Tackling antibiotic resistance through natural products  

Can the use of spices like cloves, bay leaves, garlic and ginger go beyond flavoring food? Can natural herbs and spices help us overcome antibiotic resistance, described by the World Health Organisation as ‘one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today’? 

These are some questions that Dr Cynthia Danquah, Senior Lecturer, Department of Pharmacology at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana and AfOx Research Development Awardee is looking to answer through her research. 

Picture of Cynthia working in a lab

Cynthia is specifically looking to develop new therapies to treat tuberculosis (TB). Tuberculosis remains one of the top 10 causes of death, with the WHO reporting 10 million infections in 2019, with 1.9 million deaths in the same year.  

Ending the TB epidemic completely by 2030 is one of the health targets of the UN SDG’s. While the disease is curable, multi-drug-resistant TB remains a public health crises and health security threat. 

In low- and middle-income countries, the long treatment duration, extensive side effects, and limited drug availability hinders successful treatment. To overcome this health crises, Cynthia is looking to develop cost-effective TB therapies which target resistant strains and require a shortened treatment duration.  

Image of Cynthia

In 2019, Cynthia visited Oxford with the support of an AfOx Travel Grant. During her time at Oxford, she collaborated with Oxford-based colleagues at the Department of Chemistry, including Prof Christopher Schofield and his interdisciplinary research group. They found areas of mutual research interest, as both Cynthia and Christopher are keen to find solutions to antibiotic resistance. Cynthia also had the opportunity to work in the lab with researchers studying synthetic medicinal chemistry and biochemistry to generate some preliminary data by synthesizing analogues of naturally isolated compounds. 

Their findings gave them the idea to extend their research to find new TB therapies and in 2020 Cynthia and Chris applied for the AfOx Research Development Award (AfOx ReDA) to further their research. 

With support of the AfOx ReDA, Cynthia will purchase equipment and consumables for her lab to help her study plant extracts that contain natural TB therapies and use techniques such as MS and NMR , as well as bioassays to study their bioactive potential and conduct biophysical analysis. 

In May 2020, Cynthia appeared on TV3 Ghana, the country's national news channel to talk about her research and the potential of women leaders in science.