Visiting researcher shows student pharmacists drug discovery process


Dr. Palau's lab

A top natural products research scientist from Colombia visited East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy last week to meet with student pharmacists and help demonstrate the drug discovery process.
Dr. Ruben Torrenegra, who was recognized in 2018 by the government of Colombia as one of its top scientists, has helped make possible the college’s drug discovery program since 2008 when he partnered with Dr. Victoria Palau, Professor Emerita of Pharmaceutical Sciences, who started her cancer research with plants when she came to ETSU in 2007. 
Torrenegra has helped train sixty ETSU student pharmacists in cancer research with over sixty presentations at the local, national and international level, which have produced seven well-cited publications.

Over the years, Torrenegra has collected plant material from the Andean region of Colombia and takes them to the botanical garden in Bogota to be properly identified. He has partnered with Palau and her students to test the plant-derived compounds to determine their impact on different types of cancer. As part of the process, Torrenegra helped show the students how to use chromatographic techniques to separate and purify the different novel compounds.
After the material is purified and identified from the plants, she and her student team study changes in cell signaling pathways in the cancer cells to elucidate the mechanism of action of these compounds.  He showed ETSU Gatton College of Pharmacy students how to actually turn plant material into potential new drugs for the prevention and treatment of cancer. 
“Cancer research is urgent,” said Palau. “All of us, in some way, have been touched by cancer. We all know someone who has fought cancer or is going through that fight right now. Putting a little piece of information out there that might make a difference — that is really important to me. There are thousands of people working on cancer all around the world. As long as we keep working on it, we’re bound to make strides.”