Shaping future drug development with ethical approaches

In the realm of pharmaceutical research Prof Chrisna Gouws, a professor at the Centre of Excellence for Pharmaceutical Sciences (Pharmacen™) of the North-West University (NWU), is leading a significant charge towards transforming drug development.

Her work in animal-free testing methods revolutionises how pharmaceuticals are researched, tested and ultimately approved. This focus draws on her expertise in biochemistry, cell-culture models and herb-drug interactions, all of which have culminated in a mission to advance humane and effective pharmaceutical testing.

The global shift away from traditional animal testing methods is gaining momentum. Prof Gouws is at the forefront of this movement, aligning her research with the push for humane and ethical alternatives. Governments and regulatory bodies worldwide are recognising the potential of these alternatives, as demonstrated by the FDA Modernization Act 2.0 in the USA, and Prof Gouws's spirit of innovation and compassion has been a key driving force for her.

The core of her work is the development of complex human cell-culture models for pharmaceutical applications. She specialises in creating mini-models of cancer tumours that replicate real-life conditions, thus enabling researchers to study the effects of potential drugs and treatments with greater accuracy. Her team employs cutting-edge technologies like rotating bioreactors to cultivate cell clusters known as spheroids, which closely mimic the behaviour and characteristics of actual tumours found in patients.

This research extends to addressing a significant challenge in cancer treatment: drug resistance. By combining chemotherapy with plant extracts such as Lessertia frutescens (cancer bush), her team has uncovered potential strategies to mitigate drug resistance in small-cell lung cancer. This breakthrough could open new avenues for patients who have exhausted conventional treatment options.

The significance of Prof Gouws's research is amplified by her collaborative approach. She leads a team with international experts, such as Prof Krzysztof Wrzesinski from Denmark, along with talented PhD and MSc students. Together, they are pioneering advanced cell-culture techniques and exploring alternatives to traditional animal models used in cancer studies. Collaborations with other South African universities such as the University of the Free State and the University of Pretoria also speak of intentional collective efforts and an intense desire to drive meaningful change in pharmaceutical research.

Inspired by the potential to save lives and make a tangible difference in patients' well-being, Prof Gouws has a personal commitment to advancing science and improving patient outcomes. Her work in developing in vitro models that replicate human tissue structure and physiology shows her vision to ensure that only the most promising drug candidates progress to animal testing and clinical trials.

By increasing treatment efficacy, reducing costs and potentially replacing animal testing with cutting-edge technologies, her research could potentially transform the pharmaceutical industry and pave the way for personalised medicine.

The impact of Prof Gouws's work extends far beyond laboratory walls. It shows that South Africa is capable of bringing groundbreaking advancements to the global stage. The NWU commends her for her spirit of scientific innovation and ethical responsibility in the pursuit of more effective, humane and ethical pharmaceutical testing.

Prof Chrisna Gouws


21-day-old small-cell lung cancer spheroid

Celvivo ClinoStar units

Spheroids in ClinoReactor

Submitted on Wed, 09/27/2023 - 15:44