Advocating for the use of indigenous food and traditional medicines in today's healthcare: Profiling Dr Vidushi Neergheen-Bhujun

Dr Neergheen-Bhujun

Mauritius, together with Rodrigues Island, is well known for its unique biodiversity and presents a green goldmine for the global pharmaceutical industry, yet it has been largely underutilised up until now. With the increasing demand for natural products or plant-based ingredients, Dr Vidushi Neergheen-Bhujun's work holds immense potential for pharmaceutical industry and economic development.

Dr Neergheen-Bhujun is a senior lecturer at the Department of Health Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, since 2009, and a member of the Centre for Biomedical and Biomaterials research (CBBR), the first multi-disciplinary research centre of its kind based at the University of Mauritius and recognized as an African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI) Centre of Excellence in Health Innovation. She holds a BSc in Biology and a PhD in Biosciences from the University of Mauritius.

Her research interests center on the safety and efficacy of phytotherapeutics and the use of traditional medicines in the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases. Dr Neergheen-Bhujun is currently investigating the cancer chemopreventive effects of bioactive extracts not only from indigenous medicinal plants, but also food and marine organisms. This is a preemptive approach to eliminate cells that are destined to become cancerous and is viewed as an appealing method for halting the progression of cancer. Her research interest represents novel thinking in the field and looks at various parameters including how dietary/plant/marine extracts may influence a number of genetic and epigenetic events associated with several cancer processes involving DNA repair hormonal regulation, cell cycle, apoptosis and differentiation.

This passionate scientist firmly believes in the health-promoting potential of indigenous foods, particularly the neglected and underutilized ones, which besides from being nutritionally rich harbour a range of secondary metabolites that could be of benefit to all mankind. The screening of these indigenous foods is providing strong scientific premise, justifying further clinical testing. Her determination in finding locally optimised solutions for the prevention and management of cancer has led her to extend her scientific research from understanding the molecular mechanisms in-vitro to preclinical testing and clinical studies in order to validate the efficacy and safety of the extracts.

Dr Neergheen-Bhujun has demonstrated a strong capacity in conducting target communication with a wide range of audiences and has achieved research excellence in her field with more than 36 peer-reviewed papers, 13 chapters in books, and more than 30 conference abstracts and posters. She enjoys international collaborations and has received a couple of awards in recognition of her work. In 2014 and 2015, she was nominated as one of the forty exceptional young scientists by World Economic Forum and she was an invited speaker at a high level meeting of the InterAcademy Partnership for Health Scientific Conference on Promoting Health held in Beijing, China.

Besides being passionate about science teaching, Dr Neergheen-Bhujun is very engaged in increasing awareness of the importance and value of science to society. One of her recent activities is the "Happy GeEthics 2084 Workshop" for children, organized by the Global Young Academy in Aviemore, Scotland in May 2017. Inspired by the quote “If tomorrow’s caretakers of the Earth are to love and understand the natural world, they need to explore it, enjoy it and recognise our reliance upon it” – from the book “Nature’s Playground” by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield – children from a local school in Edinburgh aged between 10 and 11 years were given the opportunity to receive face-to-face explanation, get involved in the scientists’ research and learn about the importance of biodiversity and human health with some hands-on activities at the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh. A very similar activity was first organized in November 2015 for students aged between 11 and 12 years in Mauritius. Her further aspirations for the young children is to develop outreach programs to continue to engage students with hands-on, mentored science and to run workshops to provide teachers with the tools they need to instil a passion for science in their students in Mauritius.

"If we want to part of the knowledge economy, it is crucial to keep the science message going, and to be able to use all the different communication platforms. Moreover, I like to communicate my science to reinforce that African countries including Mauritius have a role to play in the global science space," Dr Bhujun stated.

 

Article written by Devina Lobine