From left: Dr Ian Tietjen, Professor Nceba Gqaleni and Dr Malcolm Steinberg.

Traditional Medicine on International Stage

KwaZulu-Natal’s Traditional Medicine Laboratory, under the leadership of Professor Nceba Gqaleni, hosted two health scientists from Canada, Drs Ian Tietjen and Malcolm Steinberg, members of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.

Tietjen and Steinberg have an interest in working with traditional healers, their patients and their communities in mutually-beneficial and respectful collaborations to better understand and improve healthcare.

Tietjen is a laboratory scientist who studies mechanisms of HIV pathogenesis and latency.

While on his visit, he presented a talk titled Natural Product-derived Compounds and Traditional Medicines in Traditional Medicine Academic HIV suppression, Remission and Cure Strategies.

As part of his work, Tietjen collaborates with healers and other knowledge keepers in southern Africa, Canada, and elsewhere to understand how medicinal plants potentially act on and disrupt progression of HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

According to Tietjen, while combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) has significantly reduced HIV morbidity and mortality worldwide, virus persists within cellular reservoirs that continue to produce infectious virus.

‘As a result, cART must be maintained for life. To achieve durable, cART-free HIV remission (or ultimately an HIV cure), two opposing therapeutic strategies are proposed: reservoir elimination and reservoir containment,’ said Tietjen.

He said the former uses latency reversal agents (LRAs) to ‘activate’ HIV reservoirs, which are then eliminated naturally or therapeutically, while the latter involves pro-latency agents (PLAs) that permanently maintain HIV reservoirs in a dormant state.

In his talk, he described their research progress in characterising novel LRAs and PLAs isolated from African medicinal plants whose mechanisms of action are distinct from known agents.

He also discussed their work to document and characterise plants traditionally used in southern Africa for HIV/AIDS management.

‘We anticipate that results of this research will expand our knowledge of HIV reservoirs and have the potential to identify new therapeutic strategies to durably suppress or perhaps cure HIV,’ he said.

Steinberg has extensive experience in Epidemiology and Occupational Health, and is exploring ways to integrate local traditional and clinical medicine structures to improve patient health.

Gqalenisaid, ‘The visit was intended for us to formulate new joint grant proposals to cement our collaboration. We held workshops and meeting with several partners and stakeholders. We look forward to the future of our collaboration.’

Tietjen and Steinberg welcome questions, discussions, and collaborations with members of the UKZN community and beyond. They can be reached at itietjen@sfu.ca and malcolm_steinberg@sfu.ca, respectively.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini