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DR. KESTNER: MTSU medicine hunters research new cures

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When you think of MTSU, you might think of an exceptional college offering degrees for professions ranging from teachers to nurses to concrete experts and air traffic controllers.

You may think of the incredible development we have seen in collegiate athletics in the past decade. You may envision the award-winning Band of Blue. You would probably think of many other symbols of the college with a long history of community involvement and academic success.

You would not likely think of pharmaceutical research. And even if you did, your vision would not likely include traditional botanical medicine.

MTSU is the home of the newly created Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research. Less than a year old, the center has already begun to break ground in the highly competitive field of pharmaceutical research.

Having once lived and participated in pharmaceutical research studies in an area known as Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, I can tell you that our local population density of Ph. D.'s is far too sparse to ever aspire to be a major player in the lucrative, yet demanding field of pharmaceutical research.  

The funding directed toward research into new drugs is largely divided among a handful of major universities that have well-oiled machines at work writing grant proposals, recruiting key researchers, and being cozy with the decision-makers in Congress and Big Pharma.  

Yet, MTSU has seized upon a unique opportunity to establish itself as a research center in a niche area of drug development that may one day have a major impact on the future of pharmacology.

Much like the tiny seed that falls into the tiniest of cracks in a limestone bluff and yet manages to grow into a magnificent tree, MTSU saw and recognized a unique opportunity that has enormous potential for development.

To prepare for this column, I recently spoke with Professor Elliot Altman, the director of Interdisciplinary Molecular Biosciences Doctoral Program at MTSU.  I should note here that Professor Altman has a very extensive background in the kind of scientific research that non-scientists like myself struggle to understand.  

Rather than try to adequately introduce his qualifications, I will simply point out that he has been awarded numerous patents in processes essential to the development of new drugs. His list of scientific accomplishments and publications is extensive. I am very excited to see researchers of his caliber on the campus of MTSU.

At the beginning of the interview, Dr. Altman was very quick to point out the TCBMR program is the brainchild of MTSUPresident Dr. Sidney McPhee.

McPhee has established strong relationships with educational colleagues and many business leaders in China over the past several years.  

It was through this ongoing relationship that collaboration with Guanxi Medicinal Botanical Garden and MTSU was developed.  

Guanxi Medicinal Botanical Garden is botanical research center that has been named by the Guinness Book of World records as having the largest collection of medicinal plants in the world. An estimated 5,000 species of plants that have medicinal properties are cultivated at the Guanxi Gardens.

The Guanxi Garden is so-named because of its location in the Guanxi Province of China.

The Guanxi Province is a mountainous region in southern China that borders Vietnam. As a comparison, it has roughly twice the land area of Tennessee and has a population of 46 million people compared to about 6.5 million residents of Tennessee.

It is known as relatively rural, scenic area with limited industrialization or commercial development. Because of its unique ecological characteristics, the province is an ideal setting for a diverse botanical research center such as the Guanxi Gardens.

The directors of Guanxi Gardens had been seeking ways to develop modern medicines from chemicals derived from the plants known to have traditional healing properties.

Yet, their resources were primitive in comparison to the methodology of contemporary Western pharmaceutical research facilities.

McPhee envisioned a collaborative effort between the Guanxi Medicinal Botanical Garden, a world leader in cultivating medicinal plants, and MTSU.

Knowing the background of Dr. Altman in securing pharmaceutical and biological patents, he approached him to discuss the possibility of an exciting opportunity.

Next week, a look at how the Center's research could be vital to your health within a few short years.
Read more from:
Dr Mark Kestner, MTSU, Pharmaceuticals, Research, Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, Voices
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