Inspiring Stories: “We`re designing novel therapeutic Peptides to target type 2 Diabetes.”
The Nigerian scientist Mohammed Auwal Ibrahim is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Bio-therapeutics research group, Department of Biochemistry, Genetics & Microbiology University of Pretoria, South Africa. In 2014, Ibrahim was in the Nigerian scientific spotlight for his outstanding research on type 2 diabetes aimed at uncovering novel therapeutic agents to ameliorate the disease. He speaks about his passion for science including his current research work, it`s real-life applications and relevance to ordinary Nigerians.
Why did you become a scientist?
My passion to become a scientist started in my Junior Secondary School (JSS) integrated science class, when I was taught about ‘cells’ and the teacher made a simple class demonstration with magnifying glass using onion samples. Subsequently, lessons on the solar system, earth revolution and rotation made me ask the integrated science teacher; “How do I make such discoveries and make similar contributions to our current understanding of life or the solar system?” And his reply was “Auwal, study Science!”
Here I am today!
In 2014, you came into the Nigerian scientific spotlight for your research on type 2 diabetes which focused on developing drugs that can be used to manage the disease; are these your most important scientific findings? Tell us about your discovery
Yes, we conducted a lot of investigations on some African medicinal plants and obtained all the requisite preclinical evidence to suggest the possible therapeutic benefits of our preparations for type 2 diabetic patients. The pure bioactive ingredients were also isolated and further subjected to the preclinical studies which also showed their therapeutic potentials.
However, recently, there is a paradigm shift in the quest to develop new therapeutic candidates against type 2 diabetes, and indeed, other diseases. This area is called peptide-based therapeutics and in order to catch up with this recent trend in drug discovery, I briefly shifted my research focus to the design of novel peptides that could be applied for the management of type 2 diabetes. This is because of the inherent advantages of peptide-based anti-diabetic agents as well as the huge global market for the peptide-based therapeutics (US$ 21.5 billion in 2016).
In these regards, I am glad to say that I used in silico, in vitro and cell culture models to eventually design two completely new candidate peptides that could have the potential for application against type 2 diabetes. Thus, with respect to diabetes, my contributions to the global search for anti-diabetic peptides may even be possibly considered as my most significant scientific contribution. This is apart from some very interesting and novel findings, we are currently making in the areas of diabetic pathogenesis, anti-trypanosome drug discovery and malaria research. Therefore, stating my most important finding may be contextual and perhaps, early.
Briefly tell us about peptide-based therapeutics, how are you using them to target diabetes?
Bioactive peptides are short sequences (3 – 20) of amino acid residues that modulate physiological functions through interactions with specific receptors – structures found on the surface of cells - and consequently induce a physiological response leading to beneficial health effects. At present, about 60 – 70 peptide-based therapeutics has been approved while hundreds are in clinical trials. Example of these drugs such as Zoladex (prostate cancer) and Fuseon (HIV) are peptide-based. With respect to diabetes, a number of these peptides are currently shown to inhibit known anti-diabetic targets such as α-glucosidase and dipeptidyl peptidase-4 as well as suppress lipid accumulation in adipocytes and stimulate insulin-mediated glucose uptake. Interestingly, we have even recently demonstrated that some peptides have multiple targets against diabetes mellitus suggesting their potentials as multifunctional peptides to targets various aspects of diabetes pathogenesis.
So, why is your research work important? What are the real-life applications of your research and what relevance does it have on the lives of ordinary Nigerians?
Overall, I am focused on uncovering novel therapeutic candidates and possibly, targets against type-2 diabetes, trypanosomiasis, and to a lesser extent, malaria. Therefore, the real-life applications and relevance of some of our research to ordinary Nigerians is that cheaper drugs against the afore-mentioned diseases could be developed. The ultimate economic benefits of such developments cannot be over-emphasized considering the need to shift the Nigerian economy to a knowledge-based economy. Thus, our findings may eventually contribute to the revenue income of the country.
What are the major challenges you're facing in your research work?
Research funding remains a major challenge for research in Nigeria. Additionally, the lack of functional, scientifically-relevant and modern equipment greatly limits scientific findings. Furthermore, in rare cases where both funds and equipment are available, some chemicals and reagents for high profile scientific research are not obtainable within the country because reputable chemical companies are not domesticated.
What can the government do to help your research?
The government should provide funding and other enabling conditions as obtainable in research-driven and developed countries.
And the future, what are your aspirations?
In the future, I hope to make substantial contributions in the development of novel therapeutic drugs or deciphering new therapeutic targets against type 2 diabetes, trypanosomiasis and malaria. More so, I aspire to be among the major contributors to the upbringing of the subsequent generation of finest scientists.
Anything you wish to add?
Yes! I am grateful to all my teachers, supervisors and research collaborators. My special thanks go to Dr. A. B. Aliyu, M. B. Isah, Dr. A. Mohammed, N. Tajuddeen and Prof. A. M. Musa who have been formidable members of our research group. I also appreciate the dedication of our supervisees at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
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