Wistar Scientists Collaborate with University of Buea Researchers to Identify Plant-Based Medicinal Compounds
Advanced computer models from Cameroon allow scientists to screen hundreds of compounds efficiently.
Wistar Research Assistant Professor Dr. Ian Tietjen of the Montaner Lab — in his collaboration with Dr. Fidele Ntie-Kang, Associate Professor and Head of the University of Buea Center for Drug Discovery (www.ub-cedd.org) in Cameroon — works to expedite and improve the drug discovery process, particularly for plant-based compounds that could be potentially used to treat HIV. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through a Calestous Juma Science Leadership Fellowship awarded to Dr. Ntie-Kang, they use an advanced computer modeling system to screen hundreds upon hundreds of candidate compounds for experimental and clinical efficacy. The model draws on the Pan-African Natural Product Library, an index of thousands of compounds from African plants, many of which are known to have medicinal properties. The program is designed to ensure that the models are continuously updated and improved with new information, which allows researchers to screen for potentially therapeutic drugs both quickly and accurately.
“Let’s say you have an idea of how to treat HIV by targeting a specific molecule,” explained Dr. Ntie-Kang, an international expert in computational chemistry. “And let’s say 500 compounds could potentially target this molecule. Rather than test all 500 of those compounds, and spend money and time on all those tests, we can use a model to computer-screen those 500 compounds and narrow them down by drug-potential criteria to the best eight candidates. It’s much more efficient and cost-effective.”
Dr. Tietjen agreed. “Fidele’s work is immensely helpful for generating testable hypotheses. I’ve been able to work with him to identify starting points for future potential therapeutic compounds and leads for investigating viral ion channels, for example. Before I started collaborating with him, the process was much slower.”
The collaboration has been fruitful for both scientists, with Dr. Tietjen working to test potential therapeutic compounds at Wistar while Dr. Ntie-Kang hopes to share and exchange the laboratory techniques and research infrastructure knowledge with his own drug discovery research team, based at the new University of Buea Centre for Drug Discovery (UB-CeDD) in Cameroon. In a testament to the power of virtual inter-institutional partnerships at Wistar, both scientists are quick to note that their collaboration, which dates back to 2015, has been successful in advancing both their respective research programs — despite the fact that they had not met in person until 2022.