Doctoral Degree Achieved Against All Odds
Dr Sifiso Makhathini was awarded his doctoral degree in Pharmaceutics for his study titled, Design and Synthesis of Novel pH-responsive Fatty Acid-Based Lipids for the Development of Nano-Delivery Systems for Enhancing Vancomycin Activity against Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).
MRSA is a bacterium that causes infections in different parts of the body. It’s tougher to treat than most strains of staphylococcus aureus because of it’s resistant to some commonly used antibiotics. Globally, drug-resistant microorganisms have emerged which are associated with high mortality rates. ‘Novel nano-drug delivery systems, including lipid-based drug delivery systems, represent an alternative therapeutic approach to combat antimicrobial resistance resulting from conventional dosage forms,’ said Makhathini who matriculated from Nhlanhlayethu Secondary School.
His study aimed to design and synthesize fatty acid-based pH-responsive lipids (FAL, OLA-SPDA and DMGSAD-lipid) and explore their potential for the preparation of pH-responsive nano-based vancomycin (VCM) delivery systems to treat infectious diseases caused by MRSA. It resulted in the development of novel medicines that are more effective against resistant bacteria than available medicines. Said Makhathini, ‘This can improve the treatment of various disease conditions associated with bacterial infections.’
Having grown up in rural Ulundi and later in the township of Ntuzuma, Makhathini faced many challenges during his studies. He said, ‘As an undergraduate studying pure and applied chemistry, I encountered many financial challenges. In my final year of study, I became an undergraduate research assistant during the semester vacation to earn an income. My deep and sincere gratitude to my family for their continuous and unparalleled love, help and support during this journey. Even though the journey was not easy financially, thank you for always believing in me with all you had. I am forever indebted to my parents who gave me the opportunities to advance my studies to reach this level of education and become the person I am.’
Makhathini recalls the inspiration behind pursuing a career in pharmaceutical chemistry, ‘As an undergraduate research assistant, I was exposed to medicinal chemistry research as I was involved in the design and synthesis of drugs with potential as antimicrobial using organic synthetic processes. I became fascinated by recreating/derivatising molecules found in nature to develop pharmaceutical drugs via simplified synthetic processes to effectively produce new drugs on a large scale. Since then, my interest in pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmaceutics has been guided by developing new ways to develop new drugs, designing systems to effectively deliver the drug and understanding how the drugs interact with the biological system to produce a positive therapeutic effect.’
Makhathini’s study was supervised by Professor of Pharmacy, Head of the Drug Delivery Research Proto-Unit and Head of the NanoHealth Pillar of the Nanotechnology Platform at UKZN, Professor Thirumala Govender. The data from the study resulted in three first-authored research publications, one co-authored research publication and one co-authored review article.
‘I want to express my deepest appreciation to my supervisor Professor Thirumala Govender for the patient guidance, encouragement and advice she provided throughout my time as her student. None of this would have been possible without her proper guidance and her character-building criticism. I would also like to thank the entire team (Nano Drug Delivery Unit) for their support,’ said Makhathini who would like to one day lead his own research team to address critical problems affecting medicine and society, either in an academic or industrial setting.
Words: MaryAnn Francis