Student innovation team uses corn to help combat cancer
Published July 26, 2013
Corn may prove a vital material in the fight against colon cancer, thanks to the scientific achievements of a team of NDSU students.
The team, called “Corn Oncologists,” was one of the top finishers in Innovation Challenge ’13, NDSU’s second annual student innovation competition. The Corn Oncologists group took the $5,000 first prize in the corn-based innovations track, sponsored by the North Dakota Corn Council. The competition was held in conjunction with Innovation Week ’13 held Feb. 25 through March 1.
Since early fall semester 2012, the young scientists worked long hours in a laboratory developing a corn-based material to encapsulate cancer drugs. The idea is to make a capsule that dissolves at the optimum time to deliver the drug directly to the colon during digestion, while minimizing the effects of chemotherapy.
“Everyone in our whole lab was new; we all came here to NDSU at that time,” explained team member Dusan Petrovic, a senior majoring in chemistry who is an exchange student from Smederevo, Serbia. “This was a project where we all worked hard together.”
In addition to Petrovic, Corn Oncologists included Nilushni Sivapragasam, a graduate student in chemistry from Colombo, Sri Lanka; Darshika Amarakoon, a December 2012 cereal science graduate from Gampaha, Sri Lanka; and Su Hyeon Hwang, a junior majoring in food science and technology from Seoul, South Korea.
“We saw large business potential for the material, if everything works,” Petrovic said. “Everyone was so excited to win the competition. It motivated us to work even harder, stay a few hours longer each day. We are a good way toward producing the capsule for experimentation – I expect we will be very close in a few months.”
Petrovic, who returned to Serbia in May, said his scientific teammates also studied marketing and business practices to better present their project to the Innovation Challenge judges.
“The competition was a really great opportunity,” Petrovic said. “In my country, I worked on some summer research programs, but I actually never had the opportunity to work on research for the business world. I think I really enjoy that.”
According to the team’s faculty adviser, the experience was important and rewarding in several areas.
“Students were able to gain experiential learning, things beyond their normal classroom and course activities. They took the path in taking scientific inventions to commercial opportunities," said Pushparajah Thavarajah, assistant professor in the School of Food Systems. “The team members also learned their scientific ideas are useful and actually can solve a societal problem.”
Petrovic is excited about the team’s work and the potential of the finished product.
“For us as students, it would be expensive to start a small business or get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” he said. “But, maybe we can sell our ideas to a large pharmaceutical company.”
Innovation Week ’14 is scheduled for March 3-7, 2014. Entries will be accepted this fall for Innovation Challenge ’14.