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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

Champagne and cancer have more in common than you might think
2013-05-08

 

Photo: Supplied
08 May 2013

No, a glass of champagne will not cure cancer....

…But they have more in common than you might think.

Researchers from the Departments of Microbial Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, Physics and the Centre for Microscopy at the University of the Free State in South Africa were recently exploring the properties of yeast cells in wine and food to find out more of how yeast was able to manufacture the gas that caused bread to rise, champagne to fizz and traditional beer to foam. And the discovery they made is a breakthrough that may have enormous implications for the treatment of diseases in humans.

The team discovered that they could slice open cells with argon gas particles, and look inside. They were surprised to find a maze of tiny passages like gas chambers that allowed each cell to ‘breathe.’ It is this tiny set of ‘lungs’ that puts the bubbles in your bubbly and the bounce in your bread.

But it was the technique that the researchers used to open up the cells that caught the attention of the scientists at the Mayo Clinic (Tumor Angiogenesis and Vascular Biology Research Centre) in the US.

Using this technology, they ultimately aim to peer inside cells taken from a cancer patient to see how treatment was progressing. In this way they would be able to assist the Mayo team to target treatments more effectively, reduce dosages in order to make treatment gentler on the patient, and have an accurate view of how the cancer was being eliminated.

“Yes, we are working with the Mayo Clinic,” said Profes Lodewyk Kock from the Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology Department at the UFS.

“This technique we developed has enormous potential for cell research, whether it is for cancer treatment or any other investigation into the working of cells. Through nanotechnology, and our own invention called Auger-architectomics, we are able to see where no-one has been able to see before.”

The team of Prof Kock including Dr Chantel Swart, Kumisho Dithebe, Prof Hendrik Swart (Physics, UFS) and Prof Pieter van Wyk (Centre for Microscopy, UFS) unlocked the ‘missing link’ that explains the existence of bubbles inside yeasts, and incidentally have created a possible technique for tracking drug and chemotherapy treatment in human cells.

Their work has been published recently in FEMS Yeast Research, the leading international journal on yeast research. In addition, their discovery has been selected for display on the cover page of all 2013 issues of this journal.

One can most certainly raise a glass of champagne to celebrate that!

There are links for video lectures on the technique used and findings on the Internet at:

1. http://vimeo.com/63643628 (Comic version for school kids)

2. http://vimeo.com/61521401 (Detailed version for fellow scientists)

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