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 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27286330.

Paper:

State Organization Awards Three UM Pharmacy Professors

Professional society honors innovation and service

Jamie Wagner

OXFORD, Miss. – Three University of Mississippi professors from the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacy Practice were honored at the annual Mississippi Society for Health-System Pharmacists meeting.

Laurie Fleming, clinical associate professor at the pharmacy school, was the Health-System Pharmacist of the Year Award winner, chosen for her outstanding service, collaboration and significant contributions to the profession.

“It is an incredible honor to be recognized among some of the most impactful health system pharmacists in Mississippi,” Fleming said.

“Many of the past awardees have been mentors to me and have helped advance my career. This award motivates me to continue growing professionally so I can mentor other young pharmacists.”

Fleming has served MSHP in many capacities, including as past president and association manager. She directs the school’s Community Pharmacy Residency Program and won the Community Pharmacy Residency

Laurie Fleming

Excellence in Precepting Award from the American Pharmacists Association earlier this year.

 

Jamie Wagner, clinical assistant professor, won the Outstanding Young Health-System Pharmacist of the Year award, which honors exceptional service to a health care team, pharmacy or community by a practitioner with five years or fewer experience in health systems pharmacy practice.

“I am very excited to receive this award,” Wagner said. “It is truly an honor to be recognized for my efforts within the health system, and I hope this award continues to bolster the relationship between the medical center and the School of Pharmacy.”

Wagner will serve as chair of MSHP’s Education and Practice Committee in the upcoming term.

The Nutrition Support Service team at Mississippi Baptist Health System won the Innovative Health-System Pharmacy Practice Award. Clinical associate professor Phil Ayers leads the team.

Phil Ayers

This award honored the Nutrition Support Service’s new processes that guarantee the continuous delivery of nutrition support products for patients, a method that improved patient safety, eliminated waste and made significant contributions to the nutrition support community.

“I am proud to know and serve alongside these three exemplary pharmacists,” said David D. Allen, Ole Miss pharmacy dean. “We are fortunate to have such committed and service-minded faculty members on our team.”

NCNPR Director Named Honorary Member of Pharmacognosy Society

Ikhlas Khan recognized for his service to the professional group

Ikhlas Khan

OXFORD, Miss. – Ikhlas Khan, director of the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, has been named an honorary member of the American Society of Pharmacognosy.

Pharmacognosy, the study of medicinal drugs made from plants and other natural sources, is at the heart of Khan’s more-than-25-year career at the natural products center. Honorary membership signifies the society’s appreciation of Khan’s deep and continued involvement in promoting its mission of advancing the growth and development of pharmacognosy.

“I am very honored to be recognized in this way,” Khan said. “I have enjoyed being a part of the ASP’s community for many years and am pleased to be able to be able to represent the society.”

The ASP offers honorary memberships sporadically, doing so only when an individual has gone above and beyond to serve the organization. Besides contributing to the society’s leadership, the NCNPR and the ASP have co-hosted annual meetings that bring together members of the pharmacognosy community.

“Honorary memberships are reserved for individuals who make tremendous contributions to the society,” said David D. Allen, Ole Miss pharmacy dean. “I couldn’t be prouder of the work Ikhlas has done to be recognized with such an honor.”

Khan was officially inducted to the ASP at a banquet Aug. 3 in Portland, Oregon.

First-Year Pharmacy Students Receive White Coats

115 students take the Pledge of Professionalism at annual ceremony

UM pharmacy students take the Pledge of Professionalism at the School of Pharmacy’s annual White Coat Ceremony Aug. 10 in the Ford Center. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – For 115 first-year pharmacy students, the school year unofficially began Thursday (Aug. 10) at the White Coat Ceremony, where each received his or her white coat, a symbol of professionalism.

The annual event is an opportunity to formally impart the seriousness of a pharmacist’s responsibility to new pharmacy students. The students will wear their white coats to classes, assemblies and rotations throughout their four years in pharmacy school, demonstrating to themselves and to the public their professional commitment.

“The White Coat Ceremony provides an origination point for student pharmacists as they begin to see how their practice will impact their patients,” said David Gregory, associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Pharmacy. “Patients must always be at the forefront of our decisions as pharmacists.”

Many family members and friends attended the event at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Donna Strum, associate provost for academic affairs and professor of pharmacy administration, provided comments on behalf of the university.

“I ask you now to make a personal pledge to use your knowledge, your strength, your caring and your compassion to do all that you can to be worthy of the trust that your patients will place in you,” Strum said during the ceremony.

David D. Allen, dean of the UM School of Pharmacy, helps a student with his white coat during the annual ceremony Aug. 10 at the Ford Center. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Before receiving their coats, each student signed the Pledge of Professionalism that binds them to the responsibilities of a pharmacist. The document will be framed and hung in the pharmacy school.

“We are extremely proud of these students for completing their pre-pharmacy curriculum with such success, and we look forward to seeing their accomplishments in the professional program,” said David D. Allen, Ole Miss pharmacy dean. “The class of 2021 is exceptionally talented, and it’s a privilege for all of us in the School of Pharmacy to begin working with them on their journey toward becoming practicing pharmacists.”

Mississippi students in this year’s class of first professional year students are: Zachary Ryan Lawrence of Ackerman; Bailey Estes Boyd of Amory; Shannon Marie Buehler of Bay St. Louis; Lien Thi Kim Phan of Belden; Drew Ryan Boudreaux and Brennan Cole Hilton, both of Biloxi; Coy Austin Fitts of Blue Springs; Peyton Sara Elizabeth Black, Simone ElisabethAnna Black and Shandra Nichole Bouzemann, all of Brandon; Taylor Hayes of Caledonia; Hoa Van Pham of Clinton; Tori Clearman and Jonathan Newbaker, both of Collinsville; Jerrod Paul Bradley, Anna Kathryn Weathers and Leah Nicole Wilson, all of Columbus; Bradley Nathaniel Hastings and Brandon Nhek, both of Corinth; Jonathan Christian Wiggins of DeKalb; Sophia Marie Beddoe of Diamondhead; Jessie Bates of Falkner; Connor Hays Ainsworth of Florence; Miriah B. White of Flowood; Lindsay Leann Hedge of Forest; Katelyn Nicole Miller of Glen; Erin Alyssa Pounds of Golden; Kimberly Paige Porter of Grenada; Fenil Patel and Morgan Marie Woodard, both of Hattiesburg; Kristen Leigh Black of Houston; William Jackson Haines of Iuka; Stella Abiola Kelvyn-Olowola and Sydney Hamilton Watson, both of Jackson; Emily N. Wright of Laurel; Jonathan Michael McAdory of Louisville; Jonathan Gaston Box and William Alan Haygood, both of Madison; Abigail Rose Pearman, Logan Rae Satterfield, Christopher Lamar Waldron and Lelia Claire Calcote, all of Meridian; Krista M. Clifton and Shelby Diane Miller, both of Mooreville; Alicyn Gail Pyles of Moorhead; Bradley Howard of Moss Point; Anna Lee Warren of Mount Olive; Katelyn McKenzie Brown, Zachary Paul Myers and Alexis Taylor Rountree, all of Ocean Springs; Nathan Robert Allen of Olive Branch; Ashten Michelle Carter Anderson, Skylar Britt, My’Andra Brown, Emily Paige Cork, Niasha Naomi Davis, Rachell Denney, George Walton Ewing IV, Sean Harrison, Mary Clara Hayes, Kristen Leigh Hollingsworth, Billy Charles Huff III, Savannah Brooke Jackson, Jennah Lee, Sara Elizabeth Magyar, Morgan Mallette, Katelyn Victoria Mitchell, Lam Anh Nguyen, Hannah Jane Osowski, Madison Parker, Mary Kathryn Pearson, Laura Vaughn Phipps, Taylor Paige Richardson, William Joshua Stepp, Mary Paige Thrash, Jontae Deion Warren, Catherine Grace Wilson Jacob Ryan Smith, all of Oxford; William Luke Pannell of Pontotoc; Natasha Marie Lewis of Port Gibson; Gabrielle D. Arceo, Alex Brooks, Michelle R.A. de Almeida and Valerie Nicole Tatum, all of Ridgeland; Hoby Brice Mullins of Roxie; Taylor Paige Adcock of Sallis; William Berry Waters of Saucier; Ashley Nicole Foster and Lauren Bailey McPhail, both of Southaven; Kristen Adare Phipps of Taylorsville; Jeremy S. Ross of Tillatoba; Cassidy Lane Barnett, Carlos Logan Magana and Drake Wilson, all of Tupelo; Amber Madison Forsman of Vancleave; Zarah I. Drake of Vicksburg; and Danny Yang of Winona.

Out-of-state students in this year’s class of first professional year students are: Demetra Alexis Leara of Birmingham, Alabama; Sydney Rebecca Harrison of Clinton, Kentucky; Kelsey Regan Lock of Collierville, Tennessee; Mary Katherine Martin of Dothan, Alabama; Caroline Grace Culley of Evansville, Indiana; Elizabeth Grace DeMoss of Gallatin, Tennessee; Douglas Alan Dertien of Germantown, Tennessee; Emily Christine Rusciano of Hammond, Louisiana; Miranda Catherine Craft of Jackson, Missouri; Madison Sierra Kazerooni of Kennesaw, Georgia; Dominique Annabelle Dairion of Little Rock, Arkansas; Kendall Elise Kara of Merritt Island, Florida; Christina Tran of Mobile, Alabama; Meredith Ann Rossi of Monmouth Beach, New Jersey; Barry Cullen Flannery of Muscle Shoals, Alabama; Chelsea N. Suppinger of New Carlisle, Indiana; and Maria Christine Gorla and Caroline Ann Macek, both of St. Louis, Missouri.

NCNPR Signs Collaboration Agreement with Australian University

Research center has partnerships on all inhabited continents

Researchers work in a lab at the UM National Center for Natural Products Research, which has signed a collaboration agreement with the National Institute of Complementary Medicine in Australia. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Institute of Complementary Medicine in Australia, making the NCNPR part of research collaborations on every inhabited continent.

The agreement will allow the two entities to work together on research and other scholarly activities. The Ole Miss center’s similar partnerships around the world range from numerous research alliances in North America and Asia to collaborations in Brazil and South Africa.

The NICM, which is housed within Western Sydney University, focuses on researching natural products to create new drugs, as the NCNPR does. The centers’ joint endeavors may include co-authoring publications, sharing samples for study and jointly presenting research findings.

“We are pleased to work with another institute that cares about the safety and quality of natural products,” said Ikhlas Khan, NCNPR director. “We’re hoping this global collaboration will produce more research on new products that will be at the forefront of new medicines.”

This agreement will make sharing scientific resources and ideas for solving global health issues faster and easier. Both centers will benefit from each other’s expertise as part of the cooperation; Khan cited the NICM’s focus on clinical research and the NCNPR’s expertise in chemistry and biology as complementary disciplines.

The agreement supports the Australian government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda and Global Innovation Strategy, which advance international science and research collaboration, said Alan Bensoussan, director of the NICM.

“This is an exciting opportunity for sharing our capabilities and supporting each other’s research with interlab validations, development of intellectual property and clinical testing of products,” Bensoussan said. “We look forward to future exchanges.”

Since 2000, more than 200 visiting scientists from around the world have come to the NCNPR as part of these research exchanges.

“These partnerships the NCNPR fosters not only help to spread the benefits of research, but they promote international goodwill and collaboration,” said David D. Allen, dean of the UM School of Pharmacy.

Pharmacy School and Diabetes Patients Collaborate on Research

Researchers invite people with condition to contribute to ongoing project

Participants discuss issues important to them in treating and managing diabetes during the recent conference in Oxford. Photo by David Allen III

OXFORD, Miss. – Capping off nearly a year of discussions with people who have diabetes and diabetes stakeholders across the state, researchers from the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy invited them all to a meeting in Oxford to generate diabetes research questions as part of a research initiative.

Researchers involved in the project, called “PaRTICIpate in Diabetes Self-Management Research Collaborative: A Conference Series,” invited people with diabetes to a series of meetings throughout northern Mississippi to ask how they manage their symptoms and to help them manage their condition. All participants were invited to the culminating meeting in late June.

“The synergy of having people from all these different communities talking to one another meant that they came up with totally new and novel ideas for diabetes care,” said Meagen Rosenthal, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Administration and co-lead investigator for the project.

The patients’ discussions also underscored ways in which different communities approach diabetes prevention and management. When a participant discovered that some health resources in her community were not available in another, she and others began brainstorming ways to share the resources.

At the end of the meeting, the researchers and graduate students assisting them had more than enough data and suggestions to begin narrowing down their list of research questions.

“Now that we have these questions, the next step is to figure out how we will keep the patients engaged,” said Erin Holmes, associate professor of pharmacy administration and co-lead investigator. “We want their input on what is important to them and how we can potentially work together to move these solutions forward.”

Once the questions are finalized, the researchers will present their information to clinicians and stakeholders in several Mississippi communities in hopes of partnering to leverage the research into something greater. They also will ask patients to weigh in on which questions they are most eager to see answered.

“We want the patients to be involved, start to finish, as much as they want to be,” Rosenthal said.

As part of the researchers’ objective to ensure patients benefited from the experience, a dietician and a pharmacist attended the meeting to offer advice about how to manage diabetes symptoms, as well as to dispel myths about the disease.

“We wanted to make sure that we were not just taking from communities, but that we were giving back,” Rosenthal said. “What patients said they needed was more knowledge and more health resources.”

The feedback was tremendous, and patients are eager to remain engaged with the project, Holmes said.

“I think they feel like they learned a lot and they contributed a lot,” she said. “They played the most important role in this, and my impression is that they felt like they made a difference.”

This project was funded through a Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Award, No. 3335, from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

Pharmacy Professor Honored with Educational Innovation Award

Jamie Wagner praised for effort to improve focus and understanding in classroom settings

Jamie Wagner

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi pharmacy professor received the 2017 Innovations in Continuing Pharmacy Education Award from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy at its annual meeting Sunday (July 16) in Nashville.

Jamie Wagner, a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice, was awarded for a continuing education activity she created that uses polling technology to help an audience retain information and remain engaged. The award honors an individual who develops and demonstrates an original technique to promote pharmacy-related learning.

Wagner’s activity, called “Use of audience response technology to improve participation, understanding and comprehension of content within a HIV pharmacotherapy CPE activity,” was selected by the AACP’s Section of Continuing Professional Development.

“This award helped give me confidence to continue striving for more innovative techniques in my teaching and presentations,” Wagner said.

The awards committee called the technique “a truly an innovative program with creative use of audience response software.”

“Dr. Wagner put forth great effort and care in the design and implementation of therapeutic content to meet the programmatic targets and intended audience,” said Seena Haines, chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the UM School of Pharmacy. “This is a well-deserved honor.”

UM and Jackson State Partner to Further Pharmacy Education

Preferred Admission Program offers JSU students spots in professional program

The UM School of Pharmacy is partnering with Jackson State University to offer qualified JSU students admission to the pharmacy school. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. ­­­– In an effort to provide more opportunities for aspiring pharmacists, the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy and Jackson State University have collaborated to create the Preferred Admission Program, which offers qualified JSU students admission to the UM pharmacy school.

“We saw a need to allow students around the state to complete their pre-pharmacy requirements closer to home, and in some cases, at a lower cost,” said David Gregory, associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Pharmacy. “Additionally, we are both hoping to enhance the number of students in our applicant pool.”

As per the agreement, JSU students who perform well in pre-pharmacy coursework and are involved in service activities may be admitted to the School of Pharmacy after the first semester of their freshman year. The program is set to begin this fall, with the first JSU applicants coming to the Ole Miss campus in 2019 to begin work on their Pharm.D.

Pre-health professions students from Jackson State University visit the UM School of Pharmacy earlier this year for a tour of campus and to work on a compounding activity. Photo by Chelsea Bennett

“We are elated that our bright and dedicated students have an opportunity to engage in such a prestigious program,” said Richard A. Aló, dean of the JSU College of Science, Engineering and Technology. “We look forward to witnessing the impact this partnership will have on their lives and the field of public health.”

Students admitted via the Preferred Admission Program will be on the School of Pharmacy’s standard graduation track and will be held to the pharmacy school’s academic and service expectations. The school will maintain its class size of 115 students in each of its four Pharm.D. years.

Kandis Backus

The partnership is “aligned with the university’s priorities of excellence, as well as with our mission,” UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“This expanded access to professional pharmacy education is an important step toward promoting STEM education and impacting the lives, health and well-being of Mississippians.”

Kandis Backus attended JSU as an undergrad and received her Pharm.D. at UM in 2017. During one of Gregory’s visits to JSU, she came along to share her experience at Ole Miss with JSU pre-pharmacy students.

“The tireless pursuit of students’ dreams is common to both schools,” Backus said. “Ole Miss wants students to succeed, and they work to help students graduate.”

This partnership comes in the midst of a statewide pharmacist shortage, which contributes to a stable job market for those graduating with Doctor of Pharmacy degrees. Mississippi has the third-highest shortage of pharmacists in the nation, according to the most recent data from the Pharmacist Demand Indicator.

“We are committed to doing all we can to make sure bright and compassionate students have the opportunity to contribute to the health care landscape,” said David D. Allen, dean of the School of Pharmacy. “This partnership is a step toward ensuring the future of our essential profession.”

Pharmacy Professors Named Distinguished Teaching Scholars

Awards recognize exceptional dedication to education and student service

Kim Adcock, professor of pharmacy practice, also works with children in her role as director of pediatric clinical research at the UM Medical Center. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Four professors in the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy have been recognized as Distinguished Teaching Scholars for a three-year term. This honor recognizes exceptional teachers and colleagues who promote effective teaching and learning.

The recipients are Kim Adcock, professor of pharmacy practice; Robert Doerksen, associate professor of medicinal chemistry; Erin Holmes, associate professor of pharmacy administration; and John Rimoldi, professor of medicinal chemistry.

Besides teaching in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, Adcock is the department’s director of faculty and academic affairs, as well as a professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics at the UM Medical Center.

Robert Doerksen

“Dr. Adcock consistently seeks innovative ways to improve our courses and to provide meaningful learning experiences,” said Seena Haines, chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice.

 

“She not only applies this commitment to teaching excellence to her own course contributions, but works on a daily basis to enhance colleagues’ teaching skills, improve the quality of course offerings and increase involvement in scholarship related to teaching.”

Adcock’s passion for teaching and research is evident in her interactions with students and in her active promotion of the pharmacy profession, Haines said.

Doerksen joined the School of Pharmacy faculty in 2004 and was the winner of the 2011 and 2016 Faculty Service Awards.

Erin Holmes

Veena Gadepalli, a former Ole Miss graduate student, said Doerksen influenced her in nearly every aspect during her time in the pharmacy school, saying he was an inspiration for the professional she wanted to become.

“Robert’s passion for teaching is incredible,” said David Colby, associate professor of medicinal chemistry. “Just listening to him lecture and present is stunning as he effortlessly incorporates humor and wit into highly complex topics.

 

“Robert continually strives to provide instruction and content at the highest level.”

This is Holmes’ second consecutive Distinguished Teaching Scholar recognition. She was also honored with the 2012 Friend of the Student Award from the pharmacy student body.

John Bentley, chair of the pharmacy administration department, called Holmes an “outstanding educator with a contagious enthusiasm” that is well known throughout the school.

“Her commitment to the school, the profession of pharmacy and the academic discipline of pharmacy

John Rimoldi, who recently received the university’s 2017 Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, is renowned on campus for teaching excellence and exceptional student engagement. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

administration is remarkable,” Bentley said. “Dr. Holmes is a wonderful colleague and a valued member of our team. She’s an academic triple threat: outstanding in teaching, research and service.”

Rimoldi was awarded the university’s 2017 Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award for teaching excellence and exceptional student engagement, as well as the pharmacy school’s 2017 PY1 Teacher of the Year. This is his third consecutive Distinguished Teaching Scholar award.

 

“John is one of the very best educators that we have in the school, and his commitment to student learning is really unparalleled,” said Kristie Willett, chair of the biomolecular sciences department. “He is an incredible asset to our department, school and university.”

Willett went on to say that Rimoldi was “foundational” for her own teaching methodology in the early stages of her career. She points to his commitment to students and his unique instructional delivery as especially exceptional.

Natural Products Center, USDA Team to Create Natural Insect Repellents

Goal is to find safer alternatives to harsh synthetic chemicals

Charles Cantrell, a research chemist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, examines a burning dried male flower from a breadfruit tree, which people in some parts of the world burn to repel mosquitoes and other biting insects. Photo courtesy USDA-ARS photographer Peggy Greb

OXFORD, Miss. – An ongoing partnership between the Natural Products Utilization Research Unit at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research is looking to nature to develop environmentally safe chemicals to manage pests.

The collaboration includes roughly a dozen research projects dedicated to creating natural agrochemicals, such as insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. Charles Cantrell, a research chemist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, works with the NCNPR, a unit of the UM School of Pharmacy, to identify these natural sources that may prove useful as insect repellents.

“There is really a consumer demand for more natural insect repellents that are safer and better for the environment,” Cantrell said.

This partnership began around 2005 when Charles Bryson, an ARS botanist from Stoneville, came to the NCNPR with an idea. He told of how his grandfather would put clippings of American beautyberry, a plant native to Mississippi, in the harnesses of his stock animals while they were in his fields.

The plant repelled horseflies from the animals and repelled mosquitoes from the farmer when he rubbed its crushed leaves onto his skin.

The investigation into this particular remedy led to the discovery of a chemical called callicarpenal that was proven to repel bugs, but was ultimately too expensive for mass production. Since then, the natural products center has actively tested folk and traditional botanical remedies for repelling insects in hopes of finding chemicals that can be made into natural repellents.

“No natural repellent currently on the market is as effective as the two best synthetic repellents, DEET and picaridin,” said Stephen Duke, ARS research leader of the Natural Products Utilization Research Unit. “Finding a highly effective, all-natural insect repellent is important to many members of the public.”

One potential source of natural insect repellent is the breadfruit tree, which is native to Hawaii. The breadfruit flower repels nearby mosquitoes when dried and burned. Scientists from the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii approached the NCNPR to find out why and how this works.

To begin this study, Cantrell’s team first proved that burning the breadfruit repelled mosquitoes, and then identified the specific fatty acids in the smoke that caused this effect. The lab is working with commercial partners interested in developing these fatty acids into all-natural insect repellents.

Before the product becomes commercially available, Cantrell’s lab or the commercial partner must register the product with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Amber Reichley, a physical science technician in Charles Cantrell’s USDA Natural Products Utilization Research Unit laboratory at the National Center for Natural Products Research, prepares saffron extract for studies aimed at finding natural insect repellents. UM photo by Sydney Slotkin DuPriest

“One of the advantages of the chemicals in the breadfruit is that they can be marketed as natural products,” Cantrell said. “We do create synthetic versions of chemicals sometimes, just to improve their activity, but a lot of companies are looking for all-natural insect repellents.”

Once Cantrell’s lab identifies a potential natural repellent, he sends it to Abbas Ali, a research scientist in the natural products center, who tests the compound to see if it’s effective.

“Our goal is to find a natural alternative to DEET,” Ali said. “We are looking for something that will be safer for children.”

The university recently filed a patent application for a new natural insect repellent and is seeking a development and commercialization partner.

Another insect repellent study in progress at NCNPR uses sweetgrass, a plant native to the northern U.S. and southern Canada. Because the grass has a sweet scent, it is particularly well-suited for a commercial product.

“Local native people would braid the grass and wear it around their neck or store it in their clothing,” Cantrell said. “It gives off just enough of the chemical to repel mosquitoes, and you don’t even have to burn it.”

Not all research projects come from knowledge of traditional practices. Sometimes scientists will gather plants from around the world and conduct random screenings to test them for beneficial chemicals.

Besides finding properties for agrochemicals, these tests can also lead to the discovery of new drugs.

“The Agricultural Research Service has been a great partner of ours,” said Ikhlas Khan, NCNPR director. “One of the benefits of having USDA, NCNPR and the university faculty all in the School of Pharmacy is that discoveries from our combined resources and expertise can benefit multiple areas.”