A research collaboration between University of Houston-Victoria professor Dr. Siva Somasundaram and the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University was recently selected to receive funding from the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA will be providing a grant worth $20,770, which is 4 percent more than the amount requested. Notification of the funding comes just in time for National Cancer Control Month in April.
Research supported by the grant will focus on specific chemical compounds found in oranges and their effect on cancerous cells taken from breast tissue. The compounds will be extracted at VFIC and sent to Somasundaram at UHV. He will then expose cancerous cells in his lab to the compounds and study how the growth and reproduction of the cells is affected when combined with standard chemotherapy.
“This is a new field of study. People are very excited about what we are learning,” said Sumasundaram. “There is a lot of interest to see research continue in the area of food for health.”
Somasundaram has been working in this field for nearly 20 years, beginning with a research project examining the effects of tumeric, a spice commonly used for its flavor and distinctive yellow coloring, on various liver conditions. His later work with breast cancer cells and tumeric indicated that although the spice could help destroy cancer cells on its own, when combined with chemotherapy, it actually inhibited treatment.
The current USDA-funded project studying orange compounds is expected to take a year to complete. Somasundaram plans to apply for additional grants to study other food sources and other types of cancerous cells in the future.
“This project represents just one of the cutting-edge research projects being done at UHV,” said UHV President Tim Hudson. “Dr. Somasundaram’s students benefit from the opportunity to study with a scientist who demonstrates that real, relevant research doesn’t just happen in distant cities and labs. It can be done right here, and these students can be a part of it.”
Somasundaram began teaching undergraduate biology and graduate bioinformatics at UHV in the School of Arts and Sciences in 2002. He will be the principal investigator for the USDA-funded project and is currently the team leader for nutrition research at VFIC.