Erasmus + Success Stories

D-r. Nisha SinghIncoming LecturerPharmacyUniversity of KwaZulu-Natal

D-r. Nisha Singh's impressions from Medical University Sofia

"LASTLY, BULGARIAN FOOD ESPECIALLY THE SALADS WERE THE BEST I HAVE EVER EATEN, MUCH OF WHICH IS PLANT BASED AND THUS REPRESENT THE TASTIEST MECHANISM TO GREAT HEALTH”

Erasmus+ Period: 17/10/2019 – 10/11/2019

I was enthused by Prof Spiro Konstantinov’s presentation on ‘Natural Products- The Oncopharmacological point of view’ at the 3rd International Conference on Natural Products Utilization (ICNPU-2017) in Bansko, Bulgaria, to such an extent that I decided to approach him for a discussion on his presentation. Our common interest in medicinal plants and natural remedies triggered a research collaboration, where it was established that I required training in cytotoxicity to determine the efficacy of potential drug candidates under investigation in our laboratory at UKZN, South Africa. Two years later, I was awarded an Erasmus Plus Mobility Scholarship for training in cytotoxicity in Prof’s laboratory at Medical University (MU), Sofia.

The first week of my scholarship was dedicated to teaching when I spent one hour each day delivering lectures. We discussed the Pharmacological importance of herbal plants, in particular, their bioactive compounds and applications. The taxonomy of these plants were explained with the aid of herbarium specimen and beautiful charts that were available at MU, Sofia. Lectures on Nanotechnology and Plant Biotechnology, with emphasis on advances made in our research in South Africa, were also delivered.

The majority of my stay was dedicated to research and training. The expertise of the team and the high level of organization in the laboratory served to smooth the complexities of various aspects of the anti-cancer assays. These included cell culture, counting of suspension and adherent cells, seeding, cryopreserving, re-suspending, and MTT assays. Profs Ivanka Pecheva-El Tibi and Dimitrina Zheleva-Dimitrova of the Pharmacy department assisted with compound/extract preparation in advance of cytotoxicity assessments. Our preliminary findings were positive and the assays were thus repeated. It was further established that our compound was highly bioactive against human acute promyelocytic leukemia cells at a range of 6 to 0.75 µg ml-1 where the IC50 = 0.568 µg ml-1. In order to accurately calculate the inhibitory concentrations (IC), the software programme Graphpad was used, and Antonios Trochopoulos, Prof’s PhD student explained the procedure. The subsequent steps would be to further validate these results and several experiments will be conducted to evaluate the compound against other cancer cell lines, in order to publish the data. Detailed chemical analysis of the compound using HPLC will also be undertaken, and individual fractions will be assayed.

To further enhance my skills in cancer research, Antonios demonstrated the use of the Human Phosphate Array kit to evaluate changes in the expression of protein, following the testing of Curcumin, Erufosine and Miltefosine on a cancer cell line.

Other highlights of my stay at MU Sofia was meeting the Rector, Prof Victor Zlatkov, who I had the pleasure of thanking in person for spearheading the Erasmus Plus Programme at MU, Sofia. Secondly, the weekend trip to Bourgas, Nesseber, Hissaria and Starosel where Prof Konstantinov kindly gave of his invaluable time to provide insights of Bulgarian culture. Enjoying the views of Black Sea, the UNESCO heritage city of Nesseber, the ruins and mineral water in Hissaria, Thracian culture in Starosel and a morning of traditional dancing in the centre of Bourgas are fond memories that I will treasure forever. Lastly, Bulgarian food especially the salads were the best I have ever eaten, much of which is plant based and thus represent the tastiest mechanism to great health.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the Universities of KwaZulu-Natal and Medical University, Sofia for the opportunity of the Erasmus Plus Mobility Scholarship. I am indebted to Prof Konstantinov and his team for the support, training, teaching, mentorship, on-going collaboration, hospitality and mostly for sharing their expertise. I am also grateful to Dimitrina Zheleva-Dimitrova for her friendship and moral support. A special word of thanks is expressed to my employer, the Management College of South Africa (MANCOSA)- member of Honoris United Universities, for granting me leave.

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