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UH Hilo College of Pharmacy leads effort to study traditional medicine; builds global identity

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Date: Monday, November 17, 2008
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

Teams of scientists from four universities, led by the College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, are presenting a large-scale research concept to the National Science Foundation (NSF) in order to study traditional medicine. The universities involved are UH Hilo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rutgers University and Purdue University.

“Research is becoming more of a collaborative effort because of fiscal limitations and the complexity of problems we face,” said Dr. John Pezzuto, dean of the College of Pharmacy in Hilo. “It’s important for us to reach out to other schools to share our expertise and also to show we are a competitive force in the educational arena. It’s also an important step in gaining final approval in the accreditation process, which will take place when our first class graduates in 2011.”

Using advanced analytical technology such as X-ray diffraction, spectroscopy and bioanalytics, the researchers will investigate how characteristics of traditional medicines affect how they work in people. The relationships will be pulled together with informatics and bioinformatics, or the computational organization and analysis of the data. The researchers hope to fill a gap in how to identify the important elements of traditional medicine to treat serious diseases.

“Many traditional medicines have hundreds, perhaps thousands of years of history and it is almost certain that some of them could provide important leads for new drugs or new uses for old medicines,” Pezzuto said.

Team leaders from UH Hilo are Dr. Robert Borris, associate dean for research in pharmacy, and Dr. Kenneth Morris, professor of pharmaceutics. Faculty from the departments of biology and chemistry are helping to lead the effort, as well as other faculty from throughout the College of Pharmacy.

The NSF Science and Technology program is designed to support large-scale research across institutions to advance and create new science. This pre-proposal will be decided on after April 2009, and will be one of the many ways UH Hilo’s College of Pharmacy is building a strong research reputation in the global healthcare industry, Pezzuto said.

To help communicate this vision, Pezzuto is presenting an invited lecture, co-authored with Morris, to scientists at the Seventh Annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research. The conference, held in Washington, D.C. this week, is organized by the American Association for Cancer Research. Current work, conducted through a collaborative project involving UH Hilo College of Pharmacy, Purdue University, Scripts Institute of Oceanography and the University Illinois at Chicago, is funded by the National Cancer Institute. The lecture focuses on linking traditional medicine to advanced informatics, which is already used for the redesign of drug manufacturing and gene research.

“Our research is really based on the theory that we can extract the important therapeutic knowledge from complex systems without having to take it apart at the molecular level,” said Morris, who also is the committee chair for the Food and Drug Administration’s Advisory Committee for Pharmaceutical Science and Clinical Pharmacology. “For example, we can know that a tree provides shade without having to understand what every cell in every leaf is doing. What’s important is that we understand enough to make the tree grow.”

This concept is also the point of a paper Morris co-authored with Dr. Venkat Venkatasubramanian from Purdue University entitled, “Drinking from the fire hose.” The paper, published in September’s Pharmaceutical Technology Europe, explores methods the pharmaceutical industry is using to keep up with modern technology and global competitiveness.

UH Hilo’s flagship College of Pharmacy is the only school in the Pacific basin to offer a doctorate in pharmacy degree. The degree, also called a Pharm.D., is a professional degree requiring four years of study after completion of at least two years in a pre-pharmacy program in an accredited college or university.

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