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Husson University Researchers Share in $500,000 Research Award from NIFA-USDA

Published on: February 12, 2018

Husson University faculty members
Dr. Yanyan Li, Assistant Professor, College of Science and Humanities, Dr. Tao Zhang, Assistant Professor, School of Pharmacy


BANGOR, MAINE - Husson University announced today that two of their faculty members and a University of Michigan faculty member have received a $500,000 research award from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the United States Department of Agriculture (NIFA-USDA). The research funded by this award will be looking at the interactions between the natural chemical compounds found in broccoli sprouts and gut bacteria to determine if broccoli sprout consumption could help reduce the development of cancerous colon tumors.    

“We’re very excited to receive this award,” said Dr. Yanyan Li, an assistant professor in the College of Science and Humanities at Husson University and the principal investigator. “Government research funding is not as plentiful as years past. We are so gratified to be given this opportunity by NIFA-USDA to conduct research with life-saving implications. Our hope is that our findings could help prevent some of the more than 50,000 deaths that occur each year as a result of colon and rectal cancer.”    

In 2017, it's estimated there were 135,430 new cases and 50,260 deaths from colon and rectal cancers.[1] Approximately one in 20 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer.[2] In addition, approximately 23 million people have not been screened for colorectal cancer.[3]

The award will be used for laboratory materials, chemicals, bioanalysis, molecular biology analysis, cell and tissue analysis and other expenses necessary to conduct this four-year research study. The research is expected to be completed in 2022.

Much of the research will be conducted at Husson University’s Marshall Road laboratory facilities and on-campus laboratories. “The quality of our Marshall Road laboratories is outstanding,” said Dr. Tao Zhang, an assistant professor of basic pharmaceutical sciences at Husson University’s School of Pharmacy and research co-investigator. “This 2000 square-foot, state-of-the-art research laboratory space will be an invaluable part of our research efforts. Several pieces of equipment at Husson’s Marshall Road labs, such as a high performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC) and a lyophilizer (also known as a ‘freeze dryer’), will be used as part of this research.”

“We’re very proud of the top-tier researchers and facilities we have here at Husson University. Students in our science and pharmacy programs get an outstanding educational experience because they get to work with great equipment and great faculty,” said Dr. Lynne Coy-Ogan, Husson University’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “In addition to being dedicated scientists, Dr. Li and Dr. Zhang are outstanding educators. Students who attend Husson University are learning from some of the nation’s leading experts in their fields.”

The goal of Dr. Li’s research is to understand the health benefits, in particular cancer prevention properties and mechanisms, of natural food and its components. Dr. Li’s prior research on the effects of active compounds found in certain vegetables on cancer stem cells has generated national and international interest. Dr. Zhang has expertise in the study of cancer drug discovery and pharmacokinetics. Pharmacokinetics is the study of drug movements within the human body. He has authored over 30 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals.

Partnering with Dr. Li and Dr. Zhang, as co-principal investigator, is Dr. Grace Chen from the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Chen is a medical oncologist specializing in the treatment of colorectal cancers and an expert in host-microbial interactions in the development of colon inflammation and cancer.

“The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center is committed to bettering the health and well-being of people who have, or are at risk of getting cancer through research-driven discoveries and collaborative science,” said Dr. Chen “By working together, Husson University and the University of Michigan can take advantage of their combined resources and expertise to better understand the interplay between natural products within the diet, the gut bacteria community, and colon cancer risk. I look very much look forward to working together with Dr. Li and Dr. Zhang.”

Husson University prepares future leaders to handle the challenges of tomorrow through innovative undergraduate and graduate degrees. With a commitment to delivering affordable classroom, online and experiential learning opportunities, Husson has come to represent superior value in higher education. Our Bangor campus and off-campus satellite education centers in Southern Maine, Wells, and Northern Maine provide advanced knowledge in business; health and education; pharmacy studies, science and humanities; as well as communication. In addition, Husson University has a robust adult learning program. For more information about educational opportunities that can lead to personal and professional success, visit

[1] Fighting Colorectal Cancer, “Facts and Stats,”

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

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