Naomi Fujioka, M.D., recipient of the Masonic Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention and Control Award, is studying the role of a commercial kava supplement in decreasing the effects of a tobacco carcinogen called NNK. Kava is a plant native to the South Pacific, whose roots are used in medicine and dietary supplements.
In an early-stage clinical trial, Fujioka and her team are giving a kava supplement to healthy smokers for a week and measuring their NNK levels before and after they take the supplement.
“My work wouldn’t be possible without support from Minnesota Masonic Charities. I want to continue working hard to make sure I do my best to reduce the burden of cancer and smoking. Support from the Masons makes this possible."
Fujioka—a U faculty member in the area of hematology, oncology, and transplantation—believes that kava will be effective in detoxifying NNK and decreasing its effect. If her hunch is correct, this work will be an important step toward the prevention of lung cancer.
In addition to this work, Fujioka, a Masonic Scholar from 2012-2014, is involved in many other projects:
- Leading a clinical trial to see if Brussels sprouts change how smokers process tobacco carcinogens.
- Examining the relationship between a specific non-carcinogenic compound and airway abnormalities in current and former smokers.
- Collaborating with U faculty member Dan Vallera, Ph.D., on an early-stage clinical trial to test a new drug that targets cancer stem cells, with support through the Cancer Experimental Therapeutics Initiative. This treatment could be a major leap forward for people who don’t respond to conventional therapies, and could play a significant role in preventing cancer relapse.