A clinical medicine student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat) has discovered a drug that can treat poisoning caused by ingesting insecticide mostly used to commit suicide.
Victor Muthembwa, a third year student’s discovery that can also treat Parkinson’s disease has been termed a revolutionary and a major breakthrough in the country’s health sector.
“The molecular drug discovery targets organophosphate poisoning and the infamous neurodegenerative Parkinson’s disease,” a statement from the University read.
Jkuat added that the ground-breaking discovery has since gone through the preliminary experimental phase.
It is also in the process of getting patented in a joint venture between Victor and the University’s Directorate of Intellectual Property Management Office.
Organophosphate poisoning simply refers to poisoning due to organophosphates (OPs). They are commonly used as insecticides and pesticides.
However, people committing suicide have also used them, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics indicate that in a year, it kills close to 894,000 people from self-harm.
It is also the major compound in the many cases of people getting poisoned through food and drinks, commonly done through rat poison.
Researchers further postulate that as many as 25 million agricultural workers across the developing world have at least one episode of organophosphate poisoning per year, with higher frequency being in areas where there is limited access to insecticide safety gear.
Organophosphate poisoning affects the autonomic nervous system, and kills within hours.
Worldwide there is only one medication used to treat organophosphate poisoning, Atropine.
However, it is only 60 per cent effective, and medical research indicates that in every 10 patients, only six pull through after being administered with the drug.
These are the odds that catapulted Victor into thinking of a better alternative. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement.
It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand.
But while a tremor may be the most well known sign of Parkinson’s disease, the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.
His discovery was borne after a patient he was attending to when he was an intern died of organophosphate poisoning in September 2017.
The patient had been poisoned, and even after all, the specialists in the room tried every trick in the book, he died.
“It was the first time I had seen someone die, and instead of sorrow and sympathy, I felt rage, and a sense of medical deficiency. Rage that there wasn’t enough that could be done to save the life,” he says.
As a medical student, Muthembwa points out that he was used to dead bodies in the anatomy lab, but had never seen somebody die.
Months later, Muthembwa armed with his physiology textbook, he commenced research on organophosphate poisoning and the rest is history.
“The molecular compound I have discovered can be used in the treatment of Organophosphate poisoning as well as Parkinson’s disease. The drug can be used both as a prophylactic (preventive) and as a cure,” he says.
The university has done due diligence by doing further research and experimentation and whether it has been discovered before, the results came negative.
Victor credits his academic advancements to the effective tutoring and mentorship the late Dr Wilson Macharia Muchiri, a lecturer at the Department of Medical Physiology.
“He’s the one who taught us about the neurotransmitters, whose proper understanding is very key to my drug discovery,” says Muthembwa.
Victor’s dream is to work with big research institutes such as Kenya Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI or World Health Organisation (WHO), to be able to maximise his research efforts.