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University of Hawaii Researcher Awarded $3M to Study Cancer Treatment Potential of Ironweed Plant

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded a five-year $3 million grant to a University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center researcher to study how natural compounds in ironweed plant extract can be used to treat breast and brain cancers.

James Turkson holds ironweed plant extract.

“It would be life changing for cancer patients if ironweed extract could help fight aggressive types of breast and brain cancers. Since the compounds are found in the plant, they are less toxic than traditional forms of treatment such as chemotherapy. This gives cancer patients a better quality of life when developed as drugs,“ said James Turkson, awardee and director of the UH Cancer Center’s Cancer Biology Program. “Glioblastoma is an aggressive brain cancer that currently has no cure. In addition, the types of breast cancers we are targeting are some of the most life-threatening breast cancers with few successful treatments.”

“The vast natural resources of Hawai‘i give our researchers a rare opportunity to make scientific discoveries of unique and significant proportions in treating cancer,” said Dr. Randall Holcombe, UH Cancer Center’s director. “This significant NCI award recognizes the breadth and depth of the natural product research focus of the UH Cancer Center, and highlights the national impact our research in Hawai‘i has in the fight against cancer.”

Turkson, along with collaborators Leng Chee Chang, Dianqing Sun and Supakit Wongwiwatthananukit at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, published a study a year and half ago showing that the natural compounds from the ironweed plant were effective in killing breast cancer and brain tumor cells and blocked the development and growth of these cancers in the laboratory. In recognition of these preliminary findings, the funds were granted to continue and expand the study.

“Our team of researchers at the UH Cancer Center and UH Hilo will now be able to probe deeper into the cancer treatment potential of ironweed. The plant’s extract is currently used in Southeast Asia for smoking cessation because of the affects the compounds have on the brain. Some of our initial findings suggest the plant’s natural compounds interfere with key cancer-causing biological pathways in the cancer cell, thereby shutting down the ability of the cells to grow and multiply,” said Turkson.

Breast and brain cancer in Hawai‘i

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in Hawai‘i.
  • An average of 125 women die from the disease each year in the state.
  • On average 41 people in Hawai‘i die each year from brain cancer.

*According to the Hawai‘i Tumor Registry

NCI grant: 1R01CA208851

The University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center through its various activities, cancer trial patients and their guests, and other visitors adds more than $54 million to the O‘ahu economy. This is equivalent to supporting 776 jobs. It is one of only 69 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute. Affiliated with the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, the Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, and improved patient care. Learn more at www.uhcancercenter.org. Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter. Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.

For more information, visit: http://www.uhcancercenter.org/

Statement of Support on Senator Harimoto

State Senator Breene Harimoto, 61, (16th Senatorial District – Pearl City, Momilani, Pearlridge, Aiea, Royal Summit, Aiea Heights, Newtown, Waimalu, Halawa, Pearl Harbor) has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

Senator Breene Harimoto

Senator Breene Harimoto

Under the advice and care of his physicians, Senator Harimoto will soon be undergoing treatment. 

“Senator Harimoto is a valued member of our Senate body and a friend to all of us here at the Legislature.  Our thoughts are with Senator Harimoto and his family, and we wish him a speedy recovery” said Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi.

Senator Harimoto has expressed his appreciation for the outpouring of Aloha, and asks for privacy and prayers for himself as well as for his family in the coming weeks. 

“Roarin” Lauren Returns to Hilo

After spending a year away from Hawaii to receive medical care for a rare form of bone cancer, Big Island Babe “Roarin” Lauren Selden on Wednesday arrived at the Hilo International Airport where she was greeted by a cheering crowd of friends, family members, and fellow derby girls. Among those supporters was Hallie “East Coast Ranger” Adolf, one of the coaches of the Big Island Babes and a skater for the Paradise Roller Girls.

Adolf, who helped to arrange the homecoming, said neither Lauren nor the rest of her family knew they were going to be greeted by the crowd of supporters who passed out leis, hugs, and handshakes to Lauren and her family as they made their way down from the airport’s arrival terminal.

Lauren had no difficulty returning the hugs despite the crutches and knee brace needed to help her recover from the surgery she received while on the mainland, but after a few rounds of squeezes she took a seat next to friends and derby mates who buzzed off questions while encircling her as though she were a local celebrity.

Lauren’s stardom spreads beyond the drove of supporters she had at the airport however. While being treated at the Seattle Children’s Hospital Lauren became known to the world after appearing in a video in which she and other cancer patients lip-sync and dance to Kelly Clarkson’s pop hit “Stronger.” Lauren is seen holding a sign which reads “Fighter” in the video, which received a YouTube response from Clarkson herself. After going viral on the internet newspapers and media giants like ABC News, the Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, and the Hawaii Tribune-Herald wrote their own stories about the patients’ and their video. As of Wednesday that video had received over two and a half million views on YouTube.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/ihGCj5mfCk8]

Lauren’s fame and fighting spirit does not come without its downsides however. Besides all the negative health and social aspects Lauren and her family have to deal with because of the cancer, there are also costly medical bills and continuous travel expenses to worry about. Because of the lack of medical care and facilities available in Hawaii needed to treat patients like Lauren, she has to return to Seattle once a quarter for medical checkups, and just like the medical bills, those travel costs can add up too.

Lauren’s father, Todd Selden, said the family has already received a significant amount of help from family, friends and the derby community. “People have been very generous here and back in Seattle,” he said. “It’s been amazing.” He added that the whole affair is a bit “overwhelming,” but that Lauren and the family “will prevail.”

Those who wish to provide money to Lauren or her family can do so by making a donation in her name at any Home Street Bank or by transferring money to lauren@piperselden.com through a PayPal account.

Paradise Roller Girls is a women’s flat-track roller derby league based on the Big Island of Hawaii. PRG’s mission is to promote a healthy, athletic lifestyle in their community through the alternative sport of roller derby.