Cyrus Chestnut Quartet to Perform at Ford Center

Thursday show is first in the 2017-18 Jazz Series

The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet performs Thursday at the Ford Center. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts will host a night of jazz Thursday (Sept. 14) with the Cyrus Chestnut Quartet.

Chestnut, a Baltimore native and soulful jazz pianist, blends contemporary, traditional and gospel jazz styles with soulful sounds and a mix of Latin and samba. His style allows him to explore a wide range of emotions with his music, all while keeping it under the jazz umbrella.

The performance is part of the 2017-18 Jazz Series, made possible by a gift to the Ford Center from Marty and John Dunbar.

“We are looking forward to opening our first Jazz Series with the Cyrus Chestnut Quartet,” said Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director. “We are truly grateful to the Dunbars for their generosity. It’s a great addition to our season and a wonderful opportunity for our students.”

Chestnut also will conduct a master class at noon Wednesday (Sept. 13) in Nutt Auditorium. The class is free and open to the public.

The New York Times praised Chestnut’s performance at a previous concert: “His brand of crisp articulation and blues inflected harmony evokes another era … multifaceted and dynamic. … Mr. Chestnut was the evening’s star and he brought charisma to the role.”

Tickets are $25 for the orchestra, parterre and tier 1 box levels, $20 for the mezzanine and tier 2 box level and $18 for balcony seating. All tickets are available at the UM Box Office, inside the Ford Center. Tickets can also be purchased online at

School of Business Administration Kicks Off Centennial

Receptions, commemorative book planned to celebrate 100 years of excellence

Alumni, faculty and staff of the UM School of Business Administration gather in the courtyard of Holman Hall to kick off the observance of the school’s centennial. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Business Administration kicked off its centennial celebration Friday (Sept. 8) with an early fall reception for faculty, staff and alumni in the courtyard of Holman Hall.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter led his remarks by recalling the state of the university in 1917, the year the business school was established. That year, the university had an incoming class of 150 students, the population of Mississippi was 1.8 million, John D. Rockefeller became the world’s first billionaire and only 8 percent of homes had a telephone.

This fall, the school has more than 3,800 students, 63 faculty members and 18 people, making it the largest business school in Mississippi. It offers 11 majors, a top 10 insurance program and a new Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“I challenge the School of Business to imagine a future in which we increase entrepreneurship and connections to businesses and other external entities to support research programs, academic programs and creative initiatives,” Vitter said. “Our school of business is well-poised to increase the reach and potential of the university’s creative outputs and garner additional resources to propel us to even great heights of excellence.”

New banners celebrating the milestone have gone up on the outside columns of the school as students settle into a new academic year. The business school also hosted a tent in the Circle for tailgating around the Ole Miss-University of Tennessee at Martin game for faculty, staff and alumni.

“This centennial celebration is really a celebration of human accomplishment, a celebration of the people who have been dedicated for 100 years to improving the understanding, the teaching and the service to advance business and business principles,” said Noel Wilkin, the university’s interim provost. “One hundred years is a significant milestone, one that signifies the perseverance of human accomplishment toward improving the practice of business for an entire century.”

The Master of Business Administration program, started in 1941, is ranked among the nation’s best, at No. 36 among the nation’s public universities by Bloomberg Businessweek News Service, and the online program came in at No. 22 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 ranking.

“Thousands of lives have been changed, thousands of opportunities created and thousands of people making a difference,” said Ken Cyree, dean of the School of Business Administration.

“I look forward to the next 100 years and know we are poised to do great things with the dedication and commitment of this group of people in the business school.”

In honor of the centennial, the UM Foundation has created the 1917 Order, a fundraising effort to recruit faculty, provide scholarships and increase class offerings, among many other initiatives. Membership begins with a gift of $25,000 or greater, with pledges scheduled over five years.

“To grow the endowment for the UM School of Business Administration, we have created the 1917 Order,” said Tim Noss, development officer for the school. “This effort will allow us to continue to grow in national rankings, recruit top students and faculty, and reach for new heights of excellence for the school.”

The school has relaunched BusinessFirst, the school’s magazine, which was distributed to alumni and friends by mail and given out at the celebration Friday. The magazine features alumnus Gen. Major Leon Collins on the cover and includes stories on a myriad of programs, students, faculty and alumni.

A report on the Risk Management and Insurance program’s recognition as one of 12 programs in the U.S. to receive the prestigious Global Centers of Insurance Excellent designation at the International Insurance Society’s Global Insurance Form in London is among the features included in the magazine.

Other highlights include the efforts of a group of MBA students to help a friend paralyzed in a car accident; the student portfolio team coming in fourth in the TVA Investment Challenge, among 23 other schools, with an 11.95 percent return; and the Rebel Venture Capital Fund, a group of alumni who invest in student-run startup business to help them grow.

The school’s leadership has planned two more events to continue the centennial celebration throughout the fall. On Oct. 17, Chancellor Jeffrey and Sharon Vitter will host the business school students at Carrier House.

The final event is set for 5 p.m. Nov. 10 at Off Square Books on the Oxford Square, where a celebration and book signing will take place for “Ole Miss Business: The First 100 Years,” a 160-page illustrated history of the school forthcoming from Nautilus Press.

A number of alumni, featured in the book, will be at Off Square Books to sign their individual pages, and the school’s communication officers, Stella Connell and Chad Hathcock, will screen a video commemorating “100 Years of Ole Miss Business.”

All Ole Miss alumni are invited to attend the Square Books event and celebrate the centennial with business school faculty, staff, alumni and friends.

Visiting Professor to Discuss Foods of Slave Trade Thursday at UM

Judith Carney featured speaker of the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program

Judith Carney

OXFORD, Miss. – A geographer from the University of California at Los Angeles will discuss foods grown by African slaves Thursday (Sept. 14) at the University of Mississippi.

Judith Carney begins her lecture, “Seeds of Memory: Food Legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” at 5:30 p.m. in the Tupelo Room of Barnard Observatory. Her appearance, part of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society’s Visiting Scholar Program, is free and open to the public.

The event is co-sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and its departments of History and Modern Languages, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“Professor Carney’s lecture on the contribution of the transatlantic slave trade to the foodways of the Americas, including the southeastern United States, will give people a new perspective on something very familiar: the food on their plates,” said William Schenck, associate director of UM’s Croft Institute for International Studies and president of the UM chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

“It will also highlight the agency of enslaved African people, who, using their knowledge about the cultivation of African plants to feed themselves, created a new food culture, with important consequences for what – and how – we eat today.”

Carney’s research centers on African ecology and development, food security and agrarian change and African contributions to New World environmental history. She is the author of “Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas” (Harvard University Press, 2001) and “In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World” (University of California Press, 2010).

“This talk shifts our usual historical focus from the export crops slaves produced to the foods they planted for their own sustenance,” Carney said. “The lecture emphasizes the role of African foods in provisioning the transatlantic slave trade, the slave ship as a medium for their circulation and the slave food plots where these foods initially appeared.

“In doing so, it underscores the significance of the transatlantic slave trade for the circulation of African plants, animals and natural knowledge in the Atlantic world.”

Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization in the liberal arts. Chartered in 2001, the UM chapter is the second of two in Mississippi and the only one sheltered at a public university in the state.

“An event such as this is the epitome of cultural opportunity available to those living in a college town,” said Sandra Spiroff, associate professor of mathematics and vice president of the chapter.

“The Visiting Scholar Program provides the community free access to presentations by national researchers on a variety of topics and potentially challenges the listener to consider viewpoints other than his or her own. For students of all ages, this is a particular aim of a liberal education.”

UM Creates Department of Higher Education

Interim chair Neal Hutchens plans to launch a new minor and increase campus partnerships

Faculty members serving in the new UM Department of Higher Education Faculty are (from left) Phillis George, Whitney Webb, Brandi Hephner LaBanc, John Holleman, Amy Wells Dolan, K.B. Melear, Neal Hutchens and George McClellan. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education is home to a new Department of Higher Education, with legal scholar Neal Hutchens as its interim chair and professor.

The new department, which has eight full-time faculty members, several affiliate faculty throughout the university and more than 200 graduate students, was previously part of the university’s Department of Leadership and Counselor Education. It will function as an independent unit within the School of Education.

“To be part of creating a new department is a rare and unique opportunity,” Hutchens said. “We have built a vibrant and expanding team of higher education faculty and students, and this department allows us to be a visible part of the university community and establish an identity in terms of how we serve the university, the state and beyond.”

The creation of a new department at the School of Education follows the recent growth of new online and hybrid degree programs designed for working higher education practitioners.

The department offers four graduate programs including online and traditional master’s degrees in higher education/student personnel, as well as Ph.D. and a hybrid Ed.D., which is a professional doctorate that combines online and face-to-face learning for higher education professionals.

“We are extremely excited to launch our new Department of Higher Education,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “The growth of our new professional doctorate and master’s degrees for working professionals supports the need for this new organizational unit. 

“We are also creating new possibilities for undergraduate courses in the higher education arena that may even expand into a minor in higher education for the entire campus.”

The department serves as the academic unit overseeing multiple undergraduate courses, including EDHE 105, a course taken by hundreds of Ole Miss undergraduates each year and a collaboration with the university’s Division of Student Affairs.

As interim chair, Hutchens hopes to launch an undergraduate minor in higher education, strengthen and build new partnerships with units throughout campus, and implement an outreach and engagement plan to highlight the accomplishments of faculty, students and alumni.

An expert in first amendment and free speech issues, Hutchens joined UM in 2016 after serving as the professor in charge of higher education at Pennsylvania State University. He also held faculty positions at the University of Kentucky and Barry University.

Hutchens earned a Ph.D. in higher education policy from the University of Maryland, a law degree from the University of Alabama, a master’s degree from Auburn University at Montgomery and a bachelor’s degree from Samford University.

“We have a really strong collection of individuals among our full-time and affiliate faculty,” Hutchens said. “They are strong scholars and just really good people. It is an honor to be part of this team and to serve as our new department’s interim chair going forward.”

Math and Science Center Moves into Renovated Facility

Jackson Avenue Center space will allow CMSE to operate more efficiently

The staff of the CMSE is happy to reclaim its offices in the renovated facility. Left to right: E. Paige Gillentine, Julie James, Amanda Pham, Audra Polk, Mannie Lowe, Meredith Miller, Alice Steimle, Whitney Jackson, Ashley Masinelli, April Kilpatrick and Justin Ragland. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Center for Mathematics and Science Education has moved back into its renovated facility at the Jackson Avenue Center.

The CMSE’s offices were updated over four months after part of the building was damaged in February. The renovated office is upgraded from the original cinder block wall facility and is specially designed for the STEM education center.

“The CMSE has visitors from K-12 schools and universities around the state, nation and occasionally, the world,” said John O’Haver, the center’s director. “At least part of the perception of any organization is its physical appearance.

“The CMSE has grown so much from its origins, adding professional development, robotics and chess outreach and other activities. Having space that can be more efficiently utilized will help the center operate more smoothly.”

The CMSE’s renovations, in addition to improved aesthetics, will provide better sound management with a mix of solid walls and cubicles for individual offices. The new office space also features enhanced lighting with more access to natural light and upgraded heating, cooling and ventilation.

The center, housed within the School of Education, was established in 2006 to improve science and math education in the state but it has grown to be much more. Funded through grants and donations, the CMSE works with schools in the state to promote STEM fields to children through critical thinking activities.

The CMSE also hosts professional development for teachers in STEM fields, offers scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students and hosts camps and competitions for middle and high school students, such as the FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Competition, MATHCOUNTS, Catapult Competition and more.

During the four months of renovation, the staff occupied a classroom and a conference room in the Jackson Avenue Center.

Former State Supreme Court Justice Supports Law Students

Reuben Anderson hopes gift will help develop future leaders

Reuben and Phyllis Anderson. UM photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – Continuing his legacy of support to the University of Mississippi, retired state Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson’s most recent gift will provide scholarships for full-time law students.

Since becoming the first African-American graduate of the UM School of Law in 1967, Anderson and his wife, Phyllis, have committed more than $200,000 to the law school, to the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and to the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“The law school gave me so much. If it wasn’t for the law school, I probably wouldn’t be a lawyer. The people I had contact with when I was there played a major role in my life and I want them to be remembered,” said Anderson, specifically naming Josh Morse, former law dean.

“But probably more than anything else, I think it’s important that the law school stay strong, attract Mississippians and develop our leaders for the future. They’ve always done that and a little help on the scholarship end can be beneficial. I think it’s important that we continue to attract people to stay in Mississippi and not leave.”

Anderson is a senior partner at the Phelps Dunbar LLP law firm in Jackson. He attended Jackson public schools and earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Tougaloo College in 1964 before enrolling in law school. In 1967, he was admitted to the Mississippi State Bar.

His professional experience includes serving as Mississippi associate counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. in 1967-75; a partner with Anderson, Banks, Nichols & Stewart, 1968-77; municipal judge for the city of Jackson, 1975-77; county court judge for Hinds County, 1977-82; judge for the Seventh Circuit Court District of Mississippi, 1982-85; Mississippi Supreme Court justice, 1985-90; and the Jamie L. Whitten Chair of Law and Government at UM, fall 1995.

“All of it can be attributed to the fact that I got a solid legal education at the Ole Miss law school,” Anderson said. “I’ve always thought the law school was a great institution. I think it’s world-class. It has a great faculty and leadership and a great incoming new dean.”

Dean Susan Duncan said she is grateful for Anderson and other alumni and friends who choose to support the school.

“We are so appreciative of Reuben Anderson and his support to the law school,” she said. “Gifts like his enable us to offer scholarships to our students, which help alleviate the financial burden of a legal education. Mr. Anderson is truly making a difference with his contribution.”

Anderson received a wealth of recognitions throughout his legal career. Among others, he is the first African-American to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court and the first African-American president of the Mississippi Bar, and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America.

He was inducted into the National Bar Association Hall of Fame in 2009, the UM School of Law Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame in 1995. He was presented the Mississippi Bar’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 and is the namesake for the Reuben V. Anderson Pre-Law Society at Tougaloo College. He also provided leadership as president of the state Chamber of Commerce in 2001 and as a member of the UM Foundation board of directors.

Anderson has served on the boards of directors of AT&T in Dallas; The Kroger Co. of Cincinnati; MINACT Inc. and Trustmark National Bank, both in Jackson; Mississippi Chemical of Yazoo City; Burlington Resources of Houston, Texas; and BellSouth in Atlanta.

Anderson is a member of the 100 Black Men of Jackson and the U.S. Supreme Court, the American, Mississippi, Hinds County, Magnolia, National and U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals bar associations.

The Andersons have three children – Vincent, Raina and Rosalyn – and two grandchildren, James and Anderson.

“We are at a time when private support is essential for law students and ultimately the stability of the law school itself,” said Suzette Matthews, the school’s development officer. “Mr. Anderson’s vision for the future will impact the lives of hundreds of law students and help to shape law practice in Mississippi in the future. We are deeply grateful for his generous support.”

Individuals and organizations may make gifts to the Reuben V. Anderson Law Scholarship Endowment by mailing a check with the designation noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; visiting or contacting Suzette Matthews at 601-937-1497 or

Annual UM 9/11 Memorial Run Set for Monday

First responders and general public invited to offer support and participate

The University of Mississippi ROTC programs’ 9/11 Memorial Run is set for Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 at 5:30 a.m. The event is annually held in remembrance of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s ROTC programs host the annual 9/11 Memorial Run at 5:30 a.m. Monday in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. 

Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on New York and Washington. The run, which is in remembrance of the victims and the first responders who came to their aid, begins in front of the Lyceum steps and continues to the Oxford Square and back. 

All local first responders and the public are invited to the run, which is open to anyone who wants to either participate or show their support by encouraging the runners. 

“The Memorial Run is dedicated to remembering the lives that were lost during the 9/11 terror attacks and also the brave men and women who responded to the attack,” said Scott Caldwell, recruiting operations officer for UM’s Army ROTC. “The 9/11 Memorial Run helps remind members of the local community of the importance of coming together in times of crisis.”

The university’s Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force ROTC programs host the event each year. Ole Miss is one of the nation’s few universities to have all four branches of military service represented on campus, Caldwell said.

The run is an important event that brings together all the ROTC military services and local first responders, he said.

This year’s event will feature commemorative T-shirts and a display of 3,000 flags in honor of the victims, among other improvements to the program, said Army ROTC cadet Donald Lorbecke, a senior mechanical engineering major from Madison, Alabama.

“The 9/11 run has been showing the bond between military, firefighters, police and the Ole Miss community,” Lorbecke said. “Every year, we have an impressive crowd that shows up and does the 2 miles to the Square.” 

The ROTC groups look forward to the event each year, said Joshua Duff, Army ROTC cadet battalion commander and a senior public policy leadership major from Pontotoc.

“It is an event mainly organized by cadets, and we take great care in ensuring the significance of this event is recognized,” Duff said. “This event is a time for us to honor the memories of the lives lost that day and pay tribute to the service of the men and women who responded so bravely.

“Also, it is a time for us to reflect on the importance of our future service to this great country and what it is that we are fighting to preserve.” 

Journalism Professor Releases Book Detailing 1962 Integration

Kathleen Wickham examines the work of 12 different journalists in 'We Believed We Were Immortal'

UM journalism professor Kathleen Wickham has penned a new book, ‘We Believed We Were Immortal,’ focusing on the work of journalists who covered the university’s 1962 integration. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi journalism professor explores the careers of American journalists in her new nonfiction book “We Believed We Were Immortal: Twelve Reporters Who Covered the 1962 Integration Crisis at Ole Miss.”

Kathleen Wickham’s book, published by Yoknapatawpha Press, details how each journalist covered a different part of the integration crisis, from Gov. Ross Barnett’s opposition to James Meredith’s enrollment to the reaction of African-Americans in Oxford. Wickham details the challenges these journalists faced, including beatings, snipers and opposition from the governor.

She also examines the unsolved murder of French reporter Paul Guihard, the only journalist killed during the civil rights movement. The story of Guihard, who was shot in the back during the campus  riots in 1962, struck Wickham as personal.

“I had worked as a reporter for 10 years in my native New Jersey,” Wickham said. “I wrote stories that sent some crooked politicians to jail. I wrote stories about organized crime. I wrote a lot of stories that public officials did not like. But I never felt like my personal safety was compromised.

“If Guihard had been killed in Birmingham or in Selma, I’m not sure it would have been so personal to me, but it happened on a path that I walked almost daily to go to class, and so it became personal.”

The longer Wickham lived in Mississippi, the more interested she became in the stories of these reporters and their commitment, especially Guihard.

For the last five years, Wickham has researched the press’s role in major events, such as integration.

“These reporters were driven to seek the truth and inform the public about what was going on in Oxford in 1962,” she said.

The preface was written by Bob Schieffer of CBS News, who covered the campus riots as a reporter for Texas radio station KXOL.

Wickham will be available to sign copies of the book at 5 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 12) at Off Square Books in Oxford. Shewill also will sign books at Novel bookstore in Memphis at 6 p.m. Sept. 15 and at Lemuria Books in Jackson at 5 p.m. Sept. 21.

Autism Expert Headlines UM Conference

Annual Ole Miss Fall Institute provides continuing education and networking opportunities

Jessica Dykstra Steinbrenner

OXFORD, Miss. – Each year, one of every 68 children will be diagnosed with autism, according to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Identification and treatment of autism is vital, according to Lisa Ivy, a speech-language pathologist and clinical instructor in University of Mississippi Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Identifying the core features of Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, will be the first learning objective that autism expert and certified speech-language pathologist Jessica Dykstra Steinbrenner will discuss at the 16th annual Ole Miss Fall Institute, set for Sept. 14-15 at The Inn at Ole Miss

“Evidence-Based Practice in School-Based Settings for Children and Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum” is the topic for this year’s institute.

“We selected the topic of autism based upon participant requests from our 2016 conference,” Ivy said. “As children with autism are identified earlier, school-based speech-language pathologists and teachers need the most updated diagnostic and treatment resources available.” ​

The department and the campus chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association host the institute each year to offer an opportunity for speech-language pathologists to earn continuing education units and learn more about developments in their field. This student-planned event gives students a chance to develop professional and organizational leadership skills under the mentorship of Ivy and Brad Crowe, co-director of the UM Speech and Hearing Clinic and clinical instructor.

This year’s topic will benefit not only speech-language pathologists, but also classroom teachers, special education teachers, school administrators and parents, Ivy said.

Steinbrenner will discuss ASD across the school years and different learning styles of those with the disorder. She will present the latest information about assessments to diagnose and evaluate needs, choosing target goals, selecting strategies and interventions, and data-based decision making.

She also will address and provide evidence-based practice guides for communication, social skills, engagement and play. She plans to close with a discussion on general tips and strategies and on challenging behavior.

Steinbrenner is a research scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina. With research interests in school-based interventions for individuals with ASD, Steinbrenner is working for the Center on Secondary Education for Students with ASD to develop a comprehensive intervention program for high school students.

She has worked as a speech-language pathologist with elementary and middle school children with ASD and other developmental disabilities. She has publications in numerous professional journals, as well as two textbook chapters.

“As a nationally recognized scholar, Dr. Steinbrenner aligns well with the applied-science focus on the importance of having evidenced-based research direct clinical practice protocols,” said Teresa Carithers, interim dean of the UM School of Applied Sciences.

Online registration for the event is encouraged, as seating will be limited. The cost of the two-day event is $260 if paid before Sept. 13, and $275 for on-site registration. A link to the secure payment site is available at

In conjunction with the institute, the Ole Miss chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association will host a 5-K run benefitting the Sarah Wheat Voice Lab. The facility, used for evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with voice disorders, is named after Sarah Wheat, a gifted graduate student in communication sciences and disorders who died in 2012.

Registration is $25 for timed runners and $15 for non-timed runners or walkers. To register, visit

Anyone wanting to make donations in lieu of race participation can write a check payable to the Sarah Wheat Voice Laboratory Fund and mail to 100 George Hall; 325 Rebel Drive; University, MS 38677.

For more information about the Ole Miss Fall Institute, email





UM Cancer Institute Researchers Receive International Recognition

Team honored for work revealing bacterial role in echinacea's immune-boosting power

Nirmal Pugh (left), Colin Jackson and David Pasco gather in Pasco’s lab in the National Center for Natural Products Research on the University of Mississippi’s Oxford campus. Jackson, an associate professor of biology, worked with Pasco and Pugh on their study of the role of bacteria in echinacea’s immune-enhancing properties. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – For two decades, David Pasco has pursued the discovery of plants that can enhance a person’s immune system.

Pasco, a pharmacognosist, is a longtime researcher and associate director of the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research and director of the Drug Discovery Core at the University of Mississippi Medical Center Cancer Institute.

This week, the work of Pasco and his lab was recognized in Basel, Switzerland, when a paper published in September 2016 was named the Most Innovative Paper published that year in Planta Medica, the journal of the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research.

The paper delves into the bacteria – think probiotics – in echinacea that cause it to enhance a person’s immune system. For years, scientists have pointed to other components of the plant as the workhorse in improving immune function.

“For over 30 years, scientists researching the immune enhancing properties of plants have thought that the active ingredients were plant-derived polysaccharides,” Pasco said “This paper shows that it’s the bacteria living inside the plants.”

For the study, Pasco and his colleagues extracted the bacteria found within several kinds of echinacea and let them grow on cell-culture plates. They then measured the bacteria’s ability to stimulate macrophages, a type of cell that helps protect against infections.

“We found that in echinacea, and in many other plants used for immune enhancement, that components of the bacteria that live within these plants naturally are the main thing that would enhance immune functions,” he said.

Work on this paper proved his point: It’s the bacteria, not the host plant’s compounds, that enhance the immune system. That means scientists can measure how effective a supplement derived from a plant will be by counting the bacteria in each sample. The more bacteria, the stronger the immune-enhancing properties.

The amount of bacteria accounted for half of the extract’s activity. Pasco and his colleagues found that some groups of bacteria, called proteobacteria, had more activity than others. This means that it’s not only how many bacteria an Echinacea plant contains, but also which kinds.

Nirmal Pugh (left), a senior scientist at the National Center for Natural Products Research, accepts the award for Most Innovative Paper of 2016 from Planta Medica in Basel, Switzerland, on Monday (Sept. 4). Submitted photo

“We identified all the bacteria that were in each sample that could contribute to this kind of activity,” he said. “The bottom line of the paper was if we added up the contribution to macrophage activation of all the different bacteria we found within the plant, we could predict how much activity an extract from the plant would have.

“That pretty much tells you the activity must be coming from the bacteria.”

“This award speaks to David’s perseverance,” said Ikhlas Khan, NCNPR director. “New ideas always get more scrutiny, but David and his team worked hard to prove what they believed in. This finding opens up roads to explore the interworking of medicinal plants and microbes.”

For now, Pasco is holding back his excitement on the journal publication and the resulting award. Nirmal D.C. Pugh, NCNPR senior scientist, who worked on this research with Pasco since he was a graduate student, traveled to Switzerland to accept the award.

Pasco wants more. He wants to see his work with another immune-enhancing natural product, the blue-green algae Spirulina, used to help cancer patients.

The supplement, which contains the same but higher levels of one of these bacterial components, could improve the efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitors, which are effective for about 30 percent of patients who use them.

“When we can demonstrate that this extract has a powerful impact on chemo patients or enhances the effectiveness of checkpoint inhibitors, then I’ll get excited,” he said.

Checkpoint inhibitors work by telling a person’s immune system that a cell, such as a cancer cell, is foreign and should be attacked.

The product is extracted from Spirulina and has been licensed to a company that is marketing it as a dietary and food supplement ingredient. Experiments in mice show it can reduce tumor load, the number of cancer cells in the body, by 75 percent. UM is seeking development partners for the product in the pharmaceutical or adjuvant therapy markets.

“The idea that bacteria present in the environment can be beneficial to humans is increasingly being recognized,” said Dr. John Ruckdeschel, Cancer Institute director. “That we may, in turn, exploit these beneficial aspects to enhance therapy for cancer is an exciting next step.”

The extract already has been tested in humans and successfully boosted several aspects of the immune system. Since chemotherapy and radiation therapy tend to deplete the immune system, having a natural product that boosts it could help patients’ successfully complete treatment.

To learn more about the team’s research, read the paper at