Five Humboldt fellows conduct research for drugs of tomorrow
Young scientists from all over the world: from Argentina to Ethiopia
Bielefeld University is popular among international academics, taking 11th place among 79 German universities listed in the 2014 Humboldt Rankings. Professor Norbert Sewald currently holds a record within the university: five visiting scientists of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation are working on the development of drugs for various diseases in his Organic and Bioorganic Chemistry research group.
The visiting scientists and their fields of research in brief:
Professor Dr. Veronica Isabel Dodero, Universidad del Sur-INQUISUR, Bahia Blanca, Buenos Aires (Argentina).
Why do a lot of people have a marked, negative reaction to gluten, a frequent component of many cereal products? Professor Dodero’s research attempts to shed light on the development of gluten intolerance at molecular level. One of the reasons behind this complex autoimmune disorder seems to lie in the large quantities of the protein gliadin present in gluten. To understand its influence on the development of gluten intolerance more precisely, she is analysing parts of the gliadin protein, known as peptides, to determine their structure. She hopes to deduce possible targets for a therapy. She is spending two years in Bielefeld.
Professor Dr. Bruno Lenta Ndjakou, University of Yaoundé, Higher Teacher Training College, Yaoundé (Cameroon).
3.2 billion people almost half the global population are at acute risk of a life-threatening malaria infection according to the World Health Organization WHO. Many of them do not have access to affordable medical care. To remedy this, Professor Lenta is researching hitherto unknown natural substances from fungi which are found in medicinal plants used in traditional medicine in his home country Cameroon. These natural substances are isolated and their medicinal effect against the malaria pathogen Plasmodium falciparum examined. The scientist’s aim is to make it possible to provide a large part of the population with affordable drugs to combat malaria. Professor Lenta is conducting research at Bielefeld University for 18 months. He has visited the university on several previous occasions.
Dr. Negera Abdissa Ayana (Assistant Professor), Jimma University, Jimma City (Ethiopia).
Traditional healing methods have been an integral part of healthcare in Africa for a long time. For generations, traditional healers have had knowledge of natural herbs and their medicinal effect on infections, cancer and parasitic diseases like malaria and leishmaniasis. In most cases, the actual active substance in these plants is, however, not known. In his research, Dr. Negera Abdissa Ayana is therefore analysing biologically active compounds of medicinal plants traditionally used in Ethiopia. His aim is to identify new and inexpensive active substances and find low-cost alternatives to expensive anti-cancer drugs which can be made accessible to the peoples of poorer countries. He is conducting research in Bielefeld for one year.
Dr. Elmira Ghabraie, K. N. Toosi University of Technology, Teheran (Iran).
Peptides are tiny protein molecules that perform vital functions in the human body, as hormones for example. Owing to these important functions, synthetically produced peptides are a frequent starting point for developing new drugs. To increase the stability of such compounds in the human body and prevent premature degradation, Dr. Elmira Ghabraie is researching into the synthesis of cyclic peptides, which are resistant to the body’s natural metabolic processes. To engineer this cyclic structure, Dr. Ghabraie is using the rare amino acid 7-bromotryptophan. Use of this amino acid in a Suzuki-Miyaura cross-coupling reaction, an elegant chemical reaction that was recognized with the Nobel Prize in 2010, enables access to new cyclic peptides with improved properties. Dr. Ghabraie is conducting research in Bielefeld for two years.
Dr. Sandip Jadhav, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune (India).
Peptides play a vital role in the human body. Under certain circumstances, however, these tiny protein molecules form large aggregates which have a severe adverse effect on cellular functions. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the best-known diseases where peptide aggregation plays a decisive role. This neurodegenerative disorder is responsible for circa 60 per cent of the world’s 24 million cases of dementia. Dr. Sandip Jadhav is researching peptide-related molecules, known as peptidomimetics, which, owing to their molecular composition, have a certain three-dimensional structure. His aim is to use these structures to selectively bind the peptides which cause the disease before compaction takes place. He is conducting research in Bielefeld for two years.
With the exception of Dr. Sandip Jadhav, the academics are all recipients of a Georg Forster Research Award from the Humboldt Foundation. The Foundation awards up to 80 Georg Forster research scholarships every year. This year, Bielefeld University received eight of them. The intention is for the fellows to make an important contribution to the development of the country or region they come from with their research projects. Furthermore, they contribute to the exchange of knowledge and methods between Germany and their country of origin.
Further information is available online at:
Press release dated 12/8/2014: Bielefeld University popular among international researchers