October 12th, 2002
By Jean Scott
Clemson University chemistry professor John Huffman's research into compounds that mirror marijuana's active ingredient — without the accompanying risks — has already showed success in easing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Because of a $400,000 Senior Scientist Award from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Drug Abuse, the 70-year-old chemist will have even more time to create compounds with potential medical benefits.
The award will pay about 75 percent of his salary through 2005 and allow him to reduce his teaching load to one upper-level course per year. In addition to freeing him up to do more of the research he thrives on, the award is a boost to the chemistry department as it copes with state budget cuts, Mr. Huffman said.
The compounds that Mr. Huffman creates are called cannabinoids and are related to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the primary mind-altering ingredient in marijuana.
"We look at its structure and make our own," Mr. Huffman said.
The intended result is a compound that produces similar medical benefits without drawbacks of marijuana use such as the feeling of being high, loss of memory, inability to concentrate and ingesting harmful smoke.
He has created about 250 variations of the compounds, one of which showed promise in easing tremors and severe muscle stiffness in patients who have multiple sclerosis. The chronic disease is one of the major causes of disability in adults who are younger than 65.
Thomas Keinath, dean of Clemson's College of Engineering and Science, said the National Institute of Health's recognition of the work is well deserved.
"Dr. Huffman's award validates what we've known all along — that Clemson
University, and with it South Carolina, have some of the top scientific
minds in the country," he said in a news release. "The research done here,
whether by our faculty or students, will make a difference in people's
© 2002 Independent Publishing Company