MAYVILLE, N.D. – A Mayville State University professor is studying whether a legume crop grown in North Dakota has potential to be used for medicinal purposes.

Khwaja Hossain, an MSU biology professor, and three of his students – Lexi Carpenter, Creighton Pfau and Sean Pollack – are conducting research to determine if chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, can be used to treat chronic diseases.

“We need to have an alternate way of supplying our medication,” Hossain said, noting that the cost of traditional medications is continuously rising. Meanwhile, more than half of Americans have a chronic health condition, and a fourth of them have multiple chronic conditions.

At the same time, an estimated 75% of adults aren’t consistently taking their medications for their chronic conditions, either because they aren’t filling their prescriptions or they are taking a lower dosage than their provider prescribed, Hossain said.

Hossain believes a healthy diet, containing one or more of the medications, may help allay the problem.

The research of Hossain, Carpenter, Pfau and Pollack is supported by funding from North Dakota IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence. The organization promotes development, coordination and sharing of research expertise in an effort to expand research opportunities and increase the number of competitive investigators in states that are eligible for IDeA grants, according to the North Dakota INBRE web site.

Chickpeas, which have high fiber and protein, long have been known for their nutritious qualities, but Hossain and his students appear to be the first researchers studying whether the crop can be used to treat chronic illnesses, including high cholesterol and diabetes.

Chickpeas, which originated in southeastern Turkey and Syria, are grown in the United States primarily in North Dakota, Montana and Washington. The number of chickpea acres in the United States has risen in recent years as demand for hummus, a dip originating in the Middle East, has grown.

Hossain, a native of Bangladesh, grew up eating chickpeas raw.

“We used to call it a horse food because it gives you lots of horsepower,” Hossain said.

He hopes people with chronic illnesses may be more amenable to eating a few raw chickpeas – containing medicine to treat multiple chronic diseases – than they are to taking several expensive medications.

“I can have more than one disease, but there is no single prescribed medicine for more than one disease,” Hossain said.

Meanwhile, chickpeas are a naturally good food.

Besides their natural health benefits and taste, chickpeas are a prime candidate for Hossain’s research because they are a short-season crop, grow well in nursery trays under greenhouse conditions, and produce pods with a single seed. Production of a single seed, rather than multiple seeds, is important because the amount of medication taken up into each pod can be quantified.

“You can measure the dose, because they have one seed,” Hossain said.

A few years ago, Hossain and his research team began delving into how chickpeas would take up and transfuse the Type II diabetes medication Metformin. Their research showed that when the medicine is added to a tray of water placed below the tray of plants, the plants did, indeed, take up the Metformin along with the water.

Meanwhile, the research also showed that the amount of Metformin that is in the seed can be adjusted to correlate with the dosage of the medication.

Hossain, Carpenter, Pfau and Pollack now are researching whether Pravastatin, a cholesterol-lowering medication, can be absorbed into chickpeas, together with Metformin. If the research shows it is possible, they will have found a way for one medication, in the form of a plant seed, to treat two chronic diseases.

“That’s a cheaper, renewable, sustainable way,” Hossain said.