Inaugural Lecture Explores “Magic Bullet” for Drug Resistant Disease

Inorganic Chemist Professor Peter Ajibade used the occasion of his inaugural lecture to explore the possibilities of metal complexes acting as “magic bullets” against drug resistant diseases and as the precursors for nanomaterials.

‘Until the 19th century the study of chemistry was viewed as a religion derived from alchemical roots,’ explained Ajibade. ‘It focused on a spiritual quest in search of the keys to immortality, methods to synthesize gold and magic potions to cure diseases. At the centre of this quest were the metal ions.’

Ajibade explained that in recent years, metal complexes were being explored as pharmaceuticals. ‘We have designed metal complexes for antimalarial drugs that are more active than chloroquine against the drug resistant strains of Plasmodium falciparum,’ he said.

In his search for better alternatives to cis-platin and its derivatives (that are non-selective cytotoxic anticancer agents), Ajibade employed computation-docking methods to design anti-cancer compounds with targets other than DNA. ‘Studies show metal complexes have the potential to be the metallodrugs of the future,’ he said. ‘At present, the use of metal complexes as precursors for nanomaterials with novel properties for anticancer drug delivery and the fabrication of the next generation solar cells are being explored.’

Based on the Pietermaritzburg campus, Ajibade – who holds a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Zululand – has graduated nine PhD and 30 MSc students to date, and is currently supervising a further eight PhD and four MSc candidates.

In his welcome address, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and the Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Professor Albert Modi, congratulated Ajibade on his inauguration to the professoriate and explained that an inaugural lecture was an important occasion in the life of every professor. ‘It is a debt that he needs to pay to his university, through the articulation of his research focus areas, before he embarks upon his professorship,’ said Modi.

Head of the School of Chemistry and Physics Professor Ross Robinson noted that the School was delighted to have on its staff a scientist of the calibre of Ajibade who is publishing top quality research as well as supervising postgraduate students in areas that have direct relevance to the needs of South Africa and the rest of the continent.

Ajibade said he would continue to push the boundaries in chemistry. Quoting renowned chemist Johann Joachim Becher he said: ‘The chemists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasures amid smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I were to change places with the Persian king.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Albert Hirasen