University of Houston-Victoria biology student Jeff Cokenour publicly defended his bachelor’s thesis at the University of Houston System at Sugar Land on Aug. 10. The event was open to the public in Victoria through interactive television at the UHV Center Building and was held from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
According to Dr. Gunasekra, UHV biology professor, Cokenour's thesis is noteworthy because it is an undergraduate endeavor and also part of a humanitarian mission.
Sponsored by Innovative Humanitarian Solutions, Cokenour traveled to Tibet, China to conduct research on Kashin-Beck disease in mid July.
Cokenour’s thesis is titled “Garcinia Mangostana in the treatment of and prevention of Kashin-Beck Disease.”
The event commenced as Dr. Richard Gunasekera, UHV biology professor, and thesis examiners provided a brief overview of the event and definitions of key scientific terms. He emphasized the meaning of the words hypothesis, thesis, and synthesis.
Cokenour then took the floor and began his thesis defense by providing a brief history of the disease. He then described the “in-vitro” and “in-silico” research he had conducted at UHV labs in Sugar Land using cell lines and bioinformatically. In addition to describing the symptoms of Kashin-Beck disease, he said previous researchers indicated affected individuals have low selenium and iodine levels.
Gunasekera accompanied Cokenour to the Himalayan region to deliver lectures as an expert. By invitation, he also delivered lectures to the biology faculty at the University of Tibet.
Known to exist mostly in rural Tibet and possibly North Korea, Kashin-Beck disease is a severe form of arthritis, causing joint deformation and limited mobility. This painful disease often begins during childhood and affects 10 percent of the people in this area of Tibet. The cause of this disease is not known.
As a part of his bachelor’s thesis defense, Cokenour proposed that the low selenium and iodine levels in subjects are residual effects of the disease, and not causal.
Professors Homer Black (Baylor College of Medicine) and Gunasekera challenged Cokenour’s hypothesis. Drs. Gunasekera, Black and Somasundaram were members of Cokenour’s thesis committee for the oral examination.
Cokenour also proposed the tropical plant Garcinia Mangostana contained medicinal qualities that might reverse or prevent Kashin-Beck disease. Cokenour said if his hypothesis is valid, the plant will be a very inexpensive treatment for afflicted persons in this developing country.
The research he conducted at UHV was to test this plant extracts in cancer cell lines to test his hypothesis. The long-term goal is to test this food as an antioxidant in a clinical trial in populations afflicted with Kashin-Beck disease.
Cokenour concluded his thesis defense with a question-and-answer session. This session gave the public a chance to challenge or ask for further explanation of some of the ideas Cokenour presented.