DUT scientist shares her journey into finding Covid-19 treatment
The Durban University of Technology (DUT) is on the front lines in the global battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr Depika Dwarka, a scientist at the Department of Biotechnology and Food Technology in DUT together with other scientists from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), believe they may have an answer to treating patients infected with Covid-19. These scientists have been able to identify components within indigenous plants only found in South Africa that could hold the key to a treatment plan for the Covid-19 virus. According to project leader Dwarka, this is not an attempt of creating a vaccine but rather a treatment.
This is the first research of its kind in South Africa. According to Dwarka, 80% of South Africans use medicinal plants to treat ailments such as coughs, colds, and respiratory illnesses. Her goal was to analyse various components within these plants. By using scientific methods and techniques, Dwarka and her team were successfully able to determine four compounds in indigenous plants which are key to combating the virus.
Dwarka chose to redirect all her attention to this project because of the devastating effects caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I believed that I had a moral obligation to prioritise this research due to the severe impact of the pandemic globally”, said Dwarka.
Even though the numbers of Covid-19 infections are reducing Dwarka believes that this research is still relevant for multiple reasons. Some experts believe a second wave of the pandemic is possible. Although a vaccine may be available soon, it may not be enough for some of us.
“People who take the flu vaccine sometimes still get the flu due to different strains of the virus, the availability of a vaccine may also be limited. That is why a viable treatment plan is so important,” she said.
Dwarka is receiving widespread recognition for her efforts. However, she is determined to remain humble. Everything leading up to this moment has not been without struggle and personal sacrifice. Dwarka, a UKZN and DUT alumni, states that she can relate to the many struggles facing academics today.
“I come from humble beginnings. Like many students, I received funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Even though financially, it was a struggle, I always had the support of my family. I believe that if it were not for that support coupled with hard work, I would not have reached this point”, said Dwarka.
She is thankful to DUT for empowering and enabling this project. Dwarka believes that students have an advantage at DUT as the University encourages and supports innovation and creativity.
“DUT gave me the tools. However, most importantly, they gave me a platform to showcase my research. Professor John Jason Mellem, my mentor, also supported me 100% by encouraging and allowing me the freedom to conduct my research,” said Dwarka.
Dwarka, a 36-year-old single mother, draws her inspiration from her 2 sons.
“It melts my heart when I hear my kids say my mum is a scientist. They are my biggest motivation.”
According to Dwarka, there is still a lot to do before an actual drug is produced.
“Additional testing would be required as well as trials. However, I believe that we are on the right path to achieving the end goal of producing a treatment for Covid-19.”
Picture: Dr. Depika Dwarka