A Ferris State University assistant professor and two second-year pharmacy graduate students are conducting experiments in the Shimadzu Core Laboratory for Academic and Research Excellence with money received from a $70,000 Young Investigator Grant from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

The research project, “Synthesis of terpene-based sedatives utilizing a novel metabolically engineered host” will shape genetic information in e.coli bacteria, to facilitate production of a compound intended to treat anxiety and insomnia. Eric Nybo, from Ferris’ Pharmaceutical Sciences department, said that Ferris provided the initial funding to develop the study’s preliminary data.

The project’s goal is to generate a compound with a similar chemical profile to valerenic acid. Valerian herb is an over-the counter supplement that is drawn from the root of the plant. Nybo says they hope to develop a “microbial pharma-factory” that would produce a higher yield of the necessary compound, with greater purity.

”We’re hoping we can convert what is a nutraceutical, in the form of Valerian herb, into a drug that could be marketed to patients directly,” Nybo says in a release. “Something that you could take as a prescription for insomnia, or anxiety. We’d like to turn this into an FDA-approved drug.”

Nybo said Kayla Maki, of Allendale, Mich, and Jacqueline Saunders from Marquette, Mich, are the second-year pharmacy students participating in the research project.