Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy

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Potential for naturally derived therapeutics: the Caribbean as a model – insights from the conference on therapeutics and functional genomics Simone Badal, Aneisha Collins-Fairclough, Cheryl Stewart & Keriayn Smith To cite this article: Simone Badal, Aneisha Collins-Fairclough, Cheryl Stewart & Keriayn Smith (2014) Potential for naturally derived therapeutics: the Caribbean as a model – insights from the conference on therapeutics and functional genomics, Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy, 14:10, 1541-1544, DOI: 10.1517/14712598.2014.935333 To link to this article:

Published online: 30 Jun 2014.

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Date: 05 November 2015, At: 13:19

Meeting Highlights




Summary of speakers


Expert opinion

Potential for naturally derived therapeutics: the Caribbean as a model -- insights from the conference on therapeutics and functional genomics Simone Badal, Aneisha Collins-Fairclough, Cheryl Stewart & Keriayn Smith†

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University of North Carolina, Department of Genetics, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

The 2nd Annual Conference of the Society for Scientific Advancement (SoSA) was convened to integrate three research areas towards the development of therapies that will help to reduce disease burden in the Caribbean. Held in Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica, on November 22, 2013, the meeting assembled experts in the areas of genomics, stem cell research and natural medicine. The speakers represented the University of the West Indies, Mona and St. Augustine campuses, the University of Technology, and faculty from the USA and Africa. Sponsorship of this meeting supports SoSA’s goal of stimulating translational research in the Caribbean. Keywords: Caribbean, genomics, nutraceuticals, society for scientific advancement, stem cells Expert Opin. Biol. Ther. (2014) 14(10):1541-1544



The Society for Scientific Advancement (SoSA) hosted its second annual conference on the largest and most historic university campus in Jamaica, The University of the West Indies, Mona. The SoSA conference was conceptualized as a way to bring together eminent scientists from the Caribbean and across the world in order to encourage intellectual discourse and stimulate collaborations. It is hoped that through sessions that represent an intersection between current globally groundbreaking research and Caribbean concerns, important relationships will be forged. This will provide a means by which Caribbean questions can be addressed through relevant research. The theme of the conference was ‘Therapeutics and Functional Genomics’, with the aim of unleashing rapid technological advances to support the development of therapies in the region. The four conference sessions were: i) The Keynote Lecture on the Human Genome; ii) Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine; iii) Caribbean Resources: Therapies and Preservation; and iv) Application of Functional Genomics. The human genome is encoded in DNA, which is a fundamental determinant of the organism’s functions and features. Genomics paves the way for man to garner knowledge of self and the biotic environment. SoSA included genomics in its 2013 annual conference theme in recognition of the existing local infrastructure and the benefits that local researchers could gain from incorporating more advanced genomics into their studies. Presenters shared current research that utilized genomics; these were designing synthetic vaccines, the identification of soil microbes for bioremediation of oil spills, elucidating a possible role of the human microbiome in diabetes and an overview of pharmacogenomics. The research studies presented utilized genomics to acquire insights and generate answers to international environmental and health problems, which parallels many challenges in the Caribbean. The 10.1517/14712598.2014.935333 © 2014 Informa UK, Ltd. ISSN 1471-2598, e-ISSN 1744-7682 All rights reserved: reproduction in whole or in part not permitted


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S. Badal et al.

conference therefore highlighted a range of pertinent ways in which local researchers could incorporate genomics and international collaboration. These include responding to existing national challenges in environmental pollution as well as disease diagnostics and treatment. Stem cell research is an area that focuses on the utilization of undifferentiated cells that are capable of self-renewal. These cells have the capacity to differentiate into other cell types that make up various tissues of the body [1,2]. From a therapeutic perspective, two types of stem cells can be defined: pluripotent cells, which can be obtained from embryos or by reprogramming adult cells to generate induced pluripotent stem cells, and adult stem cells of which hematopoietic stem cells or mesenchymal stem cells presently have significant therapeutic potential. Stem cell therapy has been practiced for many years in the form of bone marrow transplantation, primarily for hematological malignancies. Today, stem cell research for therapeutic development is accelerating rapidly in many countries, in contrast to the past when it was limited to the developed world. However, this area of cellular therapeutics is lagging in the Caribbean, of which areas to be investigated could include exploration of i) stem cell programming to treat communicable diseases, ii) regeneration of myocardia in cardiovascular disease, iii) treatment of various degenerative diseases of, and injury to the nervous system, iv) therapy for skin maladies, and v) regeneration of insulin-producing b-cells in diabetes. Another conference session was geared toward examining Caribbean resources in terms of their therapeutic potential and preservation. Exploring Caribbean resources is an area that can provide solutions for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which were reported by The World Health Organization as leading causes of mortality in the world, representing over 60% of all deaths [3]. The nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industries currently aim to provide solutions in the form of treatments or cures for these diseases though there is room for much development in the common and rare disease space. As has been the case historically, many new solutions can be derived from plant sources. Folklore practices inspired the genesis of research, which has contributed to many drug therapies including the anticancer drugs, vincristine and vinblastine. However, there remains many untested plants [4], especially endemic ones that reside in the biodiversity hotspots [5]. 2.

Summary of speakers

Genomics Michael Pepper (University of Pretoria, South Africa) opened with a broad review of the state of genomics research, and progress and impact on therapeutic advances to date. He summarized the sequencing of the human genome, including the prevalence of the noncoding regions versus protein-coding genes and the implications for personalized medicine. He further described the applications of genomics in molecular 2.1


medicine. Toward his goal of developing vaccines against human and animal pathogens, Sanjay Vashee (J. Craig Venter Institute, Maryland, USA) described his work employing the synthetic genomics technology to combat contagious bacterial pleuropneumonia. As this disease is a significant economic burden in Africa, his research program is a model for forging collaborations among developed and developing countries such that advanced technologies can be applied to significant health/agricultural problems. Eric Triplett (University of Florida, Gainesville, USA) discussed his work that utilizes functional genomics in examining the role of the human microbiome in diabetes. The information he provided is especially relevant for Caribbean researchers in this field given the high prevalence of diabetes in the region [6]. Marcia Roye (University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica), described current genomics technologies and various sequencing and analysis platforms, with a focus on the advantages and disadvantages especially regarding the feasibility of utilizing them in the regional context where institutions have significant financial constraints. Stem cell session Michael Pepper elaborated on efforts geared toward examining the potential use of stem cells to alleviate infectious diseases and NCDs. Kedambady Shetty (University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica) discussed his work, which examines the effects of alcohol on the contribution of bone marrow-derived cells to vasculature of various organs. Rashida Wisdom (University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica) presented investigations into mechanisms behind neurogenesis after intracerebral hemorrhage. 2.2

The Caribbean, a source of grave potential Rupika Delgoda (Natural Products Institute, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica) described her work on the effect of Jamaican natural products from both endemic and nonendemic terrestrial and marine plants. Several of her tested isolates proved to be promising chemopreventive agents and for one of these she has received a patent pending, still others proved to be more effective in reducing cancer cell viability while being potentially safer than known chemotherapeutics. She also discussed herbal safety and antimalaria agents. Jayaraj Jayaraman (University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago) detailed investigations into harvesting antimicrobials from seaweed extracts and evaluating bioactive compounds that inhibit bacterial virulence. The lectures given by Andrew Lamm (University of Technology, Jamaica) and Adesh Ramsubhag (University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago) emphasized the importance of protection and conservation of the region’s natural resources to facilitate their development for medicinal, agricultural or commercial purposes. Finally, Susan Lowe, a medical practitioner, described a natural-product based experimental therapy for interstitial cystitis. 2.3

Expert Opin. Biol. Ther. (2014) 14(10)

Potential for naturally-derived therapeutics

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The mini symposium

The conference hosted a mini symposium at the end of the four sessions to facilitate discussions among attendees about their experiences, constraints, solutions and opportunities in science. The national research challenges identified by the mini symposium included meager government funding for science research, destructive handling of scientific reagents at customs, nonexistent and sometimes incomplete national scientific policies that render locals susceptible to potentially negative impacts from new scientific innovations in developed regions, inadequate opportunities for development of early career scientists and low correspondence and visibility of science researchers within and between institutions. Following the inaugural mini symposium in 2012, growth of the SoSA membership enabled the launch of a program to educate and engage younger Jamaicans in science. This program is the STEM Talent Expansion through Promotion of Science (S.T.E.P.S.). The 2013 mini symposium further led to the development of a Science Policy committee whose mandate is to formulate corrective changes to existing bureaucratic challenges constraining research at the tertiary level. The final session allowed attendees to view posters and interact with each other and the day’s presenters. 3.

Expert opinion

In the Caribbean, quality and longevity of life is impeded by disease burden, as well as economic decline and stagnancy. Dietary changes including high sodium consumption and a reduction in fruit, nut, seed and whole grain intake often result in high blood pressure, high body mass index and increased fasting blood glucose levels. Altogether, these lifestyle changes contribute to increased occurrences of NCDs including ischemic heart disease and diabetes, which are the leading causes of health decline and death in the Caribbean [7]. Counteracting this increase in debilitating conditions requires technological advancements to conduct the development of contextually feasible solutions. Research of this nature is being conducted by conference speakers including Dr. Delgoda with the aim of developing anticancer treatment options that are safer and less expensive, resulting in improved quality and longevity of life. Funding continues to be one of the major challenges that researchers in the Caribbean face. In addition to limited government funding, some of the few granting bodies that offer research funding are the National Health Fund, Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education Fund and Forestry Conservation Fund, which sometimes lack sufficient funds to hold an annual call. International funding is primarily from

The World Academy of Sciences; countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago are no longer eligible for support from past funding bodies such as the International Foundation for Science. The lack of access to funding increases the tenure of MPhil and PhD students, and enrollment in graduate programs in science and technology are stagnant or declining for the period 2009 -- 2013 [8-12]. Despite an encouraging increase in citation of articles from science and technology faculty at the University of the West Indies, a major concern that remains is the low number of refereed publications that are curated in international databases [8-12]. These are problematic areas that affect the efficiency of promising research and also their transition to economic benefit. Improved and sustained collaborations with other universities from developed and developing countries alike will increase knowledge exchange, collaborative progress and access to cutting-edge research and funding; altogether, the result will be a strengthening of the research community and fostering an environment for scientific innovation. It is SoSA’s mission to facilitate progress in these areas, and the feasibility of four bilateral collaborations was explored after the 2013 conference. Over the long term, increasing the awareness and attitudes of youth toward science is paramount to achieving a vibrant scientific culture that can drive development. An independent body such as SoSA facilitates an environment that allows for, first, formidable collaborations among regional scientists as well as first world counterparts, second, open discourse among regional scientists concerning challenges and possible solutions and third, the implementation of programs geared toward solving these challenges while increasing science awareness among young people.

Acknowledgment We would like to thank Grace Byfield and Danielle Webster for critical reading and assistance with assembly of the manuscript.

Declaration of interest The conference was funded by the American Society for Cell Biology, the Company of Biologists and Eppendorf. The authors have no relevant affiliations or financial involvement with any organization or entity with a financial interest in or financial conflict with the subject matter or materials discussed in the manuscript. This includes employment, consultancies, honoraria, stock ownership or options, expert testimony, grants or patents received or pending, or royalties.

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Evans M, Kaufman M. Establishment in culture of pluripotent cells from mouse embryos. Nature 1981;292:154-6


Thomson JA, Itskovitz-Eldor J, Shapiro SS, et al. Embryonic stem cell lines derived from human blastocysts. Science 1998;282:1145-7


Deaths from NCDs. World Health Organization. 2008. Available from: mortality_morbidity/ncd_total/en/ [Accessed 8 April 2014]

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Mitchell S, Ahmad M. A review of medicinal plant research at the University of the West Indies. West Indian Med J 2006;55:243-69 Myers N, Mittermeier RA, Mittermeier CG, et al. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 1999;403:853-8 Ferguson TS, Tulloch-Reid MK, Wilks RJ. The epidemiology of diabetes mellitus in Jamaica and the Caribbean: a historical review. West Indian Med J 2010;59:259-64



Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation University of Washington; Human Development Network the World Bank. The global burden of disease: generating evidence, guiding policy - Latin America and Caribbean regional edition. Hum Dev Netw 2013;1:1-74 Dean’s Overview. Faculty of Science & Technology, University of the West Indies, Mona. 2010/11. Available from: applied/overview.pdf


Dean’s Overview. Faculty of Science & Technology, University of the West Indies, Mona. 2011/12. Available from: fst/overview.pdf


Head of Department Report. Basic Medical Sciences, University of the West Indies, Mona. 2010/11. Available from: fms/bms.pdf


Dean’s Overview. Faculty of Science & Technology, University of the West Indies, Mona. 2012/13. Available from:

Expert Opin. Biol. Ther. (2014) 14(10) fst/overview.pdf 12.

Head of Department Report. Basic Medical Sciences, University of the West Indies, Mona. 2012/13. Available from: fms/bms.pdf

Affiliation Simone Badal1, Aneisha Collins-Fairclough2, Cheryl Stewart3 & Keriayn Smith†4 † Author for correspondence 1 University of the West Indies, Natural Products Institute, 6 Belmopan Close, Mona, WI, Jamaica 2 University of Technology, Biology Division, Faculty of Science and Sport, 237 Old Hope Road, Kingston, WI, Jamaica 3 University of Pretoria, Department of Immunology, 5 Bophelo Road, Pretoria 0001, South Africa 4 University of North Carolina, Department of Genetics, 120 Mason Farm Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA Tel: +919 843 6474; E-mail: [email protected]

Potential for naturally derived therapeutics: the Caribbean as a model - insights from the conference on therapeutics and functional genomics.

The 2nd Annual Conference of the Society for Scientific Advancement (SoSA) was convened to integrate three research areas towards the development of t...
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