NMU Board Hears About Plant's Potential to Slow Brain Tumor Growth

Alex Wilson and Matthew Jennings (back center) give a presentation to the NMU Board of Trustees

Faculty and students from Northern Michigan University's Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center (UMBTC) and the medicinal plant chemistry program are engaged in collaborative research on a U.P. plant's potential to slow the growth of brain tumor cells. Faculty representing both areas gave a presentation on the project to the NMU Board of Trustees during its formal session on Friday.

Many people associate the medicinal plant chemistry program with cannabis, but this research focuses on the Liverwort, a medicinal plant that grows in the Upper Peninsula.

“Initially, a very crude chemical extract was produced from the Liverwort and was tested on brain tumor cells,” said Rob Winn, executive director of the UMBTC and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “That data indicated that the crude extract significantly slowed the growth of the tumor cells. The initial extract was shown to contain over 300 different compounds. Using skills that are taught in the medicinal plant chemistry program, coupled with the work of the UMBTC, they have currently isolated 12 compounds from the Liverwort that have the greatest effect on slowing tumor growth. Continued research will refine the 12 compounds down to those most effective and then identify their structures.” 

In the UMBTC, Winn said the goal will be to determine the final compounds' mechanism of action, or specifically how they are able to slow tumor growth. Additional research will explore what effect the compounds might have on normal brain cells, at what doses they prove effective, and whether they have any other impacts on brain tumor cells in addition to slowing proliferation.

In their presentation to the board, Assistant Professors Alex Wilson and Matthew Jennings detailed the project.

“Some of these compounds have been explored for other human conditions,” Wilson said in his concluding remarks. “It looks like we may have happened upon some useful compounds, but the research is very preliminary. We haven't narrowed it down to a specific substance; there is still lots to do. But the interdisciplinary nature of this research can't be overstated in terms of the different sets of training Northern students are getting by working on this project.”  

To demonstrate the value of the collaborative approach, Jennings shared an achievement by medicinal plant chemistry major Jacob Cortez to secure a research technician position at the Houston Methodist Research Institute in the lab of Shu-Hsai Chen, PhD.

“I would not have expected him to be as competitive for the position without the combined research background he has obtained in Alex's lab and at the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center. The skill sets he learned between the two labs set him apart from other applicants and made him far more competitive.”

At the UMBTC, students learn research techniques while improving the neuro-oncology field's understanding of glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive and common type of brain cancer, with the goal of improving treatment methods and outcomes. The effort is a collaboration with UP Health System-Marquette.

In other action or activities at today's meeting, the board:

-Agreed that the Hospitality Management program's new student-run restaurant in the Northern Center be named North Fork: NMU's Teaching Kitchen. 

-Approved a donation of three pieces of equipment valued at $158,000 from Resolve Surgical Technologies, which was accepted through the NMU Foundation for use by the Department of Engineering Technology.

-Approved the following 2024 meeting schedule: Feb. 15-16; May 2-3; July 18-19; Sept. 19-20; and Dec. 12-13.

-Granted promotions to the following faculty members in the College of Technology and Occupational Sciences: Heidi Blanck, to professor; and Evan Lucas, to associate professor.

-Learned more about NMU's partnerships with the following sectors: business and industry; community colleges and other transfer entities; and Michigan Talent Together, which offers free degree and teacher certification pathways for aspiring educators.

-Extended special recognition to NMU Athletic Director, former Wildcat hockey head coach and 1973 alumnus Rick Comley for being among the 2023 inductees into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the NMU Board of Trustees is Dec. 14-15.

Prepared By

Kristi Evans
News Director

Categories: Around NMU, Strategic Plan