U of W Grad Student Isolates Anti-Cancer Compound

(WINDSOR, ON) – Dennis Ma’s fourth-year research project was going so well, he decided to continue it through graduate study.

Now his work on synthetic forms of a natural compound that appears to have cancer-fighting properties has earned him a $17,500 Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“It was nice to get recognized at a national level,” says Ma, who graduated in fall 2009 with his bachelor’s degree in biology and began his master’s work in January. “The money will allow me to continue my research an make further progress.”

Ma tested several synthetic derivatives of pancratistatin, a compound which occurs naturally in a spider lily native to Hawaii.

“Pancratistatin induces death in cancer cells but not in normal healthy cells,” he says. “But the yield from its natural source is very low so there is not enough available for pre-clinical and clinical work.”

Testing samples of the synthetics created by a lab at Brock University, Ma found one that replicates the natural compound’s effects. His advisor, biochemistry professor Siyaram Pandey, says it is a breakthrough.

“We are onto something,” Dr. Pandey said. “Now we have a synthetic compound in hand and can produce as much as we want.”

Ma’s contribution earned him co-credit on a paper published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry. Two additional papers are being readied for publication soon.

“Having already published really helped my application for the CIHR scholarship,” says Ma.

According to CIHR, its Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarships – Master’s Awards provide special recognition and support to students who are pursuing a master’s degree in a health-related field in Canada. Candidates are expected to have an exceptionally high potential for future research achievement and productivity.

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Ian Shalapata

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