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Category → The Awesome Power of Natural Products

Talking fungi at Skeptically Speaking

A brainy, free, and fun online and radio chat-type call-in show on all things science. Hosted by Desiree Schell and edited by K.O. Myers. Awesomesauce. From Canada, of course.

Well, if you’re looking for something to do during Super Bowl halftime than watch Madonna, you’re welcome to join me online for the wildly-successful science radio show, Skeptically Speaking.

With Edmonton-based host Desiree Schell (@teh_skeptic) and her US-based producer K.O. Myers (@KO_Myers), we’ll be discussing the secret lives of fungi, particularly as related to the synthesis of secondary metabolites that we use as therapeutic agents.

If you’re able to join us live, we’ll be at this UStream.tv page at 8 pm Eastern, 6 pm Mountain. On the chat bar at the right of the page, you can follow the online discussion and submit questions of your own.

I hope that you can dial us in. If not, the complete podcast will be downloadable on the evening of February 10.

Visualizing Chemistry Education with Untamed Science

Well, I’m coming up on 10 days on my new job at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences working on science communications for our new wing, the Nature Research Center. Beyond my creative and uniformly brilliant co-workers, I’m blown away by how many remarkable people I’ve met from around the state and world by just being at the Museum.

Among those were the filmmakers from the visual science education operation, Untamed Science. Co-founders Rob Nelson and Jonas Stenstrom. I learned that I was very fortunate to get an audience with Jonas as he was visiting from Sweden where he coordinates the team’s international science education efforts. He first met Rob, a native Texan & Coloradan, while both were studying in Australia. Joining them was their local documentarian partner, the talented Michelle Lotker.

Fun, free, and scientifically accurate.

Untamed Science describe themselves as “a group of scientists and filmmakers that have united with one simple goal – communicate science in a fun way to the next generation.” Their portfolio of free video and text content covers the spectrum of biology, physics, chemistry, earth science and technology.

Their target audience began as middle-school students but many of the details are those that parents (yes, me) might not know. I had a fabulous time sitting with our nine-year-old daughter last night to go through about a dozen of their videos and podcasts. Bedtime was delayed significantly – thanks, folks.

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NCCU Dinner with Discoverers: Chemist, Dr. Mansukh Wani

Dr. Mansukh Wani with NCCU pharmaceutical sciences master's students Edward Garner (left) and Adama Secka (right). Credit: DJ Kroll

The NCCU Eagles RISE program is a NIH/NIGMS research education program for which I serve as principal investigator at North Carolina Central University in Durham. When I moved to the Research Triangle area, I had the opportunity to work as a pharmacologist with the late Dr. Monroe Wall and Dr. Mansukh Wani, scientists who with colleagues discovered the anticancer compounds, taxol and camptothecin.

I first came to know of Dr. Wani while I was a graduate student in 1987 while attending a DNA topoisomerase chemotherapy conference at NYU in Manhattan. To be honest, I was too nervous to even introduce myself to this legend of natural products chemistry. Almost 25 years later, I am now blessed to call him a family friend. One of the other joys I have is sharing the now 86-year-old Dr. Wani and his story with my students. Here’s a recap of our visit with him as posted on our NCCU Eagles RISE blog:

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Bryostatins: Panacea?

Bryostatin was first popularized by Bob Pettit at Arizona State University. Click on the picture for Halford's profile of Dr. Pettit.

I just had the delightful pleasure of participating in the C&EN Advisory Board meeting late last week. Among the outstanding C&EN writers and editors at the DC headquarters, I got to meet several others who are stationed around the US and the world.

One of these new friends based in New Jersey, Bethany Halford, has this week’s C&EN cover story on the marine natural products, the bryostatins. These complex compounds were originally studied for anticancer activities but, as Bethany tells us, are now showing promise in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease.

And while Bethany tells us that the first bryozoan source of these compounds was collected in 1968 from Gulf Specimen Co., she resisted the urge to tell us that the company is in Panacea, Florida. (Here’s a definition and etymology of panacea.)

Go forth and read.


Halford, Bethany. Chemical & Engineering News

89(43): 10-17 (24 October 2011)

Cover story - The Bryostatins’ Tale

Profile on George (Bob) Pettit - Pioneer: Undersea Treasure Hunter

Natural product drug development – Drug Development: Taking the Long Route

Norman R. Farnsworth, grandaddy of medicinal plant research, passes at 81

Sadly, the Good Professor has left the stadium. In loving memory of Dr. Norman R. Farnsworth (1930 - 2011). Credit: Unidentified UIC graduate student.

Professor Norman Farnsworth, a true giant of pharmacognosy research, left us on Saturday night in Chicago. Farnsworth was Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the institution where he made his mark over the last 41 years studying the medicinal properties of agents from natural origins.

In 1982, he established the UIC Program for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical Sciences, a model for today’s interdisciplinary research programs.  Farnsworth also led the UIC/NIH Center for Dietary Supplements Research has been the most productive and continuously-operating center of its type in the US.

A decorated Korean War veteran, Farnsworth received his B.S. in pharmacy from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in 1953 and his PhD in pharmacognosy from the University of Pittsburgh. He remained at Pitt on faculty until joining UIC in 1970.

Farnsworth was truly a seminal figure in medicinal plant chemistry and biology, serving as a founder of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP) and the Society for Economic Botany, both in 1959. He was still a graduate student when he served as the first vice-president and second president of the ASP. Farnsworth had also served for the last 35 years on the editorial board of the Journal of Natural Products, the premier journal of the discipline from the American Chemical Society. He later founded the German-based journal, Phytomedicine, with another outstanding scientist, his longtime University of Munich colleague, Dr Hildebert Wagner.

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Fingolimod (Gilenya; Novartis) for Multiple Sclerosis

ResearchBlogging.orgA very well-written review of an orally-active drug for multiple sclerosis has just appeared in the April 25th issue of the Journal of Natural Products, a publication of ACS in conjunction with the American Society of Pharmacognosy.

The review, Fingolimod (FTY720): A Recently Approved Multiple Sclerosis Drug Based on a Fungal Secondary Metabolite, is co-authored by Cherilyn R. Strader, Cedric J. Pearce, and Nicholas H. Oberlies. In the interest of full disclosure, the latter two gentlemen are research collaborators of ours from Mycosynthetix, Inc. (Hillsborough, NC) and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. My esteemed colleague and senior author, Dr. Oberlies, modestly deflected my request to post here on the publication of this review.

So, I am instead writing this post to promote the excellent work of his student and first author, Cherilyn Strader. As of this morning, this review article is first on the list of most-read articles in the Journal. This status is noteworthy because the review has moved ahead of even the famed David Newman and Gordon Cragg review of natural product-sourced drugs of the last 25 years, the JNP equivalent of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (the album known for its record 14-year stay on the Billboard music charts.).

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