Cancer research continues to gain prominence within the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions at South Dakota State University.
The latest milestone occurred when Komal Raina was officially recognized as the Haarberg Chair of Cancer Research at an investiture in the Woster Room of the Avera Health and Sciences Center on campus Oct. 4. She becomes the third endowed faculty member within the college and the 21st one within the university.
She arrived on campus one year ago from the University of Colorado-Denver, where she had been since May 2005 and was an assistant professor in research.
Raina, a native of India, specializes in cancer prevention/intervention research. At SDSU, her research projects are centered on understanding the whys and hows of cancer stem cells with the goal of targeting these cells with nontoxic approaches. Her research projects range from understanding the role of gut microbiome in colon cancer to fusion genes driving prostate cancer to the role of diet in cancer progression.
These are all diverse projects but center on targeting the cancer stem cell as the root cause of cancer.
The college’s other endowed faculty members are Wenfeng An and Sharrel Pinto.
An, a native of China, is completing his fifth year at SDSU. He is the Markl Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research and studies a section of the human genome known as L1, whose proteins have increased expressions in many types of cancer. His is one of the few labs in the United States that specializes in mouse models of L1 movement.
Pinto, also a native of India, is in her second year at SDSU. She is the initial recipient of the William R. Hoch Endowed Professorship in Community Pharmacy. Her expertise is in patient care and community practice. Shortly after she arrived, she was awarded a five-year, multimillion dollar federal grant to improve patient outcomes, practitioner well-being, and impact care for South Dakotan’s with chronic conditions.
Dennis Hedge, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said, “Endowed faculty professorships and chair positions play a key role in recruiting and retaining top-quality faculty, an essential element to strong academic and research programs that you find at premier universities.
“Further, these positions are important symbolically because they attest to the stature of the university and the quality of its faculty, setting the university apart from others and making it more attractive to prospective students.”
Jane Mort, dean of the college, added, “I, too, would like to express the college’s deep appreciation for the generosity of Kevin and Lorie Haarberg. Your passionate commitment to making a transformational difference in the battle against cancer is truly laudable. We are honored to have the opportunity to partner with you in this quest.”
The Haarbergs, of Woodland, California, are longtime donors to the college and have become more involved in the past decade.
Kevin Haarberg, a 1979 SDSU pharmacy graduate, spent five years as a pharmaceutical salesman for Eli Lilly Co. before joining the financial advising firm Edward Jones. He now is a general partner with the national firm. Lorie Haarberg, originally of Antioch, California, does extensive volunteer work with Woodland Health Care.
Her personal crusade against cancer was fueled by the loss of her parents when they were in their 50s. Louise Miller died in 1992 from breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Roger Miller died in 1996 from a rare form of stomach cancer.
Regarding the Haarberg Chair in Cancer Research, Kevin Haarberg said, “My hope is they would have a transformational discovery that changes the world. My big dream, our big dream, is this research will help cure cancer.”
Lorie Haarberg added, “Get to the root of it (cancer) before it develops.”
A graduate research assistant and a postdoctoral researcher now team with Raina. She plans to hire two more graduate research assistants in the next year.
Like the Haarbergs, Raina has been personally touched by cancer through the death of several acquaintances. She said it gave her research a passion and the enthusiasm she has felt among fellow researchers at South Dakota State is contagious. “I will not let you down,” Raina told the Haarbergs and others gathered at the Oct. 4 ceremony.
Kevin Haarberg remarked, “Some people make such an impact that everyone who follows them is impacted. We want to make sure of that for the faculty here at South Dakota State.”
Cancer research at South Dakota State
• Wenfeng An, research on the L1 strand are relevant to cancer development.
• Xiangming Guan, developing a drug delivery method to prevent cancer metastasis.
• Om Perumal, doing drug delivery research related to localized breast cancer treatment.
• Jayarama Gunaje, working on the relationship between aspirin and colon cancer.
• Joshua Reineke, researching pancreatic cancer.
• Hemachand Tummala, drug delivery research on curcumin as it applies to gastric and colon cancer.