It has been a good run lately for Shengmin Sang, Ph.D.

Sang, associate professor and lead scientist in the Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies ​at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University labs in Kannapolis, was awarded the inaugural Innovation for Impact Grand Prize Thursday night in Greensboro.

The award was among those presented at Triad BioNight, a celebration of bioscience leadership in the Piedmont Triad region.

  • MORE COVERAGE: Award details plus other Triad BioNight winners
  • WTW Insider bonus: Who is Dr. Shengmin Sang? Read his full bio

The award competition, co-sponsored by SoBran Bioscience and the Piedmont Triad Office of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, drew entries from 17 researchers at universities and emerging companies in North Carolina. The entrants answered the question, “How will your research heal, fuel or feed the world in the future?”

Sang’s winning entry is based on his study of gingerol, an active ingredient in fresh ginger. Recent studies have shown one form of the compound, called [6]-gingerol or 6G, to be a cancer chemopreventive agent that also reduced aspirin-induced gastric lesions in rats.

NCBiotech grant awarded in 2011

In late 2011, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center awarded Sang a $75,000 grant to help him study the combination of aspirin and natural food compounds.

Now, after five years of work, Sang has licensed a patent based on this research to Sarisa Therapeutics of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sarisa was created in 2015 by Invenshure, a Minneapolis technology incubator and venture catalyst that commercializes intellectual property from leading institutions around the world.

Sang works at NCA&T’s labs at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, north of Charlotte. His patented compounds may be useful in treating or preventing colon cancer, heart disease and other disorders.

“Our study combined bioactive natural food compounds with aspirin to generate a prodrug that will decrease the GI (gastrointestinal) toxicity from aspirin and enhance its efficacy,” said Sang. “These compounds of foods can help with many ailments.”

Sang’s team continues to research the links between food compounds and preventive medicine.

“My team is trying to understand why and how some foods prevent certain disease,” he said. “Different foods have different bioactive compounds, and different subjects have different genetic background. Our long-term goal is to advance our knowledge on individualized nutrition.”

At the core of the NCRC mission

This kind of research is at the core of the NCRC mission.

“Dr. Sang’s research is reflective of the campus’ larger goal, which is to advance the fields of precision nutrition through a focus on plant science and disease prevention,” said Jennifer Woodford, director of communications and campus development at NCRC. “The more we understand phytochemicals, the better we understand their health benefits, which is at the heart of Dr. Sang’s research.”

For Sang and his team, the support of North Carolina’s scientific community has been key. Following the grant from NCBiotech, he received an NIH grant.

“It is a challenge to receive federal grants,” said Sang. “NCBiotech’s and the state’s support have been critical to allowing me to create the preliminary data needed to apply and receive federal grants.”

(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center