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20 August 2020 | Story Andre Damons | Photo Barend Nagel
Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa, Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of the Free State (UFS), has been appointed as the chairperson of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Regional Expert Advisory Committee on Traditional Medicines for COVID-19.

Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa, Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of the Free State (UFS), will lead Africa’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic with his appointment as chairperson of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Regional Expert Advisory Committee on Traditional Medicines for COVID-19.

Prof Matsabisa has been chosen over 25 other experts from 27 African countries to head this expert committee tasked with setting up research and clinical trials for COVID-19 and beyond. The committee is also supported by the African Union (AU), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC – Africa), and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP).

This committee was established by the WHO and the Africa CDC on 22 July with the aim of providing independent scientific advice and support to countries on the safety, efficacy, and quality of traditional medicine therapies. It is also an effort to enhance research and development of traditional medicines for COVID-19 in Africa.

Looking forward

“This is a huge continental and global responsibility being laid on my shoulders as a chairperson.  I have to keep the committee together and ensure that it delivers on its set mandate and terms of reference.  I need to ensure that the committee helps the continent and region to get the scientific and legislative aspects on traditional medicine development on track.”  

“I have taken this position and responsibility, knowing quite well what it entails. I want to do this for the continent and for the sake of good science of all traditional healers and consumers of traditional medicines on the continent and beyond,” says Prof Matsabisa.

According to Prof Matsabisa, he is looking forward to working with a team of dedicated experts from 27 countries in the African region, and being of help to countries that need assistance with clinical trials, including preclinical work to move to clinical research.

Prof Matsabisa says he is also looking forward to countries asking South Africa to be part of their multi-centre studies in clinical trials for traditional medicines, and to help set up clinical trial teams that include Western-trained clinicians to get into traditional medicine studies. 

The work of the committee

According to Prof Matsabisa, his new position took effect the same day as his appointment and will run as long as COVID-19 is part of our daily lives and even beyond. It entails supporting member states to implement the WHO master plan for clinical trial protocols in order to generate credible data for COVID-19 results, based on traditional medicines. The committee will also coordinate support to member states in the African region to collaborate on clinical trials of traditional medicine-based therapies – elevating standards by pooling expertise in multicentre studies, as well as complying with GCP and good participatory practice guidelines for trials of emerging and re-emerging pathogens.
“The committee will also advise on strengthening the capacity of national medicine regulatory authorities to accelerate the issuance of marketing authorisations for traditional medicine products that have been well researched for safety, efficacy, and quality, as well as to expedite the approval of clinical trials on traditional medicines. This will help to meet the national registration criteria and the WHO norms and standards of quality, safety, and efficacy for the management of COVID-19 and others.”

“It will also provide independent scientific advice to the WHO and other partners regarding policies, strategies, and plans for integrating traditional medicines into COVID-19 responses and health systems,” explains Prof Matsabisa. 

Aiming for the top spot 

Prof Matsabisa has been described as having the third highest research output – something he is not satisfied with. 
“I was disappointed that only one point separated me from the second place. I will push for first place as this is my ultimate aim. My motivation for this is simple – I like what I am doing, I do not take it as a job but do it because I love research.”  

“I always like to tell students that we should be proud to one day see products in the shops that we can relate to and to which we have contributed or that we have made.   This is what drives me and my staff.  I have a beautiful team of students, staff, and postdoctoral fellows who share my vision of research.  We all have a shared vision and strive to be relevant at all times in science research, development, and teaching.”

• Prof Matsabisa was recently part of a national conference with the theme: Harnessing science, technology, and innovation in response to COVID-19: A national and international effort. The conference was hosted by Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, with Pres Cyril Ramaphosa, Dr Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Health, Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Prof Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, and Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, in attendance. 

News Archive

Nanotechnology breakthrough at UFS
2010-08-19

 Ph.D students, Chantel Swart and Ntsoaki Leeuw


Scientists at the University of the Free State (UFS) made an important breakthrough in the use of nanotechnology in medical and biological research. The UFS team’s research has been accepted for publication by the internationally accredited Canadian Journal of Microbiology.

The UFS study dissected yeast cells exposed to over-used cooking oil by peeling microscopically thin layers off the yeast cells through the use of nanotechnology.

The yeast cells were enlarged thousands of times to study what was going on inside the cells, whilst at the same time establishing the chemical elements the cells are composed of. This was done by making microscopically small surgical incisions into the cell walls.

This groundbreaking research opens up a host of new uses for nanotechnology, as it was the first study ever in which biological cells were surgically manipulated and at the same time elemental analysis performed through nanotechnology. According to Prof. Lodewyk Kock, head of the Division Lipid Biotechnology at the UFS, the study has far reaching implications for biological and medical research.

The research was the result of collaboration between the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, the Department of Physics (under the leadership of Prof. Hendrik Swart) and the Centre for Microscopy (under the leadership of Prof.Pieter van Wyk).

Two Ph.D. students, Chantel Swart and Ntsoaki Leeuw, overseen by professors Kock and Van Wyk, managed to successfully prepare yeast that was exposed to over-used cooking oil (used for deep frying of food) for this first ever method of nanotechnological research.

According to Prof. Kock, a single yeast cell is approximately 5 micrometres long. “A micrometre is one millionth of a metre – in laymen’s terms, even less than the diameter of a single hair – and completely invisible to the human eye.”

Through the use of nanotechnology, the chemical composition of the surface of the yeast cells could be established by making a surgical incision into the surface. The cells could be peeled off in layers of approximately three (3) nanometres at a time to establish the effect of the oil on the yeast cell’s composition. A nanometre is one thousandth of a micrometre.

Each cell was enlarged by between 40 000 and 50 000 times. This was done by using the Department of Physics’ PHI700 Scanning Auger Nanoprobe linked to a Scanning Electron Microscope and Argon-etching. Under the guidance of Prof. Swart, Mss. Swart en Leeuw could dissect the surfaces of yeast cells exposed to over-used cooking oil. 

The study noted wart like outgrowths - some only a few nanometres in diameter – on the cell surfaces. Research concluded that these outgrowths were caused by the oil. The exposure to the oil also drastically hampered the growth of the yeast cells. (See figure 1)  

Researchers worldwide have warned about the over-usage of cooking oil for deep frying of food, as it can be linked to the cause of diseases like cancer. The over-usage of cooking oil in the preparation of food is therefore strictly regulated by laws worldwide.

The UFS-research doesn’t only show that over-used cooking oil is harmful to micro-organisms like yeast, but also suggests how nanotechnology can be used in biological and medical research on, amongst others, cancer cells.

 

Figure 1. Yeast cells exposed to over-used cooking oil. Wart like protuberances/ outgrowths (WP) is clearly visible on the surfaces of the elongated yeast cells. With the use of nanotechnology, it is possible to peel off the warts – some with a diameter of only a few nanometres – in layers only a few nanometres thick. At the same time, the 3D-structure of the warts as well as its chemical composition can be established.  

Media Release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt@ufs.ac.za  
18 August 2010
 

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