Research on parasitic flatworms earns the 2022 Regent Scholar Award


Kyra Slakes / Advance-Titan — Assistant chemistry professor John Chan conducts research as he tries to develop a medication to fight against parasitic flatworms.

Chandler Brindley, Staff Writer

A UW Oshkosh assistant chemistry professor, working in collaboration with one of his students, has received the 2022 Regent Scholar Award for their work in trying to develop a medication to fight against parasitic flatworms.

One of three to receive the award in 2022, John Chan said the program is grant-based and gives money for research to programs at UW-System schools. The Regent Scholar Award program, designed to promote collective research between professors and students, started in 2014 and provides awards up to $50,000 each, according to the regent scholar website.

John Chan

Chang is one of two UWO professors to ever receive the award, which has been given to only 17 people since its inception. Yijun Tang, also in the chemistry department, won the award in 2018 for a diabetes test.

 Chan’s awarded project called “A Novel Chemotherapy to Treat Parasitic Flatworms Causing Human and Animal Disease,” had the help of UW-Milwaukee Organic Chemistry Professor James Cook and UWO graduate student Isaac Kamara.

 Chan’s project revolves around the search for another type of medication that will help with combating parasitic flatworms. There is only one drug currently on the market for treating flatworms, he said. 

 “It’s called praziquantel,” Chan said. “It is more than likely in the chicken-flavored syringe paste that you would give to your dog to deworm them,” he said.

 No new drugs have been developed since the 1970s and reliance on one drug presents a serious threat of emerging drug resistance, according to UW Oshkosh Today. Chan said emerging drug resistance is especially a huge problem in underdeveloped countries.

Originally from Liberia, Kamara has been working with Chan for nearly a year on the project, mainly doing lab procedures. The background of this project hit home for him.

 “This is something that I see people suffer with at home every day,” he said. “When I was a kid, I had seen so many people suffer from a parasitic worm. That is what makes winning the award and working on this project so special to me.”

 When applying for the award, Chan said he had to lean on Tang for guidance throughout the application process. 

 “It is always easier to write these things if someone already did well in it,” Chan said. “It takes a lot of the guesswork out of the writing process.”

 Chan said the process for applying for the award is rigorous and time-consuming, but the equipment that is needed in these programs is expensive and this award will help pay for it. 

 “A huge part of it is writing for it,” Chan said. “A ton of people might put in 10 applications a year, or maybe even more,” he said. “All of what we do takes money.”

 The rivalrous nature of applying for the award makes it somewhat of an honor if you are selected.

 “It is one of the more competitive ones,” Chan said. “They only hand out a few a year. Everybody from all the campuses can apply. Yes, it is an honor, but I try not to think of it that way.”


Kamara said it would mean a lot to him if they are able to produce a new drug.

 “It would mean so much to me,” he said. “Sub-Saharan Africa has a nine out of 10 death rate caused by this worm. Most people do not have access to a medical facility and only have a local pharmacy that does not have all the drugs.” 

Kamara said he is appreciative of attending UWO and working on the award-winning project with Chan.

 “I am grateful to be doing this work,” he said. “I .. feel blessed.”