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Learners fascinated by new developments in pharmaceutical research

- Wits University

The Wits Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology hosted learners of the SAHETI School for a day of knowledge sharing and exploration with experts.

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The learners of SAHETI school were fascinated by new ground-breaking research at the Wits Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. The Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology welcomed a group of enthusiastic learners from SAHETI School through their Science: Research and Development Office, by showcasing its ground-breaking research in pharmacognosy, antimicrobial evaluation, advanced drug delivery, and pharmaceutical product development.

“The visit forms part of the Department’s strategic focus on bridging scientific practice and research with various sectors of society, and here encourages community engagement with schools and the youth that takes learning and exposure beyond the classroom,” says Professor  Yahya Choonara, Head of Department and Director of the Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform (WADDP) research unit.

The journey began with an introduction to pharmacognosy, the study of medicinal substances derived from natural sources. The Department's distinguished researchers, who are renowned experts in the field, led the learners on an immersive adventure into nature's pharmacy. They uncovered the hidden treasures found within plants, herbs, and other natural resources, and highlighted the rich history and cultural significance of traditional medicine.

As the world grapples with the increasing challenge of antimicrobial resistance, the Department's pioneering research in antimicrobial evaluation takes centre stage. The learners delved into the realm of antimicrobial compounds sourced from natural products and witnessed first-hand how these substances are meticulously evaluated for their effectiveness against pathogens. The Department's commitment to combating the global threat of resistance left a profound impact on the learners.

The visit continued with an exploration of the intricate process of pharmaceutical product development. Researchers and scientists from the Department showcased their relentless pursuit of innovative solutions. From formulating botanical therapeutics to optimising extraction techniques, pupils gained insight into how natural products can be transformed into safe and effective medications. Witnessing the fusion of ancient wisdom and modern science, they were inspired by the potential of these natural products to improve human health.

The visit also shed light on the utilisation of natural products in pharmaceuticals. Learners discovered how scientists extract beneficial compounds from natural sources, such as plants, to develop medications. They learned about the importance of sustainable sourcing, research on traditional medicine, and the potential of natural products in drug development.

Learners were also introduced to the world of pharmaceutical product development, where medications are designed, formulated, and tested. They witnessed the various stages involved in bringing a drug from concept to market, including research, formulation, testing, and regulatory considerations.

In the field of nanomedicine, tissue engineering and advanced drug delivery, the ground-breaking research at the WADDP research unit left the learners in awe. They were introduced to cutting-edge techniques, such as nanotechnology, that revolutionise how medications are delivered within the body. They witnessed how nanoscale drug carriers, inspired by nature's intricate structures, can precisely target specific cells or tissues, enhance therapeutic efficacy, and minimise side effects. It was a glimpse into the future of medicine and the limitless possibilities offered by advanced drug delivery systems. 

The learners were stunned by the advancements for example in regenerative medicine and drug delivery techniques as demonstrated by Dr Gillian Mahumane, an expert at the WADDP focused on designing nanofibers (artificial spider webs) for application in neuro-trauma as well as infectious diseases and cancers. They also learned about innovative approaches such as nanomedicine, which enables precise drug targeting and controlled release for optimal treatment outcomes to save lives.

The visit provided an invaluable opportunity for learners to explore career possibilities in pharmacy and pharmacology. It encouraged them to consider future paths in drug development, research, and healthcare innovation. The Department’s mission to educate, innovate, and revolutionise the world of pharmaceuticals was in full swing as the young minds embarked on a captivating journey with a strong focus on harnessing the power of 21st century therapeutics. The Department showcased its ground-breaking research in pharmacognosy, antimicrobial evaluation, advanced drug delivery, and pharmaceutical product development.

“As a natural product researcher within the field of Pharmacognosy, it gave me great pleasure to share my natural product research with young enquiring minds. We look forward to a future generation of innovative researchers that can take the African concept of traditional medicines and translate this to affordable treatments that may possibly curb the onslaught of antimicrobial resistance,” said Professor Sandy van Vuuren, Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology: School of Therapeutic Sciences, who coordinated the visit.

The Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology is renowned for its ground-breaking research and contributions to the field of pharmaceutical sciences. The learners actively engaged with faculty members and researchers, who generously shared their knowledge and experiences. They participated in interactive demonstrations, hands-on experiments, and engaging discussions that fuelled their curiosity and passion for the field of pharmaceutical sciences.