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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

Collaboration between UFS and Mayo Clinic to revolutionise cancer treatment
2014-06-27



Attending the lecture were, from the left: Dr Chantel Swart, Prof Lodewyk Kock, Prof Debabrata Mukhopadhyay, Prof James du Preez; back: Prof Pieter van Wyk.
Dr Swart, Profs Kock and Du Preez are from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology. Prof Mukhopadhyay is from the Mayo Clinic (US) and Prof Van Wyk is from the Centre for Microscopy at the UFS.
Photo: Supplied
The UFS made a discovery that may have enormous implications for the treatment of diseases in humans.

Since the discovery, the UFS joined forces with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, US, in the fight against cancer.

In this collective effort, UFS researchers would be able to assist the Mayo team to:
• see how treatment in cancer patients is progressing,
• target treatments more effectively,
• reduce dosages in order to make treatment gentler on the patient,
• track the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drugs used, and
• gain an accurate view of how the cancer is being eliminated.

Prof Lodewyk Kock, Outstanding Professor at the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, and his team incidentally created a technique to use argon gas particles for the first time on biological material to slice open cells to look inside.

The team that supported Prof Kock includes Dr Chantel Swart, Khumisho Dithebe (PhD student), Prof Hendrik Swart (Department of Physics) and Prof Pieter van Wyk (Centre for Microscopy).

Prof Debabrata Mukhopadhyay from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, US, got to hear about this breakthrough at the UFS and a collaboration between the two institutions was established.

During a visit to the Bloemfontein Campus, Prof Mukhopadhyay explained novel techniques that make use of gold nanoparticles. These particles attach to chemotherapeutic drugs to selectively target cancer cells – dramatically decreasing the side effects to normal human cells.

For these new drugs (coupled to gold nanoparticles) to be accepted into clinical practice, visual and chemical proof is needed, though. This is where the technique developed by the UFS will play a vital role.

With the technique to look inside cells, the composition, location and metabolism of these drugs can be determined. This will aid in a proof of concept for the application of the nano-drugs. Furthermore, it will enable approval for use of these drugs in clinical trials and eventually could revolutionise cancer treatment as a whole.

For video lectures on the technique used, as well as its findings, follow these links:

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

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

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