The United Kingdom-trained Professor of Animal Physiology at the University, Professor Okanlawon Onagbesan, has added to knowledge by strengthening cancer research by linking it with animal models.

Professor Onagbesan, described this while speaking on the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) grant that he won, noting that ARC was a collaboration grant between United Kingdom and France in the area of reproduction with relevance to cancer disease research, especially ovarian/cervical cancer.

“We identified a gene that was responsible for the multiplication of cells in chicken tissues and you know, cancer is when a cell multiplies too rapidly and the whole tissue becomes so big. So, we identified a gene that we thought was responsible for this rapid multiplication growth of the cells resulting into cancer. We teamed up with a centre in London that is known for cancer research and we were working with them to see how we could find an efficient protocol to block the expression of such gene actions in ovarian cells with extrapolation, using the result as therapy for curing cancer. The genes were first reported and cloned from chicken cells and it’s called epidermal growth factor and its receptor gene. When you add the ligand into the culture, the cells grow very quick but without it, the growth is very slow”, he said.

“So, the cancer research institute was helping to raise antibodies that can be used against that receptors of the epidermal growth factor gene family that will slow down the growth of the cancer cell and we were able to report the genes from chicken ovarian cells. There was over-expression of the receptors in ad libitum fed broiler breeder chicken ovaries resulting in dysfunctional overgrown ovaries, compared to feed restricted counterparts with normal reproductive performance. We were using it to look at the reproductive rate for chickens but from there, we found out that this receptor gene is also relevant to cancer cells. ARC actually sponsored that grant alongside the Journal of Reproduction and Fertility. There, we linked chicken with cancer and we published one or two papers, in collaboration with the Cancer Research Institute, to show that we can use some aspects of chicken research studies to curing or raising antibodies in humans or rats against the rapid cells proliferating resulting in cancer. That was where I came into the research of linking humans with farm animals but then, I moved away from there to other aspects”, he added.

Professor Onagbesan, who majored on the reproduction and fertility of farm animals with special interest in poultry birds, said in the course of his research activities, which he started in the UK, he had been able to improve the reproduction of broiler breeder birds, a research he said he did, in collaboration with other renowned scientists from universities in the UK, Belgium and France, using the grants he had won, leading to the publication of several papers in high impact journals.

Similarly, Professor Onagbesan spoke on a research he conducted on a breed of sheep mostly found in Scotland and Wales, called the Mountain Sheep. According to him, they produce a lot of wool but are very poor in reproduction and meat quality, because they have too much fat and the meat is not the kind of meat that people would want to eat. Hence, a lot of sheep were imported from Australia and New Zealand into England. So, they decided that since they had their own sheep; why not produce their own for sustainability by improving it so that it produces more and the meat is better?

The Don, who is presently the Director, World Bank Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Development and Sustainable Environment (CEADESE) of FUNAAB, however, challenged researchers to embark on industry-oriented researches that would bring about development and solve pressing challenges being experienced in Nigeria.