Ashley Fukuchi, a P3 student at the Danial K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, has received a prestigious 2020 Gateway to Research Scholarship from the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education. The primary goal of this award is to help students gain an understanding of the importance of research by enabling them to apply that knowledge to improve their clinical skills.
The stipend award will be used for research-related expenses for her project titled “Evaluation of natural products derived from medicinal plants as potential antimicrobial agents against non-tuberculosis mycobacteria.” Fukuchi’s mentor at DKICP is Dr. Leng Chee Chang, associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Fukuchi has worked on her research in Chang’s lab (in the area of natural product chemistry) and prepared crude natural product extracts obtained from medicinal plants grown and collected in Hawaii, including Morinda citrifolia (fermented noni juice), Waltheria indica, Pipturus albidus, Aleurites moluccanus (kukui nuts), Piper methysticum (‘awa) and other plants found in the state. Noni has been used in traditional Hawaiian medicine by native healers to treat a variety of disease, including asthma, tuberculosis and respiratory diseases. Preliminary study of these extracts against non-tuberculosis mycobacteria strain, such as Mycobacteria chimaera, were performed in the lab of Chang’s collaborator, Dr. Jennifer Honda, who is assistant professor and faculty instructor in the Department of Biomedical Research, at the Center for Genes, Environment and Health at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado.
Noni Fruit & Leaves (Morinda citrifolia)
For her project, Fukuchi plans to select one plant extract and perform the isolation of the bioactive natural products in it using several column chromatography techniques, and high-performance liquid chromatography at a later stage. Structure identification of natural products will be performed using several spectroscopy methods in the DKICP Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences labs. At the final stage, the pure natural product obtained will be tested for its activity against NTM.
In recent year, there has been an increase in cases of non-tuberculosis mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease reported in the United States and worldwide, notes Fukuchi, with Hawaii having the highest rate among all U.S. states. “Based on the epidemiological studies, Mycobacterium chimaera, a slow-growing NTM and member of the Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), predominates in the Hawaiian environment and is the most frequently isolated NTM from lung samples among NTM patients here. That’s why the search of these natural medicine/natural remedy is important.
“Hopefully this study will lead to the identification of compounds from natural product and/or herbs that may play a role as an alternative treatments for NTM lung disease treatment,” she says.