MTSU Could Be on the Brink of Medical Research Breakthrough…Thanks to China

By Lee Rennick

Middle Tennessee State University took a giant step forward towards becoming a significant research center with the building of their new facilities for the School of Basic and Applied Science and with the creation of the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research (TCBMR).

The Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research has been gaining attention in the last few years with their exclusive collaboration with the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants in Nanning, China. The Tennessee Center and Botanical Garden have come together to develop accelerated methods of creating Western medicines from botanical extracts to fight cancer. This partnership may soon put MTSU on the global map for medicinal research.

The Botanical Garden is the depository the largest collection of plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  With over 5,000 plants to explore, the Botanical Garden worked with the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development in Beijing to develop a proprietary process to extract active compounds from the plants, while the Tennessee Center has discovered a means to rapidly screen the compounds for anticancer, antiviral, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal, antihelminthic and immunomodulator action.

Our relationship started as a series of investigational conversations thanks to [MTSU President] Dr. [Sydney] McPhee’s extensive contacts in China,” said Dr. Elliot Altman, Director of the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, “and then [we did] some trial experiments. MTSU was able to deliver the results that the institutes wanted and our collaboration began.”

Already the Botanical Garden has identified over 800 plants that have been used to treat a number of illnesses successfully through traditional Chinese medicine. They are currently in the process of creating extracts from each of these plants. But each extract represents between 20 and 100 compounds.

Looking at each compound individually could take years, but this is where Altman and his team have made an impact. They have found a way to screen the extracts quickly looking for agents in the compounds that show promise in treating disease.

I think what we are most proud of is our approach,” said Altman. ”At the TCBMR, biologists and chemists work closely together to identify the active ingredients… The biologists screen the plant extracts for antibacterial, anticancer, antifungal, antiprotozoal, antiviral and immunomodulator activities, while the chemists purify the active ingredients from the extracts to determine their structure and develop approaches to synthesize or derivatize the active ingredients.”

Altman and his team have already processed over 50 plants and identified almost 30 compounds that may be viable to be replicated and taken to the market. They are now working to identify the pure compounds. Once purified, each compound must be retested for viability and then tested for toxicity.

“We have three very promising pure compounds,” stated Altman. “One that is an antifungal agent, one… is an anticancer agent, and one … is an immunomodulator for treating autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.”

During their research, they also have the ability to discover products not directly related to the treatment of disease. Once such product is a superior over the counter Gingko derivative for the nutritional supplement market.

According to a recent article published on MTSU’s website, they will share a 50-50 split in profits from any marketable products developed through this collaboration and hold worldwide rights (excluding China) to patent and market products developed through the partnership.

The Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research (TCBMR) was originally endorsed by Governor Bill Haslam and approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents on June 24, 2011.  MTSU and the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants recently extended their pact through 2021.

Altman looks forward to continuing the pursuit of the TCBMR’s primary goal to develop new drugs and nutritional supplements from botanicals. The research has not only opened the door to finding a cure for some of humanity’s most feared diseases, but it has facilitated a number of collaborations with Chinese institutes and universities that are also studying the plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). 

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