Kirsty Duncan, Pamela OvadjeFederal minister of science Kirsty Duncan presents the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–Post Doctoral to UWindsor researcher Pamela Ovadje.

Post-doc wins Mitacs award for natural cancer-fighting research

Pamela Ovadje, a post-doctoral student in professor Sirayam Pandey’s lab in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, was recognized this week for her work to revolutionize the field of natural health product research by scientifically validating the anti-cancer properties of several natural extracts, one of which has already won approval for clinical trials from Health Canada.

Dr. Ovadje has demonstrated that cancer patients may benefit from dandelion root and long pepper extracts when they are used as therapeutic interventions to treat some forms of highly aggressive cancer, including blood, colon and pancreatic cancers. Her work has earned her the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–Post Doctoral. Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that partners companies, government, and academia to promote Canadian research and training.

Under the supervision of Dr. Pandey and in affiliation with Advanced Orthomolecular Research, a Calgary-based supplement formulator, Ovadje validated that dandelion root and long pepper extracts each contain multiple components capable of targeting vulnerable aspects of cancer cells. Though both were perceived to benefit patients, there had been little scientific evidence to back those claims.

Her positive findings have since led Health Canada to approve human clinical trials—set to get underway shortly—to examine dandelion root extract’s ability to treat patients diagnosed with such blood cancers as leukemia and lymphoma.

“We will be looking at patients who have exhausted all other options to see if they respond positively. If we don’t see any toxic effect from the extract, we can broaden the scope of the trial to include people earlier on in their diagnosis who may rather have a natural health product as an option,” Ovadje said.

The ultimate goal is to provide widely available, effective and less costly cancer treatments.

Ovadje’s work is also helping to highlight the need for more rigid regulation of Canada’s natural health products. Her initial study demonstrated variances between over-the-counter extract products, indicating that consumers aren’t always ingesting what they think.

“The good news is we’re making headway,” said Ovadje, who sits on the board of the Natural Health Product Research Society of Canada. “Our goal is to make sure people have all of the information they need to make an informed decision when they decide to take a natural product.”

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