N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI), located at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis, has partnered with the University of Surrey in England to conduct research involving plants and potential cancer treatments. At the root of the research is ginger, which scientists are studying for its potential cancer-fighting properties.
Dr. Mary Grace, senior researcher with PHHI, and Akram Aloqbi, a visiting Ph.D. candidate in oncology from the University of Surrey, are collaborating to search for anti-cancer compounds in several ginger varieties. Ginger is a rhizome (an underground plant stem or rootstock) long utilized for its medicinal and culinary properties.
Grace and Aloqbi are targeting zerumbone, a phytochemical in ginger that is known to possess anti-inflammatory properties and counter HIV activity. The compound has also shown promise as a potential treatment for some cancers, so N.C. State and the University of Surrey are digging deeper for answers.
The collaborating researchers are working to determine whether quantities and activity levels of zerumbone differ among several types of ginger, including Chinese ginger (commonly called “fingerroot”) as well as U.K. and U.S. cultivars. Chinese ginger is not widely available in the United States, but may be found at some Asian specialty food stores. The United States produced about 1.8 million pounds of ginger in 2010, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
Finding and measuring plant compounds like zerumbone is just one piece of an intricate puzzle, where the first step is actually discovering all of the pieces.
Utilizing the lab of PHHI Director Dr. Mary Ann Lila and the state-of-the-art scientific instruments at the N.C. Research Campus, Grace and Aloqbi are well on their way to uncovering the missing puzzle pieces, according to the scientific duo.
Regarding preliminary cancer treatment trials with the ginger compounds, “the results are quite promising,” Aloqbi said. “There is much yet to discover, but we’re taking big steps in the right direction.”
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, where roughly 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in 2012, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Collaborating to Combat Cancer
Initiated in 2008, the international partnership between the University of Surrey and N.C. State University aims to accelerate and enrich research in three multidisciplinary areas: Veterinary Bioscience, Climate Change: Science and Policy, and Natural Products and Human Health. The ginger research project comprises the latter.
Aloqbi is part of the second of three exchanges of staff and students between the institutions. The first visiting scholar from Surrey, Dr. Moses Langat, spent a week with PHHI researchers in Kannapolis in September 2011.
Originally from Jeddah, a major urban center and widely-recognized city of innovation in Saudi Arabia, Aloqbi is working with Grace, Lila and other N.C. State faculty at the N.C. Research Campus from November 1-27, 2012. He is based in Professor Nazlin Howell’s lab at the University of Surrey, where his research focus is oncology, the study of cancers.
The scientists are confident that the ambitious research endeavor in Kannapolis is paying dividends.
“The shared experiences are the most important component of this kind of partnership,” said Grace. “We’re able to publish together, explore new grants, and learn and grow from one another.”
“People are the most important thing,” Aloqbi said. “Without this partnership, I couldn’t have gotten through this critical part of the research. It has been a wonderful experience.”
Writer: Justin Moore