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Looking at everyday elements...
that could one day lead to natural
anti-cancer treatments and/or
environmentally-friendly pesticides,
are both pretty exciting possibilities
/ 11
W
ith
Simpsons characters painted
on the walls and Iron Maiden
playing in the background,
biochemistry and chemistry professor Dr.
Steve Westcott's lab is not your typical chem-
istry set up. The Canada Research Chair
(CRC) in Boron Pharmaceutical Chemis-
try has been making headlines for his work,
which could see huge implications in the
health and environmental chemical sectors.
And he is doing this all with Mount Allison
undergraduate students at his side, through
his popular research group, The Wild Toads.
"Working with students is the best part of
my job," says Westcott, who on top of his
research commitments as a CRC also teaches
a full course load. "Being able to involve
them in these research projects is wonderful
as it enhances their undergraduate educa-
tion by helping to establish a safe, fun, and
productive lab where they can experience
chemical research firsthand."
And these experiences are paying off.
During his 15 years at Mount Allison, close
to 100 students have co-authored a research
paper with Westcott before graduation and
many have gone on to master's and PhD
programs around the world.
One of Westcott's current projects, which
recently captured national media attention,
looks at the benefits of capsaicin, the active
ingredient in hot peppers. This compound
has been found to be an anti-cancer, anti-
bacterial, and anti-fungal agent all in one.
"We know capsaicin is good stuff. When
you look at societies that use hot peppers
frequently, their rates of certain health
conditions, such as heart disease, are much
lower than those where they are not as
prevalent. We want to take a closer look
at capsaicin, what makes it active, and see
if we can create the derivative of this that
could, one day, be made into a drug."
Capsaicin is found mainly in hot pepper
seeds and the coating surrounding them.
Westcott and his team, including several
Mount Allison students as well as researchers
from l'Université Laval and the Atlantic
Cancer Research Institute, are working to
separate the different compounds in the
peppers to get a better idea of their chemi-
cal composition.
Westcott has also received funding to
embark on new research looking at the
health and environmental benefits of the
elements boron (found in Borax) and sulfur,
that many of us are familiar with for its smell.
The active ingredient in garlic is sulfur based.
"Boron is an anti-cancer and anti-fungal
agent and sulfur has a lot of bioactivities.
We are working to make derivatives of
these elements and see if we can combine
the two to get something even better."
The idea of combining boron and sulfur
derivatives is a novel one in the chemical
world. not a lot of research has been com-
pleted in the area, making Westcott a pioneer
in the field. Westcott, with the Wild Toads
team, is enthusiastic about the new project.
"Looking at everyday elements, like boron
and sulfur, that could one day lead to natu-
ral anti-cancer treatments and/or environ-
mentally-friendly pesticides, are both pretty
exciting possibilities."
by Laura Dillman Ripley