The theme of the AAAS Caribbean Division's annual meeting is "Harvesting the Ocean for Biologically Active Compounds." | Flickr/dkeats
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With the abundant biodiversity in its coral reefs, rainforests and other ecosystems, the Caribbean region is rich with natural compounds that may have medicinal uses. One area where these compounds are showing potential is cancer research; after screening over thirty compounds isolated from plants in Jamaica, Simone Badal-McCreath and her colleagues at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica have found several that show promising anti-cancer activity in human cancer cells.
At least one U.S. patent is now pending, and Badal-McCreath plans studies in animal models and clinical trials to further investigate whether these compounds could be the basis for safe and effective new cancer drugs.
Simone Badal-McCreath | Courtesy of Simone Badal-McCreath
Such treatments — especially ones with more tolerable side effects — are sought for many cancers, said McCreath, who will deliver the keynote lecture at the 29th annual meeting of the AAAS Caribbean Division on 20 September. The need is great in Latin America and the Caribbean, which account for approximately 50% of cancer deaths in the Americas, although the region holds 63% of the hemisphere's population, according to a report from the Pan-American Health Organization/World Health Organization.
Over 150 scientists, educators, and students are expected to attend the AAAS Caribbean Division meeting at the University of Turabo, in Gurabo Puerto Rico. The day-long conference, whose theme is "Harvesting the Ocean for Biologically Active Compounds," begins at 8:00 am and requires no registration fee. Scientists in all disciplines, science teachers of all levels, students of all ages, and the community at large are encouraged to participate.
After the keynote lecture, Badal-McCreath will be joined two other experts for a panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities in isolating bioactive compounds in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Three concurrent sessions will follow:
- Fungal contributions to industrial microbiology
- The San Juan bay estuary
- Biofuel production in Puerto Rico
The AAAS Caribbean Division was founded in 1985 to create a hub for AAAS members in all of the islands and countries in the Caribbean region, from Venezuela, up through the Dominican Republic and Haiti, to Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. The meeting theme and the program, which includes invited speakers from Jamaica and Haiti, reflects the Division's goal of engaging members from across the Caribbean, according to Division President Carlos Torres-Ramos, of the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus.
Before the keynote presentation, the meeting will be dedicated to Dr. Graciela Candela, a distinguished professor from the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Campus "Dr. Candela is one of the persons that has really contributed to the research infrastructure in Puerto Rico," said Torres-Ramos. "She taught many Ph.D. students and undergraduates that went into careers in science, medicine, and industry."
The dedication will be followed by the presentation of the annual Lucy Gaspar award for excellence in Science Education. Gaspar was a teacher and AAAS member who passed away three years ago unexpectedly and was "the very backbone of the Caribbean Division," according to Torres-Ramos. This years' recipient is Mrs. Minnuette Rodrígez-Harrison, a high school teacher from the José E. Blanco Specialized School in Ballet located in San Juan, who has an outstanding track in science education and developing environmental-oriented activities with her students.
In the afternoon, the conference will feature a graduate student poster session, culminating in the presentation of the annual Robert I. Larus Award for the winning poster, which provides travel funds for the AAAS annual meeting.
Most of the division's members live in the Caribbean region, but anyone who is a member of AAAS can join. AAAS has three other regional divisions: the Pacific, with a charter dating to 1914; the Southwest and Rocky Mountain Division, founded in 1920; and the Arctic, founded in 1951. All AAAS members in good standing, and who reside or work within the specified boundaries of a regional division, are automatically included as members of that division.