Grant funds study of kava as preventive agent against tobacco smoke–induced lung cancer 

By Ian Bennett |

Chengguo Xing, Ph.D., a professor and associate chair in the department of medicinal chemistry in the UF College of Pharmacy, has been awarded a $295,000 grant from the Florida Department of Health Bankhead-Coley Cancer Research Program to evaluate the potential of AB-free kava against tobacco smoke–induced lung cancer. He is collaborating with Kristianna Marie Fredenburg, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of pathology, immunology & laboratory medicine in the UF College of Medicine, and Zhiguang Huo, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of biostatistics in the UF College of Public Health & Health Professions. 

Chengguo Xing
Chengguo Xing, Ph.D.

Tobacco smoke is a major cause of lung cancer, along with other risk factors. 

“Lung cancer is a major issue and if we can find ways to prevent it, it could have a significant impact on public health,” said Xing, a member of the Cancer Center’s Cancer Therapeutics & Host Response research program. “We are grateful to have received this grant and are excited to investigate the potential of kava as a cancer preventive agent.” 

Kava, or Piper methysticum, is a plant native to the Pacific Islands and has been traditionally used for its anxiolytic and analgesic properties. Several clinical trials by Xing and his collaborators have shown its potential as a tobacco cessation aid. However, its potential as a cancer preventive agent has not been extensively studied. 

Stimulated by epidemiological observations of the potential of kava to reduce cancer, the Xing lab demonstrated that kava could prevent lung, prostate and colon tumorigenesis in lab animals. This research also revealed that kava shows efficacy against tobacco carcinogen-induced lung carcinogenesis at a dose comparable to levels of human consumption. 

Upon developing a panel of mechanism-based clinically translatable biomarkers, the team evaluated kava’s potential to reduce lung cancer risk among active smokers via a proof-of-concept clinical trial. The results not only supported kava’s benefits among active smokers, but also revealed its lung cancer preventive potential among former smokers. Those results were not captured in previous preclinical animal models because those models have physiological gaps to human smokers. 

Xing and his team will use the new grant to further study this finding and investigate the ability of AB-free kava to prevent tobacco smoke–induced lung cancer using a physiologically relevant animal model that mimics active smokers and former smokers. They will also examine the mechanisms by which kava may exert its cancer preventive effects.