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Why I Do Science: Ben O de Lumen

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Ever since I was in grade school, the idea that science is used to benefit humanity has always motivated me.

As I look back on my science career, I realize that research has presented me with many unexpected pathways. One has to be ready to take advantage of these opportunities—this is what makes doing science exciting. Having worked in industry, where one is assigned a project, I really appreciate the privilege here at Berkeley of being able to take one’s research in unexpected and challenging directions.

About ten years ago, our research took a totally unexpected path. While working on a project to improve the nutritional quality of plant proteins, my team serendipitously discovered the cancer-preventive properties of a soy peptide (a small protein). We named it lunasin, from the Tagalog word lunas, for cure. Our lab has made significant progress in characterizing lunasin from various seeds and studying how it works.

Our next step is to move the project to clinical trials, possibly beginning with skin and cervical cancer prevention. Lunasin science is sufficiently robust that it is protected by patents owned by UC Berkeley, and has led to the founding of a biotech company. Participating in the translation of lunasin science from the laboratory bench into clinical trials is especially rewarding.

Science has always been a team effort, and I gratefully acknowledge the participation and contributions of colleagues from all over the world, as well as postdoctoral fellows, graduate, and undergraduate students.

Benito O. de Lumen is a professor of nutritional sciences and toxicology. He was recently named a 2010 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for his contributions to natural-products biochemistry, with special regard to the discovery of lunasin, a cancer preventative derived from seeds of common crop plants.


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