New program to explore healing potential of Kansas plants

Timmermann, Kindscher to lead effort

A new Native Medicinal Plant Research Program will look into the potential of native plants from Kansas and the region as botanical remedies, dietary supplements, cosmetic products and pharmaceutical or veterinary agents.

Barbara Timmermann, University Distinguished Professor and chair of medicinal chemistry, and Kelly Kindscher, senior scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey, have earned funding for the five-year, $5 million project, titled “Innovation Center for Advanced Plant Design: Plants for the Heartland.”

Barbara Timmermann

Funding from the Kansas Bioscience Authority has created Heartland Plant Innovations Inc. to oversee development and progress of the project.

“Kansas and the Great Plains haven’t been explored very well in terms of looking for medicinal compounds and useful plants,” Kindscher said. “This project is a tremendous opportunity for our labs to both explore Kansas wild plants for interesting compounds and also to see if there’s a prospect for those to enter the market as natural products or cosmetics or pet-care and veterinary products.”

Biologically active compounds derived from plants have been useful in the prevention and treatment of many diseases. Plant derivatives are effective medicinal compounds in their natural form and as templates for synthetic modification. More than 20 new drugs with origins in terrestrial plants have been marketed between 2000 and 2009. These and other natural products are undergoing clinical trials and show the importance of compounds from natural sources in modern drug discovery efforts.

Kelly Kindscher

“We feel that there are great opportunities for some regional businesses to start up,” Kindscher said.

The labs of Timmermann and Kindscher will combine their extensive experience in floristic studies, ethnobotany, medicinal and natural product chemistry to evaluate the effectiveness of biologically active agents from native plants and traditional herbal remedies. They will conduct research on plants, their uses, production, conservation and potential for success in the marketplace.

Plant collection and ecological assessment will be performed in the wild. Chemical research and biological assays will be conducted in the cutting-edge research laboratories at the Multidisciplinary Research Building, Structural Biology Center and the Kansas Biological Survey on KU’s west campus.

Research plots will be established on land owned by KU Endowment near the Lawrence airport. The KU Field Station will play a pivotal role in the biomedical research by providing secure access to high-quality agricultural land as well as direct support for the development of cultivation research plots and native plant production.

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