Cancer research effort is using local assets
By Rich Suwanski Messenger-Inquirer | Posted: Friday, November 29, 2013 12:00 am
The Owensboro Cancer Research Program hopes to create less expensive drugs for cancer prevention and treatment using tobacco plants, a product grown throughout the region in abundance.
The tobacco-based process involves inserting genes needed for drug development into the tobacco genome, according to Keith Davis of the OCRP at a recent Economic Development Showcase at Western Kentucky University-Owensboro. The leaves are then harvested, processed and purified to derive a key ingredient.
Some of the projects underway at OCRP include the development of a plant-based vaccine to prevent HIV, determining whether the interaction of the heavy metal cadmium with tobacco-derived carcinogens contributes to the development of lung cancer in smokers and researching Lunasin, which has a mechanism that interferes at the early stages of the carcinogenic process and could be effective against different types of cancer.
"One reason I like the Lunasin project is it's isolating a peptide that's naturally occurring in soybeans," Davis said. The peptide "is present in pretty significant quantities in the waste of soy meal that Owensboro Grain produces every day.
"We can take the byproduct — the soy flour that's left after oil extraction — and we can get this anti-cancer peptide. From a manufacturing standpoint, we've done this at scale at Kentucky BioProcessing, and it works very well. We can take starting materials that cost roughly $300 a ton and use that as a feedstock for an anti-cancer peptide."
A peptide is a chemical compound containing two or more amino acids that are coupled by a peptide bond.
OCRP has been operating for nearly seven years and is in the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center. OCRP is a joint venture between Owensboro Health and the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville.
OH provided office and new laboratory space at the cancer center as well as salary, equipment and research supply funding. Laboratory space includes four labs that are about 1,000 square feet each for tissue culture, cell sorting and cell imaging, among other things.
"These are all state-of-the-art facilities in Owensboro," Davis said. "We have 144 square feet of plant growth space, a large walk-in growth room where we grow tobacco plants that we use as a system for producing various proteins at high capacity."
The Brown Cancer Center has also provided salary funding and four faculty positions, among other resources.
"One thing we don't have is the ability to do animal studies," Davis said. "And all of us are required at some point to do work with an animal system in order to test the molecules that we're trying to develop, and we have a few staff members located in Louisville to help manage those projects."
OCRP has a research staff of 32, including 13 Ph.D scientists, Davis said, and it uses Brescia University, Kentucky Wesleyan College and Owensboro Community & Technical College students on internships. OCRP has received nearly $7 million in competitive grants and contracts, about $5 million in government contracts and $3.5 million from the Helmsley Charitable Trust in 6 1/2 years of operation.
Rich Suwanski, 691-7315, firstname.lastname@example.org