Mysterious & Exhilarating


Cancer Plant Lead
Bitter melon is among possible plant-based cancer cures.

The compelling mystery is the hook. Can plant-based products be a natural, selective way to kill cancer cells while leaving the normal cells alone? Would these substances be viable alternatives to today’s chemotherapy and radiation, which, if responsive, kill all cells?

Different cultures around the world have long used various foods, plants and their extracts to try to cure disease. But to find supportive evidence that food, plants and their extracts have anti-cancer properties is something new that researchers have just begun to study.

Enter Roslyn Crowder, Ph.D., Stetson University assistant professor of biology. She inspires her undergraduate students to become scientists by involving them in her cancer research.

Crowder is using crowdfunding to raise money for the students’ research. Her crowd- funding effort took less than a day to reach a minimum funding goal of $1,250. But research costs will far exceed $1,250, so Crowder asks prospective donors to donate as generously as possible to support this exciting research.

The research project began at Stetson after student Princess Megwa-Poe approached Crowder about investigating whether components of Chinese herbal medicines might kill lung-cancer cells.

Crowder said she welcomed Megwa-Poe’s idea because it expanded upon an interest she acquired earlier as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State Cancer Institute.

Today, Crowder has five students in the lab, all of whom are working on different plant- based compounds that might fight cancer.

“What is exciting is that all of my current students have found some type of cancer cell death with the substances they are investigating,” Crowder says.

But that’s only half the investigation. Another crucial step is to perform experiments with those same natural substances, at the same doses, on nonmalignant human cells to see if they negatively affect or kill the cells.

And with any scientific investigation, other questions pop up.

  • How much would someone need to ingest for the substance to kill certain cancer cells?
  • Would people be able to get this much of the plant-based product with their normal diet?
  • What other side effects may arise with the treatment?

According to Crowder, if the substance amount people need to ingest for cancer treatment far exceeds the quantity they can realistically add to their diets, then it would be difficult to use that plant-based substance as a successful cancer treatment.

Jordan Cockfield, a senior, is examining how natural chemicals derived from flaxseeds might fight lung-cancer cells. She read the scientific literature about cancer, of course, but the hands-on element sparked her imagination.

“I’ve learned a clear distinction from reading about the scientific method and actually executing an experiment,” Cockfield notes. “From working in Dr. Crowder’s lab, I have learned that a scientist must have dedication and patience, along with passion and a sense of humor. I have learned to be a scientist.”

Cockfield wants to be a cancer research scientist, and with Crowder’s mentorship has learned how scientists use well-designed experiments and statistical analysis to answer important scientific questions.

In addition, she has learned this type of work takes long hours that may not produce favorable results. It’s all just part of the scientific method.

Currently in the Crowder laboratory at Stetson, three students (Princess Megwa-Poe, Jordan Cockfield and Kate Ellis) work on lung-cancer research while three students (Lauryn Mohler, Sheree Carter and Ernest Phillips) work on leukemia research.

So it’s back to the lab for Crowder and her students.

Another mystery, another hook.

By Bill Noblitt

Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Stetson University Magazine. To read the entire magazine, click here. The next issue of the magazine is scheduled for publication this fall.