The University of Kentucky’s Center for Pharmaceutical Research and Innovation (CPRI) is collecting samples from the Commonwealth’s coal mines. The goal is to find new, unique organisms that produce natural products (like microbes) that could be used to develop new drugs to treat cancer. Kentucky researchers are scratching the surfaces of thermal vents from underground coal mine fires, mining reclamation sites and deep-well core drilling operations for carbon sequestration. More than 40 samples of drill cuttings from depths ranging from 100 feet to nearly one mile underground have been collected and sent to the lab.
Could Kentucky’s natural landscape potentially yield the next big cancer drug? CPRI Director Jon Thorson has high hopes: “Natural products have been and continue to be a driving force in drug discovery,” Thorson said. “And the hope is that some of tomorrow’s therapies may come from the coal mines here in the Commonwealth.” How ironic it will be when a natural product from a coal mine will be synthesized into a drug to treat lung cancer, which has been suspected of afflicting coal miners because of their exposure to crystalline silica dust – a Group I carcinogen.