Carel Basson Oosthuizen, a PhD student in Medicinal Plant Sciences in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP), was awarded the prize for the best paper at the recent annual conference of the Indigenous Plant Usage Forum (IPUF). The title of his paper was 'Natural coumarins against persistent mycobacterial biofilms'.
The work presented by Oosthuizen is part of his doctoral research, which was undertaken to evaluate the efficacy of natural products or compounds from plants that are able to inhibit mycobacterial biofilms. Mycobacteria tuberculosis is a bacterium that causes tuberculosis in humans, and because of the ability of these bacteria to clump together in a slimy environment it is very difficult to treat them with antibiotics. The result is that the bacteria continue to live in the human body for an extended time. By using chemical compounds isolated from plants, these biofilms can be disrupted which may lead to ultimately aid in the treatment of tuberculosis. His research also includes computational biology and computer-aided simulations to describe exactly how these compounds work and where specifically inhibition occurs.
Oosthuizen is a true Tukkie who also completed his undergraduate studies and his MSc degree in Medicinal Plant Sciences at UP. This was not the first time that his presentations skills were acknowledged as he also received the prize for the best master's presentation in 2014.
His further studies were made possible by the Innovation Doctoral Scholarship that he received from the National Research Foundation. He has also been invited to complete part of his postgraduate studies with regard to biofilms and their mechanism at the University of East Anglia in England and the University of Albany in the USA. He has presented his research at three international and three national conferences, where it has sparked a lot of interest. He has published four peer-reviewed articles in top scientific journals and two chapters in books on the use of plants in the treatment of tuberculosis. Together with his supervisor, Prof Namrita Lall, he holds a South African and international patent for the use of a plant extract as an adjuvant treatment for patients suffering from TB. Through this project, Carel received seed funding from the Technology Innovation Agency for the further development and commercialisation of the invention.
Commenting on his achievement, an elated Oosthuizen said: 'Receiving a prize like this and being recognised for my contribution to science has a tremendous positive impact on how I, as a young scientist, approach my work. It motivates and inspires me to do more. I am extremely passionate and excited to find out novel targets for Mycobacteria. The diversity of indigenous South African plants presents us with great potential to discover new drugs and treatments for all kinds of diseases such as tuberculosis, cancer and various skin ailments.'