PHHI Initiates Biodiscovery Partnership in Malaysia

Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky, assistant professor of pharmacogenomics with N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute, recently received seed funding from the university’s Office of International Affairs for a new collaborative project with the International Medical University (IMU) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the country’s leading private medical and health sciences university.

Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky, assistant professor of pharmacogenomics with the Plants for Human Health Institute, leads a unique partnership between N.C. State University and the International Medical University in Malaysia.

The project, “Unlocking Chemical Biodiversity of Malaysia and its Potential to Improve Human Health,” aims to develop a novel research and training program focused on engaging scientists from developing countries in global health research, as well as preserving sustainable, healthy ecosystems that benefit local human health and economic development.

During the initial project phase, N.C. State’s knowledge of complex biological screening will combine with IMU’s expertise in chemical characterization and organic synthesis to create a new natural product and synthetic chemistry laboratory in Malaysia.

Led by Dr. Thirumurugan Rathinasabapathy (Lecturer, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry), Dr. Mallikarjuna Rao Pichika (Head, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry) and Prof. Michael Rathbone (Dean, School of Pharmacy), this lab will be used for discovering and characterizing novel bioactive components from plants.

Komarnytsky’s team will develop and perform low-cost bioactivity assays – which identify and measure health-promoting substances found in living organisms like plants – to characterize chemical biodiversity leads generated in the new laboratory.

Komarnytsky has developed assay kits that enable anyone from local high school students to global plant scientists to use bacteria from human saliva to screen for novel bioactive compounds in plants capable of treating different bacterial infections.

“The bioassays will focus on identification of new molecules that combat infectious and metabolic diseases, like diabetes and obesity,” said Komarnytsky.

For example, one of the assays will use bacteria naturally present in human saliva to screen for bioactive compounds – health-promoting chemicals in plants – capable of treating different bacterial infections. Trials could be performed using the saliva and extract from fruits, vegetables or even plants in the backyard, according to Komarnytsky.

“I developed this assay for a field-deployable Screens-to-Nature program while at Rutgers in 2005, and recently optimized its reproducibility and performance as a part of the context-rich phenotypical screening platform that will be used in university and high school research labs with minimal budgets. Assays like this will provide a low-barrier opportunity for our youth as well as scientists from developing countries to participate in global health research.”

The team will deliver a comprehensive training and research program for a diverse group of students and trainees at IMU.

N.C. State University has partnered with the International Medical University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to engage scientists from developing countries in global health research.

In return, participants will provide the program with feedback that will facilitate future expansion of the program into other developing countries, as well as high school research laboratories in the U.S. The goal is to establish a new global training framework in therapeutic lead discovery, starting in Malaysia.

“Malaysia has a diverse democracy and is an important partner in American universities’ engagement with Southeast Asia,” explained Komarnytsky. “This opportunity with Malaysia and IMU is the beginning of what we hope will be a long-term relationship that benefits not only our respective organizations, but science and human health overall.”

About the Plants for Human Health Institute
The Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) is leading the discovery and delivery of innovative plant-based solutions to advance human health. PHHI is a program of N.C. State University and its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. A group of N.C. Cooperative Extension faculty serves as the outreach component of the institute, which is located at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. The campus is a public-private venture including eight universities, one community college, the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and corporate entities that collaborate to advance the fields of human health, nutrition and agriculture. For more information, visit

International Medical University
The International Medical University is an integrated medical and healthcare institution in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, offering education, healthcare and research in partnership with some of the world’s most respected individuals and universities in the field of medicine and healthcare. Established in 1992, IMU is Malaysia’s first and most established private medical and healthcare university, providing a high standard of education at undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing professional development levels. Learn more at

Writer: Justin Moore


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