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14 May 2019 | Story Thabo Kessah | Photo Tsepo Moeketsi
Prof Ashafa
Prof Ashafa’s research documents plants used by the Basotho in the management of different ailments.

The Phytomedicine and Phytopharmacology Research Programme (PPRP) in the Department of Plant Sciences on the Qwaqwa Campus researches the biological effects of medicinal plants used in the folkloric medicine of the Eastern Free State, particularly to explore the values and contribution of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) towards broader scientific research. This is according to the programme’s principal investigator and researcher, NRF C2-rated researcher, Professor Anofi Ashafa. 

 “Our research is mainly aimed at documenting plants used by the Basotho in the management of different ailments and to further discover, isolate, and purify active phytoconstituents that are responsible for disease curation or amelioration, thereby assisting in the global promotion of accessible and affordable medication in developing countries,” said Prof Ashafa. 

Since 2012, the PPRP has worked extensively on Basotho medicinal plants (BMP) used as antimicrobials, antioxidants, antidiabetics, antitubercular, anticancer, anthelmintic, and antidiarrheal agents, starting from biological activities up to the  evaluation of the toxicity of these plants for the kidney, liver, and heart functions in order to establish safe dosage parameters. These activities have led to the discovery of four potent antidiabetic biomolecules that are awaiting the processes of patency and commercialisation. Additional outputs include 104 published peer-reviewed articles , 7 postdoctoral fellows, 6 PhDs, 9 master’s, and 16 honours graduates. 

“Our research informs teaching and the development of expertise in ethnobotany, 
phytomedicine, and phytopharmacology in order to contribute to the National Development Plan (NDP) through human capacity development, skills, and knowledge transfer.

The group is also investigating some medicinal plants on the endangered red list of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), through micropropagation and field trials as well as proposing conservation strategies to preserve these valuable species.

The PPRP consists of postdoctoral fellows, PhD, master’s, and honours students and research is done in collaboration with several local and international universities as well as the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa. 


News Archive

Nuclear Medicine on the forefront of cancer research
2017-07-10

Description: Nuclear Medicine on the forefront of cancer research Tags: Nuclear Medicine, cancer research, Dr Je’nine Horn-Lodewyk’s, tumour detection method, cancer, Department of Nuclear Medicine 

Dr Je’nine Horn-Lodewyk’s tumour detection method
could be the cost-effective breakthrough needed to decrease
the mortality rate in breast cancer patients.
Photo: Anja Aucamp

The field of Nuclear Medicine in South Africa and the rest of the world are expanding rapidly due to the development of hybrid cameras and new radiopharmaceuticals. These developments have a huge impact on the diagnosis and therapy of cancer.

The most advanced of these cameras, Positron emission tomography combined with normal CTs (PETCT), are not yet widely available in South Africa due to the cost of the cameras and the radiopharmaceuticals. A more cost-effective alternative can be of great benefit. To achieve this, the focus should be on developing new radiopharmaceuticals that can be used with the current cost-effective gamma cameras, according to University of the Free State researcher, Dr Je’nine Horn-Lodewyk from the Department of Nuclear Medicine.

Fluorodeoxyglucose (18F-FDG), a radiolabelled glucose analogue, is currently the radiopharmaceutical most commonly used in PET/CT imaging for mainly oncology indications. Although it is considered the gold standard for imaging in several malignancies, it does have certain disadvantages. An 18F-FDG PET/CT diagnostic imaging study can cost between R25 000 and R35 000 for a single patient in the private sector. The 18F-FDG is also more radioactive, which requires much stricter handling and shielding to avoid high radiation dosages to staff and patients.

Successful research potential innovative solution
In the search for the ideal radiopharmaceutical for tumour detection, the South African National Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) developed a local synthesis process for ethylenedicysteine-deoxyglucose (EC-DG). EC-DG is also a glucose analogue similar to FDG. They succeeded in labelling the compound with Technetium-99-metastable-pertechnetate (99mTcO4-), the most common nuclear medicine isotope used for approximately 95% of nuclear medicine procedures, creating 99mTc-EC-DG.

In partnership with Dr Horn-Lodewyk, this compound was successfully used in various animal models and clinical scenarios, resulting in approval by the Medicine Control Council to use it in a human study. Research is also planned in order to investigate diagnostic accuracy in other cancers like lymphoma.  The end result of this research can produce a radiopharmaceutical that is cost effective, does not require the use of costly specialised equipment, has no significant side-effects, no special patient preparation, renders late imaging possible, and has decreased radiation risks.

Dr Horn-Lodewyk is grateful for the support of her mentor, Prof Anton Otto, as well as Dr Gert Engelbrecht, Head of the Department of Nuclear Medicine, Prof Jan Rijn Zeevaart from North-West University’s Preclinical Drug Development Platform and Necsa, and Judith Wagener from Necsa. This innovative research would also not have been possible without the financial assistance of Dr Glen Taylor and Eleanor van der Westhuizen in the Directorate of Research Development.

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