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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

Science is diversifying the uses of traditional medicines
2017-07-17

Description: Dr Motlalepula Matsabisa  Tags: traditional medicines, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Dr Motlalepula Matsabisa, Malaria, priority disease  

Dr Motlalepula Matsabisa.
Photo: Anja Aucamp

According to the World Health Organisation, a large majority of the African population are making use of traditional medicines for health, socio-cultural, and economic purposes. In Africa, up to 80% of the population uses traditional medicines for primary healthcare.

The Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) was identified as a lead programme under the directorship of Dr Motlalepula Matsabisa. Research undertaken by the IKS Lead Programme focuses on some key priority diseases of the country and region – including malaria, HIV, cancer, and diabetes.
 
Not just a plant or tree

Malaria is a priority disease and is prevalent in rural and poor areas, resulting in many traditional health practitioners claiming to treat and cure the disease. There may well be substance to these claims, since as much as 30% of the most effective current prescription medicines are derived from plants.  For instance, chloroquine, artemisinin for malaria, Metformin for diabetes, Vincristine and Vinblastine for cancer, are plant-derived drugs.  

Dr Matsabisa’s current research is investigating a South African medicinal plant that has been shown to have in vitro antiplasmodial activity, with subsequent isolation and characterisation of novel non-symmetrical sesquiterpene lactone compounds offering antimalarial activity. These novel compounds are now patented in South Africa and worldwide. This research is part of the UFS and South Africa’s strive to contribute to the regional and continental malaria problem. The UFS are thus far the only university that has been granted a permit by the Medicines Control Council to undertake research on cannabis and its potential health benefits.

“All of these projects are aimed
at adding value through the scientific
research of medicinal plants, which
can be used for treating illnesses,
diseases, and ailments.”

Recognition well deservedThrough Dr Matsabisa’s research input and contributions to the development of the pharmacology of traditional medicines, he recently became the first recipient of the International Prof Tuhinadrin Sen Award from the International Society of Ethnopharmacology (ISE) and the Society of Ethnopharmacology in India. ISE recognises outstanding contributions by researchers, scientists, and technologists in the area of medicinal plant research and ethnopharmacology internationally.

More recently, Dr Matsabisa undertook research projects funded by the National Research Foundation, as well as the Department of Science and Technology, on cancer, gangrene, and diabetes. He is also involved in a community project to develop indigenous teas with the community. He says, “All of these projects are aimed at adding value through the scientific research of medicinal plants, which can be used for treating illnesses, diseases, and ailments”.

Dr Matsabisa has worked with many local and international scientists on a number of research endeavours. He is grateful to his colleagues from the Department of Pharmacology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, who are dedicated to science research and the research of traditional medicines. The IKS unit also received immense support from the Directorate of Research Development.

 

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