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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

Fight against Ebola virus requires more research
2014-10-22

 

Dr Abdon Atangana
Photo: Ifa Tshishonge
Dr Abdon Atangana, a postdoctoral researcher in the Institute for Groundwater Studies at the University of the Free State (UFS), wrote an article related to the Ebola virus: Modelling the Ebola haemorrhagic fever with the beta-derivative: Deathly infection disease in West African countries.

“The filoviruses belong to a virus family named filoviridae. This virus can cause unembellished haemorrhagic fever in humans and nonhuman monkeys. In literature, only two members of this virus family have been mentioned, namely the Marburg virus and the Ebola virus. However, so far only five species of the Ebola virus have been identified, including:  Ivory Coast, Sudan, Zaire, Reston and Bundibugyo.

“Among these families, the Ebola virus is the only member of the Zaire Ebola virus species and also the most dangerous, being responsible for the largest number of outbreaks.

“Ebola is an unusual, but fatal virus that causes bleeding inside and outside the body. As the virus spreads through the body, it damages the immune system and organs. Ultimately, it causes the blood-clotting levels in cells to drop. This leads to severe, uncontrollable bleeding.

Since all physical problems can be modelled via mathematical equation, Dr Atangana aimed in his research (the paper was published in BioMed Research International with impact factor 2.701) to analyse the spread of this deadly disease using mathematical equations. We shall propose a model underpinning the spread of this disease in a given Sub-Saharan African country,” he said.

The mathematical equations are used to predict the future behaviour of the disease, especially the spread of the disease among the targeted population. These mathematical equations are called differential equation and are only using the concept of rate of change over time.

However, there is several definitions for derivative, and the choice of the derivative used for such a model is very important, because the more accurate the model, the better results will be obtained.  The classical derivative describes the change of rate, but it is an approximation of the real velocity of the object under study. The beta derivative is the modification of the classical derivative that takes into account the time scale and also has a new parameter that can be considered as the fractional order.  

“I have used the beta derivative to model the spread of the fatal disease called Ebola, which has killed many people in the West African countries, including Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, since December 2013,” he said.

The constructed mathematical equations were called Atangana’s Beta Ebola System of Equations (ABESE). “We did the investigation of the stable endemic points and presented the Eigen-Values using the Jacobian method. The homotopy decomposition method was used to solve the resulted system of equations. The convergence of the method was presented and some numerical simulations were done for different values of beta.

“The simulations showed that our model is more realistic for all betas less than 0.5.  The model revealed that, if there were no recovery precaution for a given population in a West African country, the entire population of that country would all die in a very short period of time, even if the total number of the infected population is very small.  In simple terms, the prediction revealed a fast spread of the virus among the targeted population. These results can be used to educate and inform people about the rapid spread of the deadly disease,” he said.

The spread of Ebola among people only occurs through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person after symptoms have developed. Body fluid that may contain the Ebola virus includes saliva, mucus, vomit, faeces, sweat, tears, breast milk, urine and semen. Entry points include the nose, mouth, eyes, open wounds, cuts and abrasions. Note should be taken that contact with objects contaminated by the virus, particularly needles and syringes, may also transmit the infection.

“Based on the predictions in this paper, we are calling on more research regarding this disease; in particular, we are calling on researchers to pay attention to finding an efficient cure or more effective prevention, to reduce the risk of contamination,” Dr Atangana said.


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