Two Missouri S&T professors earn award for medical research

Posted by
On March 26, 2008

Two professors at Missouri University of Science and Technology have been
chosen to receive a faculty award from the John W. Claypool Fund for Medical

Dr. Nuran Ercal, professor of chemistry at Missouri S&T and adjunct
associate professor of internal medicine at St. Louis University, and Dr. Yinfa
Ma, Curators’ Teaching Professor of chemistry at Missouri S&T, have earned
the $1,000 award to help fund their research in a treatment for
HIV-1 associated dementia
and a method for non-invasive pre-cancer
screening, respectively.

HIV-1 associated dementia, which causes behavioral and cognitive
dysfunctions, develops in one-third of adults and half of children infected
with HIV. Ercal and a team of student researchers are studying the antioxidant
N-acetyl cysteine amide (NACA), which has been shown to combat two toxic HIV
proteins that produce free radicals in the blood-brain barrier, where the entry
of substances from the blood into the brain is controlled. The free radicals in
the blood-brain barrier allow other toxins to enter the brain, causing HIV-1
associated dementia.

HIV-1 associated dementia occurs at a higher rate in HIV patients who use
drugs like methamphetamine, morphine and alcohol, which also cause the
production of free radicals. Ercal and her team tested blood-brain barrier
cells incubated with the toxic HIV proteins and methamphetamine. They found
that NACA still is effective in combating the production of free radicals, even
when methamphetamine is present.

Ercal’s group is continuing their research using transgenic mice that have
been genetically modified to contain toxic HIV proteins, allowing researchers
to further study NACA’s potential.

“Since I joined Missouri S&T in 1990, I have worked on medical research
because of my background as an intern at Ohio State University hospitals,”
Ercal says. “I noticed that physicians can only help a limited number of cases,
and most of the disorders are left untreated because there is no cure. It was
then that I decided to do medical research.

“It is a great honor to be one of this year’s recipients of the John W.
Claypool Award for Medical Research” she says. “I would sincerely like to thank
John Claypool for generously supporting medical research at Missouri

Ma has developed a prototype of a non-invasive, pre-cancer screening device
called a P-scan. The instrument is the first device that can test urine for six
compounds, known as pterdines, found within the body. Changes in the level of
pterdines could signify the presence of cancer. More importantly, Ma has
discovered a molecule called oncopterin, that exists only in the urine of
cancer patients, but is not found in healthy human subjects.

The P-scan can be used in a clinical setting to test urine for oncopterin in
order to determine whether cancer is going to develop. The device also tests
for varying levels of the six pteridines, which can actually provide a
“fingerprint” of the type of cancer.

Ma now is collaborating with Dr. Clay M. Anderson, director of clinical
services at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia, Mo., who is providing
patient and control samples from lung cancer patients. Eventually, Ma hopes to
use the P-scan to conduct systematic studies for each individual type of

“I feel honored to receive the faculty award from John W. Claypool Fund for
Medical Research,” Ma says. “I know many of my colleagues deserved this.”

“The award is encouragement for me to finish this project,” he says. “I
won’t give up. I will continue to work on this until I have succeed and can
market this instrument to save people’s lives.”

The John W. Claypool Fund for Medical Researcher is an endowed fund created
by Missouri S&T graduated John W. Claypool, who received a bachelor of
science degree in mechanical engineering from Missouri S&T in 1960.

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On March 26, 2008. Posted in News