UFH new cutting-edge lab to unlock marine pharmaceutical economy for Eastern Cape

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The launch of a joint marine laboratory at the University of Fort Hare’s Alice Campus today, 10 March 2022, has placed the University at the forefront of unlocking Eastern Cape’s marine pharmaceutical economy.

Funded by the Department of Science and Innovation, the ground-breaking DSI/NRF-SAIAB/UFH Bio-economy & Bio-discovery Joint Marine Laboratory is a direct outcome of a joint venture between UFH and the National Research Foundation - South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (NRF-SAIAB).  The partnership was formed through the ACEP Phuhlisa (Development) programme that aims to address impediments that limit entrance or participation in marine science, as articulated by researchers and students at Historically Black Universities. The programme is being run in partnership with UFH, Walter Sisulu University, the University of the Western Cape and the University of Zululand. 

According to UFH Dean of Science and Agriculture, Prof Graeme Bradley, SAIAB through the ACEP Phuhlisa programme has been supporting Marine Science at UFH for the past 10 years by providing access to SAIAB research infrastructure in Makhanda.

“For the next phase of this programme, DSI made available funds to establish Joint Marine Laboratories at the four partnering HBU’s.  UFH is the first institution to launch the lab, thereby bringing cutting edge research equipment to the University.”

Highlighting the significance and benefits of the lab Prof Bradley said: “The South African oceans provide enormous potential for economic development to the benefit of our citizens and having the facilities and human capital to harness the oceans in a sustainable manner is critical to the sustainable use of this precious resource.”

“The type of work that will be done in the lab include isolation of novel compounds from underwater plants that might be effective against some common diseases, for example, diabetes and cancers,” he explained

According to Prof Bradley, the lab aims to identify novel compounds not yet discovered in our oceans but also to develop human capital in this field, specifically black and female scientists.

“UFH researchers and students can be trained in the use of the equipment to do their own extraction and analysis of the novel compounds. Our students have also received specialized training by the supplier and they are very excited at the prospect of doing their own extractions and analysis. This lab will allow much innovation in bio-economy and bio-discovery and the development of intellectual property for the University,” said Prof Bradley.

UFH Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu said the lab is an important outcome of renewal at UFH as the University continues to reinvent itself to make meaningful contributions to society and Eastern Cape communities through marine bio-prospecting for the pharmaceutical sector.

“This is a pivotal moment in the history for the University’s Faculty of Science and Agriculture. Our research will possibly contribute to the development of a marine-based pharmaceutical economy for the Eastern Cape in the long-term while empowering local communities along the Eastern Cape’s coast.”

“The project will support important and ground-breaking research that is already underway at UFH, such as the potential of red algae for the treatment of diabetics and cancer.  If the study yields positive results, it will be a game-changer for global health but also for communities along the Wild Coast who look to the ocean for their livelihoods.  We remain grateful to support of funders of this project,” said the Vice-Chancellor.