South Carolina Center for Biotechnology Director Dr. Omar Bagasra will receive the James E. Clyburn Health Disparities Leadership Award on April 20 for his research that seeks to lower the chances of African-American males diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“It’s a magnificent honor not only for me but Claflin University and my visionary team that has provided unbelievable support with this meaningful research,” said Bagasra, who also thanked the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Cancer Institute for funding his research project.
When Bagasra arrived at Claflin in the summer of 2001, he aimed to shed light on why certain ethnicities seemed to be more susceptible to specific diseases. The former Governor’s Professor of the Year discovered African-American males statistically have higher instances and mortality rates associated with prostate cancer.
In digging deeper with his research, he simultaneously found the problem and the solution – African-American males have significantly lower levels of much-needed zinc in the prostate gland.
“Zinc has a direct connection with the development of prostate cancer,” said Bagasra. “We have found the gene which controls zinc regulation. Now, the hope is to create a special chemical treatment to provide the appropriate amount of zinc.”
Bagasra said any potential treatment would serve to prevent the likelihood of prostate cancer. He said the proposed treatment could be specialized so all ethnicities could benefit from it. Down the road, he anticipates similar developments could be made in the areas of diabetes, hypertension and breast cancer.
Congressman James Clyburn, the House assistant Democratic leader who represents the sixth district of South Carolina, established the annual health disparities lecture series five years ago to spur awareness and allow top researchers in the field to share their work and ideas.
“I applaud the tremendous work Dr. Bagasra is doing to help reduce the number of African- American males diagnosed with prostate cancer. His research is especially important to South Carolina, where health disparities are more pronounced. He is a leader in addressing those disparities, and it is very fitting that he is receiving this award,” Clyburn said.
At Claflin, Bagasra has founded the S.C. Center for Biotechnology – the first such center at an HBCU in the nation – and the Master of Biotechnology program. He has published more than 200 scientific articles during his career. He created the in situ PCR method, which amplifies genetic fragments at the single cell level so they could be viewed through an ordinary microscope.
President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale congratulated Bagasra for his visionary research and forthcoming award.
“Dr. Omar Bagasra is the embodiment of what Claflin University represents – a commitment to impactful research that will improve the human condition and an uncompromising desire to teach the next generation of visionary leaders,” said Tisdale. “Over the last decade, it has truly been a privilege to have him as a distinguished member of our world class faculty. The entire Claflin University family extends a much deserved congratulations to Dr. Bagasra for receiving this prestigious award.”