Blacksburg, Va., March 16, 1998 -- Almost five years ago, a consortium of chemists, conservationists, and botanists began to work in Suriname to discover new drugs to treat human ills and to give the country reasons to preserve the diversity of its forests -- combining the ancient knowledge of shamans with modern chemical screening techniques and biotechnology. So far, the researchers have identified one novel compound with anticancer activity that has made it through several stages of tests at Bristol-Myers Squibb, identified another novel active compound with a structure that can be enhanced as an as analog, begun to develop new assays for the plants shamans use, identified a new species of plant, and saved some of the tropical forest from wood harvesting.
Virginia Tech Chemistry Professor David Kingston, principal investigator and group leader for the Suriname biodiversity utilization and conservation project, will talk about "Biodiversity Conservation and Drug Discovery: Explorations in Suriname's Tropical Rainforests" at the American Chemical Society's 215th National Meeting in Dallas, Texas, March 29-April 2. His invited talk is part of the Ernest Guenther Award in the Chemistry of Natural Products Symposium on Monday afternoon, March 30, at the Dallas Convention Center. (The award is being presented to G. Robert Pettit of Arizona State University.)
After conducting some 14,000 assays of more than 3,300 extracts, Virginia Tech has identified 30 different, unique extracts that have activity and has isolated 20 chemical compounds that have bioactivity. "You've got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince," says Kingston.
The most interesting compounds Virginia Tech has discovered are a group
of alkaloids from Eclipta alba that have good antifungal activity, better in
some cases than the clinically used drug amphotericin B. However, they also had
weak cytotoxicity, and the decision was thus made not to develop them
Contact: David G.I. Kingston