UH Hilo research to prevent cancer gets nod to continue from NIH

September 11, 2009

A research project that looks at deep-sea microorganisms to prevent cancer, led by University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo College of Pharmacy Dean John M. Pezzuto, has received renewal notice from the National Cancer Institute in the National Institutes of Health.

The grant, entitled "Natural Inhibitors of Carcinogenesis," is currently in its 17th year with an annual budget of $1,341,115. In order to hasten progress even further, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, an additional $477,847 was awarded effective August 1, 2009.

In addition to the work being conducted under the supervision of Pezzuto, four co-investigators participate in the project:

  • Marine Biology, led by Dr. William Fenical, professor of oceanography, Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California;
  • Chemistry, led by Dr. Mark S. Cushman, professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, Purdue University;
  • Structural and Mechanistic Biology, led by Dr. Andrew Mesecar, Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, College of Pharmacy, University of Illinois at Chicago;
  • LC-MS-MS, led by Dr. Richard B. van Breemen, Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, College of Pharmacy, University of Illinois at Chicago

"This work is an essential component of the national effort to defeat cancer, and it fits in perfectly with our focus on natural products here at UH Hilo," Pezzuto said. "Using deep-sea microorganisms, along with unique biological assays, powerful tools in spectroscopy and structural biology and innovative organic and medicinal chemistry approaches, we can continue to look for ocean sediment-derived microorganisms that may ultimately promote the prevention of cancer."

The project is aided by an external advisory board, consisting of world-renowned scientists in the field, including Dr. Frank Meyskens, widely considered one of the "fathers" of the field of cancer chemoprevention. Meyskens is the director of the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, as well as professor medicine and biological chemistry and associate vice chancellor of health sciences at the College of Health Sciences University of California, Irvine.

"This idea of looking for new molecules in the marine world is very exciting because the best treatment of disease is its prevention," said Meyskens, who says his company, Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals, is on the path to preventing colon cancer. "We’re further along than people think in cancer research and we’ve made some amazing advances."

Other renowned members of the board include Dr. Michael Sporn of Dartmouth Medical School, Koji Nakanishi of Columbia University and James McAlpine of Thallion Pharmaceuticals Inc.

A competitive renewal is currently under peer review by the National Cancer Institute. Pezzuto said he hopes an additional five years of support will be granted for this important project.

See more news from 2009.