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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

Her mission: Looking for viruses
2017-10-03

Description: Burt readmore Tags: Prof Felicity Burt, Felicity Burt, inaugural lecture, medical virology, UFS Faculty of Health Sciences, arboviruses 

Prof Felicity Burt delivering her inaugural lecture,
Catching a Virus
Photo: Stephen Collett

“Preparing and presenting an inaugural lecture is an opportunity to look back at one’s career and to enjoy previous highlights and achievements; to share these, not only with colleagues, but also with family and friends.”

This is according to Prof Felicity Burt, who recently presented her inaugural lecture, Catching a Virus. Prof Burt is a professor in medical virology in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS). It may sound ominous, but it is a story about identifying viruses, and finding and stopping them in their tracks in nature.

Research focus on arbo- and zoonotic viruses 
“My research focuses on arboviruses and zoonotic viruses,” said Prof Burt. “Arboviruses are viruses that are transmitted by insect vectors, such as mosquitoes, ticks, midges or sandflies, whereas zoonotic viruses are naturally transmitted from animals to humans. However, there is a considerable overlap between these two groups.” The research looks at host responses, virus discovery and surveillance in order to identify which of the viruses in circulation have the potential to cause human diseases.

“Emerging and re-emerging viruses have significant implications for public health,” said Prof Burt at the start of her lecture. She also stated that there have been disease outbreaks of unprecedented magnitude, which have spread and established in distinct geographic regions. “Many of these emerging viruses are transmitted by vectors or are spread to humans from animals. These viruses can cause significant diseases in humans,” said Prof Burt. 

There are many reasons why these viruses re-emerge, such as global warming, human invasion in forested areas, changes in agricultural practices, international travel, as well as the illegal movement of animals. Prof Burt used the Zika virus as an example of a recent emerging virus. 

More than 20 years’ experience 

With more than 20 years’ experience and a PhD in medical virology from the University of the Witwatersrand, Prof Burt is a renowned specialist. She has worked in the Special Pathogens Unit at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, and was a member of various teams responding to outbreaks of Ebola and Rift Valley fever in Africa and Saudi Arabia, respectively. She is co-author of more than 51 articles in international scientific journals, as well as six chapters on arboviruses. In 2016, she was awarded a SARChl research chair by the South African Research Chair Initiative for her research on vector-borne and zoonotic diseases.

Click here to read the full lecture.

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