MTSU’s collaboration with a Chinese botanical garden bodes well for the health of a nascent Tennessee industry
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee (left) watches state Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, (second from left) describe a ginseng root found during a visit to Cocke County Oct. 4, 2014, by MTSU researchers Ying Gao (center) and Elliot Altman. State Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro (right), also accompanied the team to East Tennessee.
MTSU already has some very promising new centers of research. One example is the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research (TCBMR), headed by Dr. Elliot Altman, who also directs the Ph.D. program in Molecular Biosciences, and China native and MTSU research assistant professor Iris Gao.
TCBMR has an exclusive partnership with the foremost botanical garden in China to do analyses of thousands of traditional Chinese plant extracts to screen them for anticarcinogenic, antiviral, or antibacterial properties that could lead to the development of advanced pharmaceuticals.
An analysis of 52 plant extracts recently provided by the garden identified 29 with promising results, including 12 with anticarcinogenic activity, eight with promising anti- inflammatory activity, and one that may be useful in the treatment of diabetes. This set of 52 extracts is in addition to almost 40 results identified last year that show promise in the treatment of cancer, viral infections, and other ailments.
Ginseng, a popular over-the- counter supplement used to boost the immune system, was one of the first herbs from traditional Chinese medicine to be widely used. Those suffering from colds or flu and those whose immune systems are suppressed, such as cancer patients, are primary users of ginseng.
In November 2013, state and University officials announced the MTSU Ginseng Initiative to grow and harvest the plant at the 438-acre School of Agriculture Experiential Learning and Research Laboratory.
“This is a great opportunity,” said alumnus and state senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) at the time of the launch. “It is up to us to take it to the next level. We can make this a statewide cash crop.”
MTSU and the Chinese botanical garden recently extended their pact through 2021, securing MTSU’s worldwide rights (excluding China) to patent and market products developed through the partnership. The partners agreed to a 50–50 split of any profits from the collaboration.