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Students, teachers lead way for cancer research in SVG

Students, teachers lead way for cancer research in SVG

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Students at the St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College (SVGCC) are leading the way in anti-cancer research in St Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}}

Through the SVGCC/UNESCO Science Research Institute project, nine students and their supervisory teachers were involved in a five-week anti-cancer research project, in which they examined local plants and attempted to extract anti-cancer agents from them.

The project is the brainchild of Vincentian, Dr Baldwin King, who is a retired medicinal professor from Drew University in New Jersey, USA.

“He had this dream to extract from plants in St Vincent and the Grenadines, substances that may have properties that can be used in cancer treatment,” said the deputy director of the SVGCC Nigel Scott.

Chemistry lecturer Calicia Charles, was one of the supervisory teachers on the project, and explained the experiment process to SEARCHLIGHT.

“We collected large volumes of the plants and blended them with methanol. We did some extractions and got a crude sample and from that, we did a bioassay,” she said.

According to Wikipedia, a bioassay, or biological standardization, is a scientific experiment which is typically conducted to measure the effects of a substance on a living organism. Bioassays are essential in the development of new drugs and in monitoring environmental pollutants. A bioassay is a procedure for the determination of the concentration of a particular constitution of a mixture.

“We know that anything that kills cancer, kills bacterial cells. So, we would test the crude extract that we have on bacteria and if it kills the bacteria, then we know for sure we have some anti-cancer agent in the plant that we tested,” Charles said.

The project, which is a follow-up of a similar project done in 2011, focused on plants such as the periwinkle, lemon grass, carailla, soursop and piss-a-bed.

Scott noted that because of the funding provided by UNESCO, the students involved got a chance to experience new things that they normally would not have experienced.

“One of the good things about the project is that the students are utilizing some of the skills they have done only in theory,” Scott said.

The participants were divided into four groups, each with a supervisory teacher. Posters that outline the findings of the project were created and a showing of these posters took place last Friday, at the college.

Vinblastine and vincristine are two compounds that have been identified as anti-cancer substances and are found in plants such as the periwinkle.

Some of the students told SEARCHLIGHT that they set out to find these two compounds in the first week of the project, through a series of procedures, which included chromatography to identify the compounds.

One of the students, John Rickards, told SEARCHLIGHT that the experience has been very educational.

“It’s been a real learning process,” Rickards said.

“I had real fun, but also I learnt a lot and this will actually help me with second year, because some of the things I learned, they are more advanced, some university things, because I think this is the first time that bioassay has been done in St Vincent.”

Shannique Clarke explained that she chose to be a part of the project, “to be able to explore and see what research is like in the real world, to help with a career choice.”

Scott noted that persons interested in seeing what the plants that were used look like, may come to the college and visit the new herbarium that will house the samples.

“This year, we have added an element where they are preserving specimens to start a herbarium, so that anybody down the road wants to know ‘What exactly does piss-a-bed look like?’ they can actually come to the college, visit the herbarium and look to see the dried sample,” he said.

The students who were involved in the project are Shafel McDowall, Shanka Edwards, John Rickards, Angelina Questelles, Lafeisha Hadley, Alexandra DeFreitas, Shannique Clarke, Lleta Lewis and Britney John.

The supervisory teachers were Calicia Charles, Fezel Hamilton, Lonique Wallace, Marissa George and Keisean Stevenson.

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