An epitome of knowledge on healing power of plants: Profiling Prof Namrita Lall

Prof Namrita Lall

Prof Namrita Lall is a Professor and a Research Chair of Medicinal Plant Science at the University of Pretoria. She holds a PhD in Phytomedicine from the University of Pretoria and a BSc in Biological Sciences. The unifying research interests of Prof Lall include antituberculosis natural product leads from medicinal plants, susceptibility studies of other bacteria to medicinal plants, cytotoxicity of plant extracts/compounds, anticancer activity of medicinal plants, and antityrosinase (skin pigmentation, skin lightening) activity of plants.

This is a bioscientist who loves exploring the medical and nutritional secrets of plants and she is ranked in the top 1% of the global Essential Science Indicators list of influential academics who write about pharmacology and toxicology. Prof Lall made one of her first research breakthroughs when she discovered that derivatives from the organic compound Naphthoquinone could help to treat and control liver problems that are often associated with the use of tuberculosis medicines. She has obtained several international patents, including 3 US patents, 4 PCT-patents, 8 South African patents, and she has co-authored more than 120 research articles in peer-reviewed journals and nine book chapters. What is more, she has been recently invited by Elsevier to edit a book on medicinal plants which should be published in 2017. About 14 pharmaceutical and cosmeceutical products which have resulted from her research programme are close to commercialisation.

As she believes in the power of collaboration, she has create a pool of networks with leading researchers across the globe, including in the USA, England, France, Egypt, India, Cameroon, Italy, Ireland, Tanzania, Mauritius and Japan. Prof Lall is a member of numerous international scientific committees including The American Chemical Society, The Society of Cosmetic Chemists of South Africa, and the Advisory Board for the Phytomedicine research at the JSS College of Pharmacy OOTY, India. She has been a visiting scientists in various institutions, including Kings College London, CNRS France and University of Illinois, Chicago, and Bastyr University in Seattle.  Furthermore, she is also one of the founders for the development of a new specialized field, called “Medicinal Plant Sciences” at postgraduate level in January 2007 at the University of Pretoria.

Prof Lall is an inspiration to the scientific community as she does not only excel academically but also socially. She has demonstrated commitment to community by interacting positively with traditional healers and engaging them in advancing traditional medicines towards conventional pharmaceutical products. She is currently involved with various projects with Mothong village at Mamelodi, Lylidale & Hazyview village (Mpumalanga province), Ekadeni Muthi Futhi Trust, KZN and Ndakabazi village at the Eastern Cape, all pertaining to the biopropecting of indigenous plant resources.

This Medicinal plant scientist is nationally and internationally recognised for her tremendous contributions to bioprospecting from traditional knowledge on medicinal plants. The awards she’s received are too many to list here, but they include accolades such as “The Order of Mapungubwe”, South Africa’s highest honour from the Honorable South African President Jacob Zuma (April 2014), Distinguished Young Women in Science Award by Naledi Pandor, Honorable minister of the Science and Technology of South Africa (August 2011), and the prestigious United Kingdom Royal Society/National Research Foundation award. Recently, she was bestowed with the second prize at the Gauteng Accelerator Programme (GAP) which identifies emerging technology entrepreneurs for incubation and start up (Nov 2016) and Biotech Fundi Lifetime Contribution Award by GDARD and Innovation hub (March 2017).

Whether searching for ways to treat serious diseases like cancer and tuberculosis (TB), or formulating new acne creams and toothpastes that fight gum disease, Prof Lall is convinced that solutions can be found in South Africa’s indigenous plants: “The vast traditional knowledge about our country’s plants is still untapped, and there is a huge amount of work needed to verify if and how traditional remedies and local plants actually work. Not everything we bring to the lab works: on average only 2% reach a stage where they are subjected to clinical studies. As with any research field, results don’t come easily.”

“It takes hard work, whether you are a man or a woman, to be successful in a particular field. Of course, it helps a great deal if you are passionate about what you do, it helps you handle the pressures and disappointments a lot better,” she concludes.