Utah researchers hope hunt for medicinal drugs helps save Papua New Guinea rainforests

SALT LAKE CITY--Two University of Utah College of Pharmacy faculty members will lead an international effort to search the diverse plant life of Papua New Guinea for drugs to treat tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases.

Funded by a $4 million International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) grant, the project also aims to encourage the people of that island-nation to conserve the fast-disappearing rainforest and help spur growth of a cottage industry in which plants are used to make medicinal drugs.

"The objective is to use drug discovery as a means of providing economic development and conservation of biodiversity," said Louis R. Barrows, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology, and the project's principal investigator.

Chris M. Ireland, Ph.D., professor and chair of medicinal chemistry, will serve as co-principal investigator. Other researchers come from the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; London, England; Wyeth Research; and the University of Papua New Guinea. The grant provides about $800,000 annually for five years and is supported by the Fogarty International Center and several other institutions within the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Papua New Guinea occupies half of the island of New Guinea north of Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. Lush in rainforests, the country totals only 1 percent of the world's land, but harbors an estimated 5 percent of plant and animal species. "It's an amazing place," Ireland said.

But logging and mining are destroying the rainforest at an alarming rate, and the country faces serious health issues, such as tuberculosis and malaria. The World Health Organization also considers Papua New Guinea at risk for an "explosion" of AIDS, according to Barrows.

At the urging of the National Cancer Institute, officials from the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) visited several U.S. academic insti

Contact: Louis Barrows, Ph.D.
University of Utah Health Sciences Center

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