Researcher at UNCG looks for a cure in the fungus

You don’t have to have a keener eye to see what Nick Oberlies sees in the creeks around his office. You only need to have a keener sense of nature.

Oberlies was doing research in North Carolina’s famed, “Research Triangle Park,” a few years ago when the University of North Carolina at Greensboro recruited him. He runs his own lab at UNC-G that works in Natural Pharmacology. Finding those special compounds in nature, that might have great value in medicines.

In the 1990s, the big pharmaceutical companies were big into creating synthetic compounds that they might later turn into medicines. But Oberlies says there’s a problem with that.

“You can only make what you can conceive,” he says. “And, the nice thing about nature is when we’re going out and looking, we find things that we would’ve never thought of putting together the Tinker Toys that way.  And, once we find it, we say, ‘Oh, that was a pretty clever way that nature put that together.’ “

Oberlies and his team go to mostly streams within a roughly 60-mile radius of the university campus and look for pieces of wood that have been in the water long enough that they are soft and easily breakable. Those are sticks that likely are covered with fungus – what your mom called, ‘mold’ – that he then takes back to his lab, grows, analyzes and see if they have any special properties – and many of them do.

In this edition of the Buckley Report, see what Oberlies and his team are after… and what they do with it, once they find it.

By Bob Buckley