Cancer cure, apps top Xavier Festival of Scholars

The cure for cancer may be just around the corner — tucked within the halls of Xavier University.

During the 11th annual Festival of Scholars, recently held at Xavier University, Oluwapelumi Kareem, a biology/pre-med senior, spent more than an hour excitedly explaining to fellow students the results of his yearlong research.

Along with his team, Kareem has successfully synthesized a compound that reduces the growth of the most aggressive form of breast cancer cells by 80 percent.

“Essentially what this means is we’ve started with these compounds, called chalcones, that are commonly found in all sorts of food we eat, like fruits, and vegetables and nuts,” Kareem said. “Just naturally these compounds are anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, anti-tumorgenic, etc. What we’ve done is genetically modify them to create different versions and then tested these new versions against cancer cells.”

The research, titled, “Synthesis of Novel Chalcones as Chemopreventative Agents for Breast Cancer” was a joint effort by Kareem, fellow Xavier student Subramanya Ravi Pingoli and Xavier organic chemistry professor Florastina Payton-Stewart.

The research focused on testing these modified chalcones on the toughest type of cancer cells to treat — triple negative cancer cells.

“Cancer cells have different types of receptors on them, but triple negative cancer cells don’t have any receptors, which makes them especially hard to treat,” Kareem said, adding that this type of breast cancer is particularly predominant among African American women aged 18 to 30 and progresses quickly.

“We’re really excited by the results we’ve seen so far, but we still have a ways to go,” he said. “Eighty percent isn’t enough. We want to stop cancer growth completely.”

The group has decided to hold off from publishing their research until they receive the patents back on their compounds — something they hope will happen this fall.

Until that time, Kareem’s research is only accessible to a more limited audience — including attendees to this year’s Festival of Scholars.

“The festival is an annual opportunity for Xavier students to exhibit the research they have done over the academic year,” said Gary Donaldson, director of Center of Undergraduate Research at Xavier. “It forces them to finalize their research onto a poster or an oral or panel presentation and then present it to the community and to fellow students.”

While Donaldson noted that this year, as in years past, cancer has been a hot research topic, other topics on display from more than 180 Xavier students at this year’s event included everything from ideas on how to improve the management of alcohol withdrawal, to the evolution of cartoon animations, to the effects of caffeine on short-term memory.

Some of the research and innovations on display this year have already gained widespread attention, including a new app developed by computer science majors Alex Presley and Gavin Bauman.

Before Presley and Bauman even presented at the Festival of Scholars they were busy showcasing their new app, “Discover XU” to various New Orleans news stations.

“You install it on your phone and then as you’re walking around campus it will pop up with alerts telling you what’s going on as you’re passing by different locations,” explained Presley. “Like you could be walking by the university commons and it will pop up that the Collegiate 100 is going on right now.”

Presley noted that the app is currently a prototype that they’ve only been working on for about four months during their independent studies class.

“It’s buggy right now. We’ve got to work out the kinks,” he said, noting that he and Bauman plan on continuing with the app after they graduate.

“It could definitely be expanded on, to not just work at Xavier’s campus, but anywhere you go,” Presley said.