Clinical Pathology, Clinical Informatics)
  • Physicians License - PA, OH, CA, Japan


Clinical Chemistry

Education & Training
MD - Gunma University School of Medicine, Maebashi, Japan, 1995
PhD - Gunma University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Maebashi, Japan, 2001
Special symposiast in the 65th Annual meeting of Japanese Society of Laboratory Medicine (JSLM), 2018
Invited symposiast of Mass Spectrometry and Separation Sciences for Laboratory Medicine – 8th Annual Conference by AACC, 2018
Wound Healing Society (WHS) Organogenesis Award Finalist, 2012
NAVBO Junior Investigator Award, 2007
ASIP Trainee Travel Award and ASIP Young Pathologist Fellowship for Experimental Biology, 2007
CAP Foundation Scholar Research, 2005-2006
CP Web Case Winner, Pathology Resident Program, University of Pittsburgh, 2005
First place winner in Clinical Research at Retreat of Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh, 2005
CP Web Case Winner, Pathology Resident Program, University of Pittsburgh, 2005
ACLPS Paul E. Strandjord Young Investigator Award, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007
Fellowship of Japan-North America Medical Exchange Foundation, 2002
Fellowship of Japan Medical Education Foundation for clinical clerkship in U.K., 1994
Research Interests

Dr. Tamama has been active in research projects in Clinical Chemistry and Toxicology. Newly emerging drugs of abuse, such as fentanyl analogs, synthetic cannabinoids (SPICEs) or cathinones (Bath salts) are a serious national threat. The evolving nature of novel psychoactive substances makes the detection in the lab very difficult. Dr. Tamama has been working on the laboratory detection of these newly emerging drugs.

His current approach is the application of high-resolution MS to the drug screening. This state-of-the-art technique utilizes untargeted molecular data acquisition, which allows for the most comprehensive drugs of abuse screening to cover both common drugs of abuse as well as newly emerging drugs of abuse in a more efficient and extensive manner than the conventional GC-MS technique. But the system produces raw data with a large size for each specimen, and the data analysis requires very convoluted algorithms, in addition to expertise in analytical chemistry and clinical chemistry. The research project is aimed to elucidate the underlying mechanism to limit the compound identification capability by the high-resolution MS in order to improve the overall compound detection capability.

The untargeted molecular data acquisition by high-resolution MS yields large dataset per sample (e.g., ~5 Gb per specimen) covering both xenobiotics (drugs/medications and their metabolites) as well as endogenous metabolites, but more than 99% of the acquired data remain unannotated and discarded in the daily practice. These unannotated datasets should likely contain clinically useful novel biomarkers. This is a hypothesis-generating research project that utilizes existing unused datasets acquired in urine comprehensive drug screening (UCDS) at Clinical Toxicology Laboratory. The research project is currently supported by Pitt CTSI.

Other clinical research interests include pathogenesis of urinary auto-brewery syndrome and beneficial effects of dietary seaweeds.

Dr. Tamama's basic research theme is adult mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) biology. Because of their anti-inflammatory and tissue reparative/regenerative effects, adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are promising candidates for cell therapy approaches in regenerative medicine and for autoimmune diseases. To improve the efficacy and safety profile of the MSC-based therapeutics, basic biological studies are warranted; what are the underlying molecular mechanisms that support MSC's strong anti-inflammatory and tissue reparative/regenerative effects? This is the question Dr. Tamama has pursued since his research elective in 2003. After he started his own independent research lab at the OSU in 2007 as Assistant, he has been focusing on the molecular mechanism of strong paracrine effects and spheroid-induced rejuvenation of MSCs.

Representative Publications

View Dr. Tamama's publications on PubMed

(* denotes corresponding authorship)

  • Kruckenberg KM, DiMartini AF, Rymer JA, Pasculle AW, Tamama K*.  Urinary Auto-brewery Syndrome: A Case Report. Ann Intern Med. 2020 May 19;172(10):702-704.   This article was covered by more than 100 news articles internationally in multiple languages, including CNN, USA Today, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, IFL Science, Healio, Insider, WebMD, Medscape, The Week, New Scientist, Daily Mail, NEJM Journal Watch, Jerusalem Post, Lemonde (in French), Nation Thailand, BBC Thai (in Thai), Newsweek (Japanese version), Japanese Engadget (in Japanese), Techinsight Japan (in Japanese)
  • Tamama K*, Lynch MJ*.  Newly Emerging Drugs of Abuse. Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2020;258:463-502
  • Tamama K*.  Synthetic Drugs of Abuse.  Adv Clin Chem. 2021;103:191-214. PMID: 34229850.
  • Tamama K*.  Potential benefits of dietary seaweeds as protection against COVID-19. Nutr Rev. 2021 Jun 4;79(7):814-823. PMID: 33341894; PMCID: PMC7798825.
  • Tamama K*.  Advances in drugs of abuse testing. Clin Chim Acta. 2021 Mar;514:40-47. PMID: 33333045.
  • Skaugen JM, Scoccimarro A, Pizon AF, Rymer JA, Giannoutsos S, Ekins S, Krasowski MD, Tamama K*.  Novel ketamine analogues cause a false positive phencyclidine immunoassay. Ann Clin Biochem. 2019 Sep;56(5):598-607. PMID: 31154806.
  • Carlsen ED, Smith JA, Tamama K*. Utilization of GC-MS to Confirm Etiology in a Case of New-Onset Coagulopathy. J Appl Lab Med. 2018 Sep 1;3(2):319-323. PMID: 33636949.
  • Lopez Nunez OF, Rymer JA, Tamama K*  Case of Sudden Acute Coma Followed by Spontaneous Recovery. J Appl Lab Med. 2018 Nov 1;3(3):507-510. PMID: 33636916.
  • Liu L, Wheeler SE, Venkataramanan R, Rymer JA, Pizon AF, Lynch MJ, Tamama K*.  Newly emerging drugs of abuse and their detection methods: An ACLPS Critical Review. Am J Clin Pathol. 2018 Jan 29;149(2):105-116.    (Highlighted as an Editor’s Choice and chosen as a journal CME article by the journal)
  • Cesarz Z, Funnell JL, Guan J, Tamama K*. Soft Elasticity-Associated Signaling and Bone Morphogenic Protein 2 are Key Regulators of Mesenchymal Stem Cell Spheroidal Aggregates. Stem Cells Dev. 2016 Apr 15;25(8):622-35.
  • Cesarz Z, Tamama K*.   Spheroid culture of mesenchymal stem cells. Stem Cell Int. 2016;2016:9176357.
  • Tamama K*, McFadden K, Guan J.  Improving Stem and Progenitor Cell Therapeutics. Stem Cell Int.  2016;2016:1409762.
  • Liu L, Wheeler SE, Rymer JA, Lower D, Zona J, Peck Palmer OM, Tamama K*. Ranitidine interference with standard amphetamine immunoassay. Clin Chim Acta. 2015 Jan 1;438:307-8. PMID: 25242739.
  • Mika LM,  Guyette MK, Pillage G, Tamama K*. Discrepant Glucose Results between Capillary and Venous Blood in an 83-Year-Old White Man.  Lab Med Fall 2014;45:e156-e157
  • Barbeau DJ, La KT, Kim DS, Kerpedjieva SS, Shurin GV, Tamama K*. Early Growth Response-2 Signaling Mediates Immunomodulatory Effects of Human Multipotential Stromal Cells. Stem Cells Dev. 2014; 23(2):155-66.
  • Berg A, Tamama K, Peck Palmer OM   Metabolic acidosis with discrepant lactate results. Clin Chem. 2013 Apr;59(4):713-4.
  • Dwyer JB, Tamama K*   Ketoacidosis and Trace Amounts of Isopropanol in a Chronic Alcoholic Patient. Clin Chim Acta. 2013; 415: 245–249