• 29 Oct 2013

    UM scientists and collaborators publish article in prestigious National Academy of Sciences journal

    Report Reveals Human Health Potential of Endangered Plant Species

    OXFORD, Miss. – Many plant species facing extinction may contain metabolites that can fight human disease, according to a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The article – which reports work conducted by scientists in the University of MississippiSchool of Pharmacy and other collaborators – describes the human health implications associated with the protection and assessment of threatened and endangered plants.

    “This study reveals that endangered plants and their endophytes can provide potential treatments for serious human diseases,” said Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, the paper’s first author and a postdoctoral research associate at UM’s National Center for Natural Products Research.

    Specifically, the paper highlights a study of Diplostephium rhododendroides Hieron., a plant found only in the mountains of Ecuador and Colombia. The National Cancer Institute’s Natural Products Branch collected and screened the plant material to determine possible drug leads for treating hepatitis C virus, or HCV, and diabetes.

    “This plant is rare, and we were provided with a very limited amount of it,” Ibrahim said. “Because of the geographical location of this plant, collecting more was not feasible. This, in turn, required the use of state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation to isolate the plant’s biologically active compounds and determine their chemical structures.”

    Ibrahim and MinKyun Na, a former postdoctoral fellow at UM, isolated two sets of metabolites and confirmed their activity. Then Ibrahim was tasked with determining the complete structures of three complex glycosides.

    “The metabolites are unusually complex and would likely have never been discovered without an increased focus on studying and protecting rare plants,” he said. “I would spend my entire day on the computer looking for the smallest details in the structure. It took a considerable amount of time, but the efforts paid off.”

    UM pharmacognosy professor Mark T. Hamann directed the work of Ibrahim and a team of other students and collaborators to complete the study.

    “Two unique sets of drug leads were identified by Drs. Ibrahim and Na, one for HCV and another for diabetes,” said Hamann, the paper’s corresponding author. “Although neither set of molecules will likely be developed into actual treatments, this paper exemplifies the importance of preserving rare species and species diversity, with the goal of accessing these resources for treatments for emerging diseases in the future. I was thrilled to see the study, which reflects the extraordinary talent and dedication of our pharmacognosy graduate students, published in PNAS.”

    Joonseok Oh, a UM student pursuing a doctoral degree in pharmacognosy, created high-quality images of the structures and conducted molecular docking studies with Robert J. Doerksen, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry and one of the paper’s coauthors.

    “The extinction of such fragile plants would lead to the permanent loss of promising opportunities to develop unique and promising treatments,” Oh said.

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