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Annual Report 2016

Tapping into natural medicines and chemistry

Natural Products Research Group: PhD student Andrew Flewelling (BSc’10, MSc’13), graduate student Allyson Bos (BSc’12), John Johnson, PhD student Trevor Clark (BSc’12), and Christopher Gray.

Academics is only one component of a university education. Applying what is taught in the classroom is another. Combining academics with practical application while exploring innovative approaches is what we do best at UNB.

Our faculty and students are doing exactly that in the areas of traditional plant-based medicines and medicinal chemistry.

Through the Natural Products Research Group on our Saint John campus, Christopher Gray and John Johnson, and a team of research students, are looking for potential cures to life-threatening diseases and infections in the fields and forests of New Brunswick, and in fungi and algae from around the world.

The group identifies and evaluates chemical compounds produced by plants and microorganisms called endophytes – fungi that live within plants. What they are looking for are previously unknown compounds that could be developed into effective medicines to combat cancer and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

“What really sets UNB apart is the opportunity for students to participate in meaningful research,” says Dr. Gray. Students get the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of scientific research in conjunction with the Saint John Regional Hospital and the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute.

“Three quarters of our research conducted is performed by undergraduates. They’re doing work that would be conducted by master's students at most universities,” says Dr. Gray.

Ghislain Deslongchamps

The pharmaceutical industry is on the brink of a major boom and students in our medicinal chemistry program, one of the few such programs in the country, are ready.

Ghislain Deslongchamps, chair of the UNB chemistry department in Fredericton, believes students in the program will face endless opportunities in the future.

“Medicinal chemistry is a rapidly expanding field,” he says. “We’re about to face quite a revolution in the pharmaceutical world and how we treat disease. For students to be trained in that area bodes well for their future career and society in general.”