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Home Articles Features Anti-cancer compound brings experts to U of Windsor

Anti-cancer compound brings experts to U of Windsor

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Sonja Puzic, Windsor Star

Published: Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A team of Indian scientists will be incorporating the research of a University of Windsor professor into their latest cancer study in hopes it will lead to more effective treatment for breast cancer.

A group of researchers from the St. John's National Academy of Health Sciences in Bangalore, India, is spending a week in Windsor studying the work of biochemistry professor Dr. Siyaram Pandey, who discovered that pancratistatin -- a compound found in a spider lily plant native to Hawaii -- kills cancer cells while sparing normal, healthy cells.

The anti-cancer compound, which was discovered and isolated in the early 1990s by a researcher in Arizona, could revolutionize the way cancer is treated and offer an alternative to chemotherapy, which weakens a patient's immune system because it also kills healthy cells.

 QUEST: Dr. Jyothi Sunil Prabhu, left, of St. John's National Academy in India, is working with graduate student Carly Griffin and Dr. Siyaram Pandey.
Scott Webster, The Windsor Star

Pandey's research group includes McMaster University chemistry Prof. James McNulty, Windsor Regional Cancer Centre oncologist Dr. Caroline Hamm and U of W biochemistry students. Medical reviewers and scientists have hailed their work as promising and exciting.

Now, the Indian scientists, who specialize in oncology, pathology and molecular medicine, are hoping to take PST samples from Pandey's lab and use them on cancerous human breast tissue samples collected at the St. John's academy in India and cultured for research purposes. Members of the University of Windsor research team visited St. John's in July to observe oncologists and pathologists removing, dissecting and storing human breast cancer tissue samples.

The collaboration could provide a breakthrough and bring the scientists closer to testing the effectiveness of PST on cancer patients in clinical trials.

"For us, this is a step forward in our research. We will see where it takes us," Aruna Korlimarla, a graduate student working with the research group from St. John's, told her Windsor hosts at a meeting Tuesday at the U of W.

Without help from institutions like St. John's and Windsor Regional Cancer Centre, the university could only test the effectiveness of PST on lab mice, Pandey said.

Hamm has supplied Pandey and his team with cancer specimens from her patients, but she said collecting cancerous human tissue samples for research purposes is limited in Windsor because of a lack of funding. St. John's institute, on the other hand, has been doing it for some time and has all the necessary ethical approvals. Hamm said the collaboration with the Indian scientists is "very important" for cancer research.

Lab studies have shown that PST is particularly effective in targeting what are known as the estrogen-receptor-negative or "ER negative" breast cancer cells. Those cells lack estrogen receptors on their surfaces so the cancer can't be treated with hormone therapy, usually leaving chemotherapy as the only option.

Marlys Koschinsky, the U of W's new dean of science, said Tuesday the university is committed to innovative health research, which will be boosted by the introduction of the new medical school. The University of Western Ontario Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry is opening a satellite school on the U of W's campus, with classes beginning in two weeks.

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