By Gary Glancy for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
When it comes to the highly touted health benefits of herbs, Veronica Obregon has to see it to believe it.
The Converse College biology major will get that chance over the next couple months. Obregon and Converse biology professor Neval Erturk last week began a research project studying the potential cancer-fighting abilities of two commercial herbal supplements: CanEase and CanImmu.
“I’ve never taken them myself, just because I was never sure if they actually even worked or not,” said Obregon, a rising sophomore from San Antonio.
“My sisters are actually pretty big fans of it — they’re all green-tea drinkers, and vitamins for this and pills for that. But I myself never bought into the whole herbal supplement thing, so the research will probably give me more of a grasp on if it actually is beneficial or not.”
Erturk started the project last school year in her genetics class, where she narrowed the focus to CanEase and CanImmu. This summer, while in China, Erturk attended seminars and observed experts in the field.
“Over the centuries, a lot of Chinese herbologists have used (herbs), and people think that they work … they trust these supplements,” Erturk said. “Some use it as a complementary medicine along with their prescribed medication; others use it as alternative medicine, where they only take the supplements (with no conventional medication). But most of these supplements have not been clinically tested and proven that they work and prevent or cure cancer.”
For one month, Erturk and Obregon will give three groups of mice doses of CanEase or CanImmu, which Erturk said is advertised as a powerful immune builder containing potent immunity-stimulating compounds from three herbs, including Reishi — known in China as the “medicine of kings.” Two control groups will receive no supplements.
After one month, all the mice other than a negative control group will be administered a cancer-causing agent, Colchisine, which damages cell division.
In September, Obregon will spend two weeks conducting analysis of the mice’s bone marrow, and then in October will do a statistical analysis to determine the extent of DNA damage among the five groups.
The Converse pair will present their findings at a S.C. Independent Colleges and Universities research symposium in February and to an Association of Southeastern Biologists meeting in April. If Erturk and Obregon do find cancer-preventive effects, Erturk said she’d like to partner with Wofford College’s chemistry department to take her small-scale project a step further. And down the road, Erturk could potentially work with a pharmaceutical company or medical center.
The study is one of nine diverse summer research projects at Converse funded by the SCICU — once again the most among the 20 member schools statewide.
Erturk said her own project is just as important for its educational value as for its scientific relevance, as she watches students engage themselves in and take ownership of the research.