The 2020 ElSohly Award Winners: Dr. Jacqueline von Salm

April 28, 2020

Dr. Jacqueline von Salm got her start in natural products chemistry focusing on chemical ecology, drug discovery, and research SCUBA diving. Her group studied everything from plant endophytes to marine organisms, and her specialty was Antarctic marine terpenes. This led to their discovery of the novel diterpenoid darwinolide and von Salm was recognized as the most read author of the American Chemical Society in 2017. After receiving her PhD, von Salm went to do a post-doc in Vancouver, British Columbia on metabolomics, chemical compound libraries, and antibiotic drug discovery. After moving to Florida, she joined Dr. Chris Witowski, the CSO of AltMed, to help start a facility from the ground up, create new product formulations, and perform GC–MS metabolomics on their different plant phenotypes. She is currently the co-founder and CSO of Psilera Bioscience and Gen2 Therapeutics. Here she discusses some of her research and what we can expect from her presentation on May 6.

What will your talk at the CANN symposium focus on?
Dr. Jacqueline von Salm:
The talk will be focused on terpene metabolomics of our in-house cultivars and which terpenes best describe the differences or similarities between phenotypes. Other groups have also done this research, but as with any chemical ecology type studies, environment is so important for chemical production. Our chemovars show a specific terpene that has largely been ignored in cannabis is a major differentiator among phenotypes. This terpene isn’t even regularly tested by third party labs!

What do you hope attendees at the symposium will take away from your talk?
von Salm:
That some of the minor terpenes in cannabis are absolutely capable of helping to understand similarities and differences in chemovars and potentially medical outcomes. Although I’m not specifically talking on some of our other metabolomics research, it is important for everyone to remember that every grow and every unique environment will alter the chemical composition of your flower and the products created from them. Different curing methods, extraction techniques, distillation, and anything downstream in production will further alter the compounds present. Short path distillation creates a lot more degradation to cannabinoids than our wiped-film distillation unit. Diverse chemovars, equipment, and methods create an industry of great variability, which makes consistent, reliable medicine very difficult to produce. Not to mention the variability in types of patients, which requires major strides to be made in personalized medicine and botanicals.

How will winning the ElSohly Award impact your research efforts or future projects?
von Salm:
This award really helped legitimize the efforts of cannabis scientists and natural products chemists around the world. That type of recognition from an esteemed group such as CANN and ACS will greatly help spread the word of our research and hopefully lead to further projects and funding. I remember being a graduate student at the American Society of Pharmacognosy conference one year in Mississippi. I had the chance to tour and visit the facility at Ole Miss and see the research being done there, so it is almost surreal to now be awarded for my own research in cannabis with an award named after ElSohly!

How did you get started with cannabis research?
von Salm:
Most of my background was in novel structure isolation and elucidation as well as untargeted and targeted metabolomics of various micro- and macro-organisms both from terrestrial and marine environments. When my PhD colleague and friend that worked for AltMed knew they were opening a Florida location, he found a way to make sure I was part of the research efforts, especially since I specialized in terpenes and structure elucidation. I was fortunate to join a company that emphasizes and praises all R&D efforts that expand our knowledge of the cannabis plant.

Can you tell us about some of your metabolomics research with different plant phenotypes?
von Salm:
The metabolomics research is currently focused on terpenes and the two major cannabinoids of cannabis, THC and CBD. We are also interested in minor cannabinoids or other interesting chemistry from the plant such as flavonoids or phytosteroids, but that is future research we are still finalizing. I prefer untargeted metabolomics using headspace GC–MS with minimal manipulation of the plant material. Working in marine chemical ecology taught me just how easily you can affect the chemistry from minor stresses or changes inflicted on an organism. I also prefer untargeted because there are still minor sesquiterpenes that are unknown and often just labelled as “unknown metabolite” in publications. We are working on isolating and identifying these unknown sesquiterpenes.

The goal with this research is to create unique chemical fingerprints for various phenotypes to not only create more consistent, reliable medicine for patients, but to also make predictions for new genetics and what their affect may be as compared to genetics we are already growing or selling. It also helps our growers understand how easily a minor change in the environment will affect the final product, not to mention how variable flower can be from different drying and curing methods much like tea and tobacco leaves.

Can you tell us more about your current research involving cannabis and what you hope to study in the future?
von Salm:
Our current research is largely understanding the overall chemical and microbial compositions from live plants to cured flower to distillate. Consistency while maintaining diverse chemovars is our goal, which is much more difficult than many companies would probably like to admit. Most of this has been more on a chemical ecology and traditional natural products level, but I hope to expand this research into the medical realm. Part of my PhD and post-doc was designing ways to predict the activity of unknown natural products scaffolds and complex mixtures. We are already working on patient feedback surveys to help us understand how each formulation helps patients to hopefully overlap patient outcomes with chemical composition. Unfortunately, things like pain are highly variable and subjective, so we have applied for National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants with partners at the University of South Florida (USF) to further understand how minor cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis are affecting nociception and analgesia. My personal passion is in neurodegenerative diseases, so I also hope to further understand potential with Alzheimer’s and dementia. My father suffers from a rare form of dementia known as primary progressive aphasia, and it can start as early as your mid-50s. I think cannabis has a lot of potential in neurological conditions, and we just need to further understand the mechanisms and biomolecular interactions within the body.

Dr. von Salm will be presenting her talk “Unique Terpene Metabolites as Descriptors of Cannabis Phenotypes and Products” during the Spring 2020 CANN Virtual Symposium in The Second Annual ElSohly Award session on Wednesday, May 6.

Register for free here: https://www.cannabissciencetech.com/e-learning-tools/spring-2020-cann-virtual-symposium.