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University of Maryland School of Medicine Researchers Focus on Anti-Cancer Properties of Jamaican Indigenous Plants

August 05, 2015

Henry Lowe, PhD, DSc

Discovering Plant-Based Compounds That Can Be Used to Treat Disease

 Can medicinal plants be used to help treat some cancers and other diseases? That’s the question being investigated by two University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) researchers, and will be the focus of a new biotech company based in Baltimore, MD. 
 
Henry Lowe, PhD, DSc, an Adjunct Professor of Medicine, along with Joseph Bryant, DVM, Associate Professor of Pathology and Director, Animal Models Division, at the UM SOM’s Institute of Human Virology (IHV), have been investigating the therapeutic potential of several plants native to Jamaica, which have demonstrated in several studies that they have potential as therapeutic agents. The IHV has been at the forefront of research to understand, treat and prevent diseases such as chronic viral infections and cancers since it was formed in 1996.  
 
This research, in conjunction with the Bio-Tech R&D Institute at University of the West Indies in Mona (founded by Dr. Lowe), is focused specifically on the role that these plants may play in treating cancers, as well as inflammation, diabetes and HIV/AIDS.  The Bio-Tech R & D Institute has developed more than 20 products from Jamaica’s medicinal plants, which are marketed internationally.  
Dr. Bryant, who is a Board-Certified Laboratory Veterinarian with a background in Comparative Medicine, is conducting his current research program at IHV as an extension of work he began at the National Institutes of Health.  He has worked with Dr. Lowe for the past 10 years after a researcher at Morgan State University in Baltimore recommended that he look at Dr. Lowe’s work being done with the biological potentials of Jamaica’s medicinal plants particularly those showing anti-cancer potentials.
 
Dr. Lowe’s multidisciplinary research team at IHV also includes Ngeh J. Toyang, PhD, Research Associate, whose background is in studying the medicinal potentials of the isolates of medicinal plants.  Dr. Toyang holds a PhD in pharmacognosy from the University of Leiden, The Netherlands. 
 
The primary focus of their research which has so far demonstrated the most promise is the Jamaican medicinal plant commonly called “Ball Moss” (Tillandsia recurvate),  Thus far, the results have looked promising, Dr. Lowe says, noting that he has published numerous peer reviewed studies and has been granted several U.S. patents from his discoveries. “Over the past 10 years, working with the IHV team, we have demonstrated significant anti-cancer activities of the plant isolates,” he says.  “Now, with the acceptance of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to further evaluate two (2) of the bioactive molecules isolated from the Ball Moss and with the strong preclinical studies, which have been done, we are confident that we developed a product that can be added to the fight against cancer.” 
 
In order to further the work to commercialization, Dr. Lowe has established a commercial venture called Education and Scientific, LLC, in Baltimore, MD, where the researchers will conduct further research and development (R&D) work on these plant compounds and develop new pharmaceutical and “nutraceutical” products.  The company will work with the UM SOM and the University’s UM Ventures program, which helps UM faculty and students bring scientific discoveries to market by providing consulting and business services. 
 
“The collaboration between Dr. Lowe and his team at IHV led by Dr. Bryant is yet another example of the IHV’s fearlessness in exploring the most cutting-edge therapies,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Vice President, Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine.  “Treating cancer has been one of the greatest challenges of modern medicine, and this type of ‘out of the box’ approach could be a valuable strategy in cancer research.” 

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

 The University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 and is the first public medical school in the United States and continues today as an innovative leader in accelerating innovation and discovery in medicine. The School of Medicine is the founding school of the University of Maryland and is an integral part of the 11-campus University System of Maryland. Located on the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine works closely with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide a research-intensive, academic and clinically based education. With 43 academic departments, centers and institutes and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians and research scientists plus more than $400 million in extramural funding, the School is regarded as one of the leading biomedical research institutions in the U.S. with top-tier faculty and programs in cancer, brain science, surgery and transplantation, trauma and emergency medicine, vaccine development and human genomics, among other centers of excellence. The School is not only concerned with the health of the citizens of Maryland and the nation, but also has a global presence, with research and treatment facilities in more than 35 countries around the world. Visit us at medschool.umaryland.edu/

About IHV

The IHV is the first center in the United States to combine the disciplines of basic science, epidemiology and clinical research in a concerted effort to speed the discovery of diagnostics and therapeutics for a wide variety of chronic and deadly viral and immune disorders - most notably HIV, the cause of AIDS. The Institute is home to some of the most globally-recognized and world-renowned experts in the field of human virology. IHV, co-founded by Robert Gallo, MD, was established to create and establish a world-class center of excellence focusing on chronic viral diseases, especially HIV/AIDS and infectious agents involved in the origin of human cancers

About Dr. Henry Lowe

Dr. Lowe is internationally recognized for his research in the field of “Ethno-medicinal Chemistry, Molecular Pharmacology and Biochemistry.”  A Jamaican-born medicinal chemist, he has extensively studied the potential for plant-based compounds to treat a range of chronic diseases – including cancers, diabetes and viral diseases – for nearly 50 years.  Dr. Lowe has published 25 books as well as several refereed journal articles, as well as others in the popular press. In 2014, he was awarded Jamaica’s National Gold Medal for his contributions to Science and Technology.  Dr. Lowe was born in Kingston, Jamaica and attended the University of the West Indies where he graduated with BSc (Hons.) in Natural Sciences (London University/University College of the West Indies).  He then received his MSc degree from the University of Sydney, in Sydney, Australia and his PhD degree from Manchester University in Manchester, England.  He recently published his autobiography titled “It Can Be Done.”  
He has served as a member on the board of several major institutions such as universities, professional associations, business, health and scientific organizations around the world.  He has membership in several major international institutions such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, life membership in the New York Academy of Sciences, the Postgraduate Association at Harvard Medical School, the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, and the American Association for Cancer Research.

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