School of Life Sciences

Mr Almahi Idris with his supervisor Professor Shahidul Islam (left) and Dean and Head of the School of Life Sciences Professor Ade Olaniran (right).

Master’s Degree for Research into Medicinal Plant Compounds to Treat Diabetes

Mr Almahi Mohamed Idris was awarded his Master’s in Biochemistry cum laude for research that explored the potential of traditional Sudanese medicinal plants to treat diabetes and hyperglycaemia.

Diabetes affects close to 20 million adults on the continent of Africa alone, with a regional prevalence of 3.9% of the population. Idris was drawn to the field of Biochemistry for its potential to identify more agents to treat this ailment.

Originally from Sudan where he studied at the University of Khartoum, he was attracted to UKZN by its high rankings and the expertise of Professor Shahidul Islam, a leader in developing animal models for research on type 2 diabetes.

Under Islam’s supervision, Idris investigated the antioxidative and antidiabetic activities as well as the phytochemicals of selected Sudanese traditional medicinal plants.

‘Plants are widely utilised throughout Africa, with up to 90% of the population in some areas relying on them as a primary source of medication to treat various ailments such as diabetes,’ said Idris. ‘The need for more agents to treat hyperglycemia and associated consequences has created an opportunity to explore traditional antidiabetic treatment.’

Motivated to contribute to the development of his home country by developing the skills and abilities needed to meet public health challenges, Idris excelled at his studies.

He found that the plants he studied have remarkable antioxidant and antidiabetic activities that could help to ameliorate oxidative stress and diabetes, making them a primary source of natural bioactive compounds that are beneficial to human health and the management of diabetes and oxidative stress-related metabolic disorders.

With renewed global interest in research on phytocompound-based pharmacological agents with clinical benefits, many pharmaceutical therapeutic agents derived from plants are used in western medicine to manage various conditions. Plant compounds are useful for their secondary metabolites, inherent phytochemical characteristics that include polyphenols, alkaloids, flavonoids, and saponins which offer therapeutic benefits to humans.

Idris is currently pursuing his PhD in Biochemistry under Islam’s supervision at UKZN, focusing on the use of natural products for enhanced human health and particularly the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

He credited Islam for his encouragement, patience, knowledge and unlimited support during his master’s studies and research, saying that he helped him to become an accomplished researcher and biochemist.

Idris also expressed gratitude to the members of the Biomedical Research Laboratory for their guidance, encouragement, suggestions and considerable contributions to his project. He thanked Drs Ochucko Erukainure and Veronica Salau of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Free State for valuable guidance, keen interest and encouragement at various stages of his study, and finally, acknowledged the Sudanese community in Durban for being a family to him.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan