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April 24, 2007

Pharmacy program rises to top

The University of Louisiana at Monroe is focused on instruction, but the College of Pharmacy is bringing forward the school's research focus.

Research fluctuated in recent years, said Virginia Eaton, director of research and graduate studies. During the 2004-05 school year, ULM had 33 funded grants totaling $3 million. That dipped to 24 funded grants and $1.7 million in 2005-06. This year, ULM has 23 grants worth $2.2 million already funded and 21 more submitted.

Most of the research funding goes to pharmacy because more money is available in health sciences and science, Eaton said.
"We've got an intellectual property office that's taking off," Eaton said. "We have two patents pending and several other invention disclosures that could become patents."

The research capabilities of ULM, Louisiana Tech University in Ruston and Grambling State University were cited as keys to economic development in a study released last month. That study said the universities could spark the economy by providing an "innovation corridor" across northern Louisiana.

The pharmacy college, already rated world-class, is poised to make strong advancements, Eaton said. "It's really set to go places with the new facility and some of the new faculty that they've hired," Eaton said. "Biology is, too. They've brought in a lot of young guys."

ULM is researching techniques and treatments in cancer study, said Lamar Pritchard, dean.

Girish Shah, a pharmacy professor, recently patented a new test for prostate cancer, Pritchard said. Shah said he and his team have made breakthroughs in the last three years.

"We have been lucky to make major discoveries of very early processes that make cancer cells metastatic," Shah said. Metastasis is the state which makes cancer a killer, when the cancer starts to spread, he said.

"Our unique marker protein is produced only in cancerous prostate cells," Shah said.

He hopes the protein will eliminate false positives plaguing prostate cancer screens. Shah and Tech's Ji Fang are part of a larger collaboration to develop a high-sensitivity device to diagnose prostate cancer.

Sami Nazzal, assistant professor of basic pharmaceutical sciences, recently helped write grants for equipment to help in drug development and delivery. Nazzal said his research focuses on drug manufacturing for commercial use and drug delivery systems.

"After we discover an anti-cancer molecule, we have to think, 'How do we use it?' " Nazzal said.

A large chunk of pharmaceutical research goes into product development, and ULM's work helps companies make cheaper, better products, he said.

"You don't just dump a drug into a liquid," Nazzal said. "It takes effort to find the best way to deliver a product."

Nazzal's doctoral students have been working on time-released drugs and perfecting drugs to produce the most beneficial effect in the body.

"Everybody thinks drug-making is so simple," Nazzal said. "It takes so much effort — it's very expensive."

Paul Sylvester has isolated Vitamin E derivatives that are effective in fighting breast cancer, Pritchard said.

Yong-Yu Liu's work into bypassing the oncology resistance of certain cancer cells has been noted by the pharmaceutical industry, Pritchard said.

ULM lacks invested infrastructure to fuel more research, Pritchard said. As a teaching institution, the pharmacy department's top goal is to turn out pharmacists.

"The area is not ready from an infrastructure standpoint to support a health-care or pharmaceutical company," Pritchard said.

Better transportation options, including rail, air and trucking capability and governmental assistance are needed, he said

"Duke, UNC (University of North Carolina) and North Carolina State didn't bring in companies," Pritchard said. "The state of North Carolina did. To really draw in industry, you have to involve the state and local governments.

"We're heading in the right direction, but it's not going to happen overnight or magically."

Big money lies in patents, Pritchard said, pointing out the University of Florida's patent on Gatorade.

"If you can get your research to translate into income, economic change starts to happen," he said.

Other research projects conducted by individual investigators at ULM involve oil-and-gas pipeline mapping, computer information systems and biodiversity in northeastern Louisiana wildlife management.

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