Auburn University’s Calderón to train students with latest National Institutes of Health grant involving açaí and cancer drugs

Published: October 19, 2021
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A popular botanical dietary supplement in the United States, açaí is known for numerous health benefits. However, with prevalent use of the supplement among cancer patients, the National Institutes of Health has awarded Auburn University’s Angela Calderón a three-year, $440,590 grant to study the interactions between the supplement and anticancer drugs.

Titled “Unravelling the mechanism of acai BDS-anticancer drug interaction: A preliminary approach,” the R15 grant is supported by the National Center For Complementary and Integrative Health and the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health.

Additionally, the project is funded as part of the Research Enhancement Award Program for Health Professional Schools and Graduate Schools. As part of the program, Calderón, an associate professor in the Harrison School of Pharmacy’s Department of Drug Discovery and Development, is charged with exposing undergraduate and/or graduate students at health professional schools or graduate schools to meritorious research projects and to strengthen the research environment of the institution.

“My R15 focuses particularly on training female and underrepresented minority students for biomedical sciences research careers,” said Calderón. “Students will receive training in various disciplines such as pharmacognosy and natural products chemistry, pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and statistics. The distinct contribution of this project to students training is its interdisciplinary nature.”

Açaí is one of the top 40 botanical supplements in the United States market, but little is known about the combined use of the dietary supplement with anticancer drugs and the potential for adverse effects. Calderón’s study will establish a foundation of information on the interactions between açaí botanical dietary supplements and anticancer drugs. Her findings will be used to promote appropriate use of botanical dietary supplements and to improve understanding of potential adverse events.

“Numerous claims about açaí’s potential to complement conventional chemotherapeutic drugs have been made,” said Calderón. “Açaí’s chemoprotective activity against cancer has been attributed to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiproliferative and proapoptotic properties in preclinical models.”

For Calderón, being able to incorporate more women and underrepresented minorities on the project is important in promoting and encouraging diversity in the biomedical workforce.

“As the United States population becomes increasingly diverse, reflection of that diversity among the biomedical research workforce is vital,” said Calderón. “The increase of diverse backgrounds of scientists can enhance the diversity of ideas for scientific progress.”

Along with her team of undergraduate and graduate students, Calderón will be joined by an interdisciplinary group of investigators across the Auburn campus. Joining her are Satyanarayana Pondugula, associate professor, College of Veterinary Medicine; Rusty Arnold, professor, Harrison School of Pharmacy; Jingyi Zheng, assistant professor, College of Sciences and Mathematics; and Jianzhong Shen, professor, Harrison School of Pharmacy.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.