Second H3D-SHAWCO Health Collaborative Event – March 2020
UCT’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D) aims to bring new medicines “from the bench to the bedside”. But how acquainted are prospective healthcare professionals with the difficulties of developing new treatments? Conversely, are research scientists aware of the challenges faced by medical professionals at the frontline of public healthcare in South Africa? These were the questions that the second collaboration between H3D and SHAWCO Health, UCT’s student-run community outreach organisation, sought to address.
Following a first successful event at Groote Schuur Hospital in April 2019, this year’s collaboration took place at the H3D Head Office and Medicinal Chemistry Laboratories on Upper Campus. Following introductions by the participating scientists and volunteer medical students, the evening commenced with a presentation on the new platform that is being developed to investigate drug metabolism and disposition in African populations. As H3D scientist Mrs Nina Lawrence explained, this project will permit medicines, for the first time, to be customised to the needs of African patients to improve health outcomes on the continent.
This session was followed by a series of interactive case studies presented by SHAWCO Health President Sana Salduker and fellow students. When a patient presents with a collection of symptoms, how does one start to understand what the problem might be? How, for example, does one manage such a patient, and with which treatments? Their presentations also touched on the dangers of stereotypes in clouding the judgment of health professionals.
The event concluded with a tour of the state-of-the-art medicinal chemistry laboratories at H3D. Following a short health and safety briefing, the students donned lab coats and safety glasses and discovered, for instance, how chemists decide which molecule to synthesise and which reaction conditions to use. The differences between “old school” and contemporary, automated methods of purification and characterisation were demonstrated. Refreshments were then served, allowing a deepening of the discussions between the medical students and the researchers.
This collaborative event provided an excellent opportunity for scientists at H3D to share their knowledge and experience with interested medical students, contributing to an improved understanding and appreciation of drug discovery in the broader arena of public healthcare. Equally, allowing research scientists to interact with prospective healthcare professionals promoted a better understanding of the practical and social consequences of their work as drug discovery scientists in South Africa.
Credit: Dr John Woodland (Writer and Photographer)