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Thursday November 26th, 2015

Posted at 8:01pm

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UWindsor post-doctoral candidate Pamela Ovadje receives the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–Post Doctoral, from the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, during the Mitacs Awards in Ottawa on Tuesday.

A UWindsor researcher is being recognized for revolutionizing the field of natural health product research by scientifically validating the anti-cancer properties of several natural extracts, one of which is already approved for clinical trials by Health Canada.

Pamela Ovadje, a 29-year-old post-doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has successfully 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.

Working under the supervision of University of Windsor professor Siyaram Pandey and in affiliation with Advanced Orthomolecular Research (AOR), 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 widely perceived to benefit patients, there was previously 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 specifically 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.

“Often you’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars for a round of chemotherapy,” said Ovadje. “Providing dandelion root extract at a much cheaper cost – if it shows the same benefits – means we’re no longer breaking the bank to save a patient’s life.”

As an added benefit, Ovadje’s research is also helping to highlight the need for more rigid regulation of Canada’s natural health products in general. 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.”

The Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–Post Doctoral is presented to a post-doctoral student who has made a significant achievement in research and development innovation while participating in a Mitacs-funded program. Ovadje is one of seven Mitacs award winners nationally, chosen from thousands of researchers who take part in Mitacs programs each year.

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