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UofL receives $3.15 million grant from Helmsley Charitable Trust

The University of Louisville has received a $3.15 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to support the UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center and cancer research taking place in Owensboro. The grant will be matched with state "Bucks for Brains" funding to bring more than $4.5 million to the Owensboro Cancer Research Program (OCRP).

"When we established this program in partnership with Owensboro Medical Health System (OMHS) in 2006, we envisioned other significant organizations joining us in our effort to create and develop novel approaches to preventing and treating cancer," said Dr. James Ramsey, president of the University of Louisville. "This gift from the Helmsley Trust moves our vision forward and is recognition for the importance of the work taking place here."

"We are excited to see the fine work of the James Graham Brown Cancer Center and Owensboro Medical Health System expand through this public/private initiative," noted John Codey, trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust. "The promise of plant-based pharmaceuticals and vaccines to dramatically improve healthcare at reduced cost is both exciting and critically important."

The grant and state matching funds will be used to create an endowed faculty position for a nationally recognized researcher in plant-based pharmaceuticals, as well as creating two new faculty members to expand and enhance the research program.

The tobacco-based process involves inserting genes needed for drug development into the tobacco genome. The leaves are then harvested, processed and purified to derive a key ingredient.

Projects underway at OCRP include, but are not limited to, the development of a plant-based vaccine to prevent HIV, understanding how changes in the calcium-signaling pathway of stem cells impacts the development and continued growth of lung cancer cells, as well as determining whether the interaction of the heavy metal cadmium with tobacco-derived carcinogens contributes to the development of lung cancer in smokers.

"Plant-based pharmaceutical systems have a number of advantages," said Dr. Donald Miller, director of the James Graham Brown Cancer Center. "The costs for starting materials are low, which translates into a lower production cost. The materials are readily available, meaning that we are able to increase production levels relatively quickly. Additionally, plant-based therapies have fewer issues with potential contamination than those utilizing other materials such as animal or human pathogens."

The collaboration between UofL and OMHS is greatly enhanced because of Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), located in Owensboro. KBP is a world leader in the development and execution of scalable processes for commercial scale production of plant-made pharmaceuticals. Established by OMHS in 2006, KBP has developed a network of relationships with leading PMP researchers from across the globe.

"We have a tremendous amount of resources in the Owensboro region to assist in the research to develop new therapies to prevent or treat cancer," said Jeff Barber, Dr. PH, president and chief executive officer of OMHS. "It is exciting that we have the opportunity to develop cancer cures that could someday benefit patients around the globe."

The Owensboro Cancer Research Program is devoted to unlocking the potential of plant-made pharmaceuticals. The research and drug development program takes advantage of the natural products and agricultural industries in the Owensboro region to address diseases impacting the area, especially those that are tobacco-related. Ultimately, the partnership's goal is to create less expensive drugs for cancer prevention and treatment.

Right now researchers with the James Graham Brown Cancer Center and OCRP are working to develop a second-generation cervical cancer vaccine grown in tobacco plants in order to make it affordable to millions of women worldwide. A vaccine of this type will be most beneficial in women in rural parts of the United States, India and Sub-Saharan Africa.


Contact: Lauren Williams
University of Louisville

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