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Oceans Might Hold the Answers to Beating Addiction, Stemming Chronic Pain, DU Professor Says

Westerners have combed rainforests for pharmaceutical compounds, but in landlocked Pittsburgh, the ocean is not often discussed as a possible pharmacopeia. Still, from his inland academic base, Dr. Kevin Tidgewell, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at Duquesne University, scours the ocean for natural products.

Tidgewell arrived this fall direct from Panama, where he spent the last two years searching the seas for products to help those who suffer from complex diseases such as neurological disorders, cancers and parasitic infections. He focuses on cyanobacteria, one-celled organisms that gather in colonies that look like limp seaweed when scooped up.

Tidgewell studies their possible pharmaceutical abilities to ease neurological diseases, addiction, pain and cancer, incorporating many scientific disciplines to examine the structures and activities of the body's receptors responsible for the uptake of opiates and other drugs.

A post-doctoral research fellow at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Tidgewell also was a post-doctoral research fellow in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Still affiliated with this group, he was featured in a segment of Stephen Hawking's Brave New World series last year. Since then, his work has branched into the search for new painkillers and addiction treatments.

After collecting samples and extracting compounds,Tidgewell uses nuclear magnetic resonance imaging in Duquesne's Center for Biotechnology and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry instruments in Duquesne's Center of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry to analyze the compounds.

Access to this state-of-the-art equipment-and its location within a single building-helped to lure Tidgewell to Duquesne. Additionally, he felt energized by the other research on campus.

"Duquesne is a good fit for me because, within the division of pharmaceutical sciences, there's a focus on neuropharmacology and pain," Tidgewell said.

Likewise, Tidgewell's work is complementary to ongoing Duquesne's research. "His research interests are in alignment with the mission of the school to improve health outcomes in patients and their communities through drug discovery," said Dr. J. Douglas Bricker, pharmacy school dean.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.