Transforming Organic Chemistry

Rhodes University hosted the Frank Warren Conference from 4 to 8 December 2016 which had a strong medicinal chemistry theme, especially for poverty-related diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria that are prevalent in Africa.

“These diseases affect millions of people, the treatments have to be dirt cheap and so there’s not a lot of pharmaceutical interest in putting millions into it, and there’s been a growing realisation in South Africa that if we don’t start to train people that can look at the medicinal chemistry aspect, the production aspect, that can understand the disease from the biology, disease, treatment perspective, nobody is going to be doing it,” shared Prof Rui Krause, Head of the Chemistry Department at Rhodes University, and organising committee member for the conference.

This premier International Organic Chemistry Conference drew over 170 delegates from South America, Argentina, Asia and Africa.

“We have tried to link-in some people from South America, that face very similar kinds of conditions for example in Science and they have similar kinds of diseases, for example a huge burden of tuberculosis. It’s prevalent here but also there, others such as malaria and leishmanisas, so all diseases that predominantly affect countries in South America, in Africa, in Asia, for which there is not a lot of money for research,” explained Prof Krause.

Prof de Koning, of Wits University gave the Frank Warren keynote address titled, ‘Around the world with 80 molecules.' De Koning shared highlights from his career in organic chemistry over the past 25 years including notable work on anti-cancer drugs. His presentation highlighted a range of innovative methods that have been used for total synthesis of products found in nature including that of molecules found in toadstools in New Zealand. De Koning is currently doing research on copper-containing drugs to treat cancer.

The series is hosted in memory of Professor Frank L Warren, considered to be one of the leading Scientists of his generation. The conference allowed researchers and students from all the sub-disciplines of Organic Chemistry to showcase and debate their work as well as network and form collaborations for future research.

Rhodes University Master of Science (Pharmacy) student Mayi Lunga, said that the conference was amazing. “It was a good learning experience, quite eye opening and challenging to get to see the work that other people are doing in South Africa and countries abroad. But more-so, despite being different people, the commonality of the love for Chemistry, research to further understand the subject and find ways to tackle world problems using our knowledge made us all the more same than different. I've been motivated through this conference to keep pursuing knowledge and not limit my thought process to what is deemed as possible.”

The final session on the programme was a workshop aimed at sharing experiences on and trying to find unified strategies to transform the organic chemistry curriculum as Prof Krause explains that “textbooks haven’t been changed for 50 years.” He explains that organic chemistry is a creative subject and much like using a language in which one cannot understand Japanese poetry if one doesn’t understand the language.

“Part of what happened this week is that we gathered as a community, remembered why we love organic chemistry, and out of that has come a new idea to create a curriculum which connects with any student who comes into our classroom,” shared Dr Rosa Klein of Rhodes University Chemistry Department.

Frank Warren was born in London in 1905 and studied as a Chemist before taking up a position at the King Fuad II University in Cairo for a few years before moving to South Africa. The specialist Organic Chemistry Conferences have been held in South Africa since July 1961, the same year Prof Warren received the South Africa Medal for his contribution to science.

The conference key speakers included, Prof de Koning (Wits), Prof Knölker (Technische Universität Dresden), Prof Kruger (UKZN), Prof O’Brien (University of York), Prof Maggio (National University of Córdoda), Prof Chibale (UCT), Prof Otterlo (Stellenbosch), Prof Hoppe (RU), Prof Mphahlele (UNISA), Prof Vico (National University of Córdoda), Prof Júnior (Federal University of Minas Gerais), Dr Blackie (Stellenbosch) and Prof van Heerden (UKZN).

Sponsors of the conference included GoTravel, High Corner, 1 A St Aidens, Penny Pinchers, Buco, Oasis, Pick ‘n Pay Bottlestor, Graham Blue Bottle Liquor Store, Microsep, National Separations, Anton Paar, Perkin Elmer, Separations, Lasec, Bruker, B&M Scientific, Sigma/Merck and Bruno Steiner.



Source:  Communications

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