Professor Rowley is seeking marine microbes with antibiotic properties to address what he says is one of the world’s biggest health threats – the growing number of bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics.

When Ocean Spray sought to discover additional and unknown health benefits of cranberries, the company turned to Professor David Rowley at the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) College of Pharmacy. Similarly, when the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers wondered if maple syrup contained anti-oxidants, the organization called on URI Professor Navindra Seeram — another member of the Natural Products Research Group — to investigate. What Seeram found surprised even the maple syrup producers. Dozens of anti-oxidant compounds were identified, several of which have anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and anti-diabetic properties. Both companies continue to collaborate with these world-renowned leaders in natural products on long- term research; and new patents and other intellectual properties from this work are now leading to new medicinal products. “The whole discipline of pharmacognosy — the discovery of drugs from nature — is regarded as the mother of pharmacy,” explains Seeram. “The idea is to isolate and identify compounds produced by natural

organisms, including plants and marine organisms, that could be used for biomedical and pharmaceutical purposes, like antibiotics and anti-cancer agents.” The discipline is one that the College of Pharmacy has pioneered since its earliest days. When established by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1956, the college enrolled all of the students from a shuttered private institution, the Rhode Island College of Pharmacy and Allied Sciences, which opened in 1902. The pharmacy college hired as its first dean, Heber W. Youngken Jr., described by current dean Paul Larrat as “an international research superstar” who traveled the world looking for interesting plants he could study for their medicinal value. During his 25 years as dean, Youngken came to realize that the next frontier of drug discovery would come from the world’s oceans, and he hosted the country’s first conference on marine natural product chemistry in 1967. Two years later he hired the University’s first faculty member to study the subject, Professor Yuzuru Shimizu, who pioneered the search for anti-cancer agents in marine microalgae.

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