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2020-2021 AFPE Gateway Recipient: Ashley Fukuchi

Ashley Fukuchi, University of Hawaii at Hilo

Congratulations to Ashley Fukuchi for being a recipient of this year’s 2020-2021 AFPE Gateway award!!

The American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) is a non-profit organization that provides scholarships and grants to aspiring researchers and academics to be able to conduct novel research in the pharmaceutical sciences arena that will impact the future of healthcare and patient outcomes.  “The primary goal of the Gateway to Research Scholarship program is to help students understand the importance of research by enabling them to apply that knowledge to improve their clinical goals” (source:   Ashley was selected from a highly selective pool of applicants.

Ashley has received INBRE SRE stipends support for conducting research in Leng Chee Chang’s laboratory in the past.

Mentor: Leng Chee Chang, PhD, MS, The Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, UH Hilo, Hawaii

Collaborator: Jennifer R. Honda, PhD, National Jewish Health, Denver, Colorado

Research Title: Evaluation of natural products-derived from medicinal plants as potential antimicrobial agents against non-tuberculosis mycobacteria

In recent years, the number of nontuberculous mycobacterial pulmonary disease cases have increased globally, surpassing tuberculosis in some countries. Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) is common in the environment found in water and soil. People can come into contact with NTM bacteria through simple, daily activities, such as showering or gardening. Exposure to this aerosolized bacteriacan leads to NTM entering the lungs. In some people, the bacteria infects the airways and lung tissue leading to increased risk of getting NTM lung disease (NTMLD). Hawai‘i has been identified as the state with the highest prevalence of NTMLD when compared with the national average, and NTM is found to be common in the Hawaii environment. Epidemiological studies show Mycobacterium chimaera, a slow-growing NTM and member of the Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), predominates in the Hawaiian environment and is the most frequently isolated NTM from lung samples among Hawai‘i NTM patients. NTM is often associated with biofilm formation, contributing to antibiotic resistance. Treatment for NTMLD is challenging because treatment times are lengthy, a combination of drugs are needed, and relapses following therapy are common resulting in substantial morbidity and mortality. In addition, FDA-approved drugs that specifically treat NTMLD does not exist at the current time. Thus, there is a need for novel treatment approaches for NTM.

This project posits that phytochemicals obtained from Hawaiian medicinal plants could represent novel treatment approaches. Traditional medicine has a long history of treating human diseases, including respiratory and lung infections. For example, active ingredients extracted from the medicinal plant, ‘uhaloa, is used to treat sore throat, asthma, and cough. Morinda citrifolia (fermented noni ) has been used in traditional medicine for treating asthma, cough, tuberculosis, and infectious diseases. This application proposes to examine traditional medicinal sources as antimycobacterial agents to control NTM.  We hypothesize that natural products from Hawaiian medicinal plants may show antimicrobial activity against Hawai‘ian derived NTM isolates.

The project goal is 1) Test the anti-NTM activity of several medicinal plant extracts against M. chimaera. 2) To identify major antimicrobial compounds from one most promising crude extract that might be found in aim 1. This study will lead to the identification of promising leads. Extracts and possibly compounds will be subjected to further mechanisms of action in vitro studies.

Research Topic Areas:

  1. Antimicrobial and antioxidant activity of natural products against community-acquired Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and bacteria infections.
  2. Antimycobacterial activity of Hawaiian Medicinal Plants and marine algae against Nontuberculous Mycobacteria such as Mycobacterium chimaera isolated from Hawaii.
  3. Phytochemical evaluation of tropical plants/crops for bioactive components as potential functional foods.
  4. Evaluation of natural products as anticancer agents (NF-kB as Molecular Targets). To isolate and identify natural products-derived from medicinal plants and marine algae with potential anticancer activity.


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