Research Highlights

Research Highlights
KSPB invests in cancer prevention research

By Reagan Wempe

Inside the labs of the Cancer Research Center at Owens­boro Medical Health System (OMHS), Dr. Keith Davis, Ph.D., and his assistants are working to inhibit the growth of normal cells in transition to cancer cells with Lunasin. Lunasin is a peptide derived from soy protein, and the Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board (KSPB) provides financial aid to Davis for his work on this project.

Davis, a faculty member at the University of Louisville, was recruited to develop a research program at OMHS which is a con­tinuation of the existing program at Louisville. He first became interested in studying Lunasin because not much work had been done on it previously, and scientists had to chemically manu­facture the drug in order to be able to study it.

“No pure form of Lunasin existed and chemical synthesis is very expensive,” said Davis.

The first grant from KSPB was used to find a way to purify the Lunasin in mass quantities, and now Davis can yield about 20 grams per batch which allows for further study and experi­mentation. Another goal from the first grant was screening common cancer lines for sensitivity to the drug.

“Non small cell lung cancer, colon cancer and some lines of breast cancer have shown to be sensitive to Lunasin, which is a good sign,” Davis said.

With the current KSPB grant, Davis aims to find out exactly how Lunasin inhibits cancer cell growth through gene expres­sion profiling and he hopes to produce higher quantities of the drug. Gene expression profiling will allow Davis to see which genes are affected and the direct effect of the drug upon them. This is measured through the increase, decrease, or lack of change in the number of affected genes in the sample. He plans to build models to physically simulate affected genes through the gene expression profiling method.

Davis also receives some funding from Owensboro Grain, and with that he is testing Lunasin to inhibit tumor growth in mice. This part is done in Louisville where he has an animal facility. Davis has three full time employees working on the project in Owensboro and one in Louisville, as well as one who works part time in Owensboro.

“In the next phase of the project, we hope to have an animal facility here in Owensboro,” said Davis.

Oncologists are looking to use combination treatment for cancer patients, and Davis is hopeful for the future of Luna­sin. If it is not an effective treatment on its own, he hopes by partnering in with another drug will produce positive treatment results when the two are used together.

The project still has many phases to complete and much research still to be done, but Davis believes that Lunasin could be a promising treatment option for the days ahead.

For more information on this project, Davis can be reached at

Published: Jan 1, 1970