UKZN Scientists at Forefront of Pharmaceutical Research

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Professor Thavi Govender (left) and Dr Sooraj Baijnath.

Scientists at the Catalysis and Peptide Research Unit (CPRU) at UKZN’s School of Health Sciences, who have been working with mass spectrometric imaging since 2014, are now the leading group in Africa in their field.

Their work is the only label-free technique allowing the determination of the exact location of molecules – based on their molecular weight – in a tissue sample.

Research by the CPRU has focused on understanding which TB drugs are most useful in the treatment of TB infections of the brain.

‘This is one of the very few cases in which South African researchers are leaving the starting line almost at the same time as international researchers with a hot topic,’ said researcher Professor Thavi Govender.

The work at CPRU has already resulted in 15 Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) publications. The Unit expects to complete the full complement of the TB pipeline drugs by the end of this year.

‘Tuberculosis has been the scourge of the human race for centuries, claiming countless number of lives along the way,’ said Govender.

‘The situation is complicated by the ability of mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) to infect extra-pulmonary sites, more specifically, the brain. These forms of TB are difficult to treat due to the problems associated with drug delivery across the blood brain barrier (BBB),’ he continued.

‘In addition to this, the brain is a very compartmentalised organ and it is therefore necessary to understand the exact location of a drug to better determine if it will prevent reservoirs of the bacteria.’

An article on the front cover of the prestigious publication Chemical and Engineering News, highlighted the potency and need for such a technique in preclinical drug development efforts.

Govender says the newly appointed academic in Pharmacology, Dr Sooraj Baijnath, will expand the technique and work to study which HIV combination therapy will help to prevent HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders.

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