UKZN and DUT Join Forces to Tackle COVID-19 through Medicinal Plant Research
UKZN and Durban University of Technology (DUT) scientists are working together on a project to identify bioactive compounds in South African plants that could potentially be effective in treatment against SARS-CoV-2.
The first phase of the research study titled: Identification of Potential SARS-CoV-2 Inhibitors from South African Medicinal Plant Extracts using Molecular Modelling Approaches, was recently published in The South African Journal of Botany (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sajb.2020.07.035).
SARS-CoV-2 triggered a recent pandemic of respiratory disease this year known as COVID-19 with no specific antiviral drug or vaccine yet available for its treatment. Most treatment strategies focus on symptomatic management and supportive therapy so several drug discovery efforts are ongoing for potential treatment agents, with medicinal plants gradually gaining prominence.
About 80% of the South African population still use traditional medicines to meet their primary needs.
For the study, the plant species chosen were selected based on their use in traditional medicine for fighting the common cold, flu, respiratory infections and malaria, among other ailments and diseases.
UKZN’s Professor Mahmoud Soliman, who is the Dean and Head of the School of Health Sciences as well as head of the Molecular Bio-Computation and Drug Design Laboratory, is working on the project with his doctoral student and laboratory assistant, Mr Clement Agoni.
During the first phase of the study they found 29 compounds present in South African indigenous plants used for traditional medicinal purposes. The process, which involved molecular modelling, identified arabic acid, L-canavanine, uzarin and hypoxoside to be “favourable for the treatment of the virus”.
A leader of the project, UKZN alumnus Dr Depika Dwarka of DUT’s Department of Biotechnology and Food Technology, said the study was the first to scientifically examine South African indigenous plants for treatment against the coronavirus.
‘The next stage of the research is underway focusing on the In vitro antiviral activity of the compounds identified as potential inhibitors. If the study secures promising results, further research will be done using animal modules. Consequently, these compounds could serve as a starting point for the discovery of a novel SARS-CoV-2 therapeutic,’ said Dwarka.
Other co-leaders of the research are DUT’s Professor Jason Mellem and UKZN’s Professor Himansu Baijnath, who is an honorary research professor and past curator of the Ward Herbarium at the School of Life Sciences on the Westville campus.
Words: Maryann Francis