Two University of Botswana Biological Science lecturers, Professor Wata Mpoloka and Dr Daniel Loeto, who will soon go for a three-month attachment at Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute (EBI) as part of their research projects.
While on attachment, Professor Mpoloka is expected to further his research on vaccine development for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) while Dr Loeto’s research on Steroid Production from Fungi Isolated from Hypersaline Environment for Biotechnological Applications.
The attachment is a sequel to a University of Botswana fact finding mission to Ohio University in the United States of America led by Vice Chancellor, Professor David Norris, recently. Other members of the delegation were Dean of the Faculty of Education, Professor Lily Mafela, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Professor Edward Dintwa and Dr Neo Matome of the Faculty of Business.
Established in 1984, EBI is both an interdisciplinary biomedical research institute of Ohio University and an economic development organisation dedicated to assisting bioscience companies and entrepreneurs in south-eastern Ohio. The institute serves the dual mission of discovery research and development of new technology as well as the transfer of technology to the private sector.
Consequently, this means Professor Mpoloka and Dr Loeto will have access to high technology equipment besides the opportunity to learn from other scientists with vast research experience.
Professor Mpoloka and Dr Loeto’s research projects underpin the University of Botswana strategic goal of becoming a research-intensive institution of higher learning. Part of the trajectory towards achieving this goal is through partnerships and collaboration with some of the best institution such Ohio University. Such partnerships and collaborations will further add impetus to the University of Botswana’s drive to play a leading role in transforming Botswana into a knowledge-based economy.
It is also part of the country’s reset agenda hence part of University of Botswana mission to the US was to explore for opportunities for collaboration and cooperation in research, education and training.
To that end, Dr Loeto’s study has immense potential to create prospects for development of steroids and other antimicrobial compounds derived from microbes found in extreme environments in Botswana. His study focuses on addressing the current shortage of steroid and draws from lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic in that during emergencies, producer countries prioritized their own needs while disadvantaging those that relied on imports.
Therefore, there is a heightened need to build local capacity for production of effective and highly efficacious steroid and other similar industries. So far, the technology developed is at initial prototype stage but when all activities have been performed, the product has potential to be developed and used for various applications such as antimicrobial ointment, oral medication and anti-inflammatory cream. When fully developed, the innovation has potential to change the research landscape of steroid and similar products for pharmaceutical industries in Botswana.
The technology developed utilizes safer and greener alternatives (microbial cell factories), which are sustainable. Industrial up-scaling of this and other similar products has immense economic potential through employment creation (labour), thereby earning the country financial returns if the products are exported. Other benefits can be through industry development, local capacity building and lessening of the country’s import bill.
Similarly, Professor Mpoloka’s study aims to improve the efficacy of FMD vaccines in a cost-effective manner. Currently, FMD vaccines are produced using live virus, and this requires biosafety level III (BSL III) labs which are very expensive construct and maintain to avoid environmental contamination with the virus.
Conversely, Professor Mpoloka’s process uses non-infectious epitopes, meaning production could be undertaken in less expensive facilities. In addition, product will be more scalable as the final product is propagated in plants unlike conventional vaccines that are produced in bioreactors with a finite volume. “The final product is envisaged to have a competitive price that would enable poorer farmers who hitherto could not vaccinate against FMD to vaccinate,” explains Professor Mpoloka
Professor Mpolaka also notes that the technology can be used to produce vaccines for a variety of pathogens. “The technology has potential to lead easy access to FMD vaccines, this will increase vaccination coverage leading to eradication of the disease in certain areas,” reckons Professor Mpoloka. In addition, the technology has been successfully used to produce a lumpy skin disease vaccine at the University of Botswana in collaboration with Kirk Graduate Institute and Botswana Vaccine Institute.
Meanwhile, EBI investigators pursue internationally recognized research programmes in growth disorders, Diabetes and obesity, aging, infectious diseases and Cancer. Through EBI, Ohio University achieved a landmark success through the development of a growth antagonist drug Somavert.
Also, through licensing to Pfizer, the Institute has attracted a total of US$100 million to Ohio University since 2003 when the drug was approved by the USDA. The drug is marketed as a treatment for acromegaly, a form of gigantism marked by excessive levels of growth hormone that result in enlargement of the hands and feet, facial disfiguration, and multiple organ disorders.