November 11, 2009

The University of Kentucky is the lead institute in a group of universities that received a $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to study the molecular genetics and biochemical potential of medicinal plants.

"Our major goal is to capture the genetic blueprints of medicinal plants for the advancement of drug discovery and development," said Joseph Chappell, who is the project coordinator and professor of plant biochemistry in the UK College of Agriculture.

During the two-year project, researchers will look at the chemical composition of 14 medicinal plants. These include well-known plants, such as ginseng and foxglove, and others known for their medicinal and therapeutic values. Researchers will study the plants' genetic materials to determine key components that may be important in the treatment of human diseases with the goal of advancing the drug development pipeline. Researchers will also study how to improve the existing compounds to increase their efficacy.

Chappell's work includes obtaining materials for the 14 medicinal plants in the study. He will also do the initial processing of materials to determine the plants' genetic blueprints to study their chemical compositions.

"We are proud that Dr. Chappell is providing leadership for a national team of scientists, attesting to his recognized stature in the scientific community," said Nancy Cox, associate dean for research and director of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station. "This is one of the largest grants to the college in several years."

In addition to UK, project directors are located at Michigan State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Other member institutes include Iowa State University, University of Mississippi, Purdue University and Texas A & M University. The associated researchers represent a broad spectrum of expertise from plant biology to drug development.

"We are bringing together the talents and skills of experts from all of these institutions in hopes of forging a paradigm in drug discovery," Chappell said.

More information is available on the group's Web site at http://medicinalplantgenomics.msu.edu.

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