Scientists explore African biodiversity to create life-saving drugs

Scientists from the University of Aberdeen and University of Ghana are aiming to use Africa's rich biodiversity to create life-saving drugs.

The University has been awarded £714,803 from the Medical Research Council and the Department for International Development to fund an MRC/DFID African Research Leaders Fellowship for Dr Kwaku Kyeremeh from the University of Ghana.

Dr Kyeremeh will work with Dr Hai Deng and Professor Marcel Jaspars from the University’s Marine Biodiscovery Centre (MBC) on a project that will seek to develop antibiotic, antiparasitic and anticancer drugs by exploring the huge microbial biodiversity of Ghana. 

The project aims to take advantage of the team’s existing expertise in cataloguing and isolating free-living microbes from a variety of sources including soils, sediments, plants, mollusc, fish, crabs and crustaceans.

Only four MRC African Leaders Fellowships were awarded last year, such is the level of competition for the prestigious awards.  The funding comes through the Department for International Development and counts as UK aid. 

Professor Jaspars said: “Africa’s rich biodiversity offers opportunities for the development of potentially life-saving drugs, and through this project we will assemble a total of 300 novel West African microbial strains.

“From there we will isolate, characterise and determine the antibiotic, antiparasitic and anticancer properties of the molecules they express under laboratory conditions.

“Most importantly, we will find ways to induce these microbes to express some of the molecules that are not easily produced under normal lab conditions, to see these can ultimately be selected for further development into drugs.”

Dr Kyeremeh added: “Africa has the highest disease burden globally and therefore, its scientists should not be left out in the search for solutions to this problem.

“Results in our laboratories have shown that, pushed to the limits with different chemical cues, Ghanaian microbes always respond by producing very potent chemicals which can act as future antibiotic, antiparasitic and anticancer drugs.

“We will use a multi-step process to generate a highly diverse range of molecules to serve as a pipeline from which future drugs will be developed.”