Ethnobotany and Anthelmintic Drug Development

This project, led by UO Biology Professor Janis Weeks and her colleagues at NemaMetrix Inc., will: a) develop partnerships with local communities in the Gabonese rainforest (pygmy communities) to survey anthelmintic compounds for the management of animal and human health; b) use new technology developed by NemaMetrix to test anthelmintic compounds; and c) collaborate on the commercialization of such compounds in a manner that respects the intellectual property rights of indigenous populations and conforms to the principles of the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biodiversity. 

Ethnobotanical study can reveal locally important plant species for the development of drugs.  The researchers will screen plant extracts for anthelmintic compounds through interviews with traditional healers and through participant observation techniques.  They will engage in field identification and sample collection of the relevant plant products, and the preparation of plant extracts to screen for anthelmintic activity. Professor Weeks and collaborators at NemaMetrix Inc. have developed technology that integrates the fields of microfluidics (the precise control of fluids and samples at sub-millimeter scales) and electrophysiology (recording the electrical activity of nerve cells and muscles) to accelerate drug discovery for new anthelmintics.  This novel technology promises to accelerate drug development for devastating nematode infections of humans and animals, and any commercial potential would be developed to benefit Gabon, ideally the pygmy community. 

Janis Weeks plans to collaborate with Gabonese researchers, scientists and students on the testing of new plant compounds and the application of NemaMetrix technology to uncover the anthelmintic properties of local Gabonese plants, based on previous work and data indicating that there is great potential for the discovery of new anthelmintic plants in west-central Africa. Dr. Weeks traveled to Gabon in October 2013 to meet with potential partners and examine the work being performed in the country in the fields of ethnobotany and anthelmintic drug development. She will invite Gabonese colleagues and students to her lab at the University of Oregon so that they may learn the techniques applied by NemaMetrix technology.

This project advances the Gabon-Oregon Center’s mission to increase the well being of the local population and address public health issues in Gabon, where parasitic nematode infections cause chronic, debilitating disease as well as significant health problems. Anthelmintic drug discovery accompanied by close collaboration with Gabonese partners will lead to the retention of these techniques and drugs within the country, along with a strong focus on capacity building and training.  The project seeks to promote local ownership of the technology, methods and science to benefit the Gabonese scientific community and the population as a whole.