Applied Physics Seminar 

2013 Academic Year

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Time: 15.30

Oppenheimer Meeting Room,
Second Floor, Leonardo Building

Biophysics of medicinal plants and sickle cell disease (*)

Pius Mpiana Tshimankinda  (**)

University of Kinshasa,  Faculty of Sciences, Kinshasa, 

Democratic Republic of Congo.

(*) Summary, Sickle cell disease (SCD) is one of the most neglected diseases of the 21st century with an important death rate in children living in the third world, especially in Africa. Like malaria, SCD is also a major public health problem and is the first genetic disease by the number of affected people in tropical African regions. The biophysics of SCD includes polymerization of unstable haemoglobin S (HbS) under hypoxic conditions, red blood cells shape and membrane modification. This is the molecular basis of symptoms of SCD, like anaemia, red blood cells haemolysis, thrombosis or veins obstruction amongst others. 

Some agents were developed by rational drug design to inhibit the red blood cells sickling process. Most of these agents, unfortunately, did not show promising success in terms of clinical use. Conventional treatments are expensive and unaffordable by the rural populations.
During these last few years, the use of medicinal plants is explored as a therapeutic approach that can relieve this disease. Indeed, the use of medicinal plants seems to be a simple, inexpensive and appropriate strategy for disease control in developing countries.

The progress made recently in biophysics, biochemistry and cellular biology of SCD has indicated that main targets in chemotherapy must include inhibition of haemoglobin S polymerization and stabilization red blood cells membrane. Tests such as Emmel test (polymerization test), Itano test (HbS solubility test), red blood cell haemolysis test and membrane osmotic fragility test are used to evaluate in vitro the effect of medicinal plants extracts on erythrocyte shape modification, haemoglobin S aggregation in low O2 pressure conditions and membrane stability. The first plant that showed an antisickling activity was Fagara Zanthoxyloides. Some other plants extracts have showed antisickling activity.

The ethnobotanical investigations carried out by our research team have revealed that 76 medicinal plant species belonging to almost 33 different families are used by Congolese traditional healers for the treatment of SCD in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A preliminary screening for the in vitro antisickling activity using Emmel test has indicated that the polar extracts of about 65 plants possess a significant sickling suppressive rate in hypoxic conditions. Bioguided extraction has indicated that anthocyanins and organic acids extracts would be among the secondary metabolites responsible of the antisickling activity. Four bioactive molecules have already been isolated and three of them are patented (

On the other hand, some of these plants are edible and can be experimented as medicinal food (nutraceutical) in sickle cell disease patients. One of these plants is Vigna unguiculata (known as Cowpea or Black-eyed Pea).  A phytomedicine “drepano alpha” made of three edible plants is also now being tested. 

(**) Biodata: Professor Pius Mpiana Tshimankinda is the Vice Head of the Chemical Department in Charge of Research at the Science Faculty of the University of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He obtained his PhD in Physical Chemistry in 2003, from Kinshasa University and has been Visiting Professor of Biophysics in some Congolese Universities. His association with the ICTP goes from 2009 until 2015.

Professor Mpiana is a member of some scientific organizations, amongst which: the French Society of Etnopharmacology, the Natural Products Research Network of Eastern and Central Africa (NAPRECA). He is also a member of some editorial boards, such as the International Journal of Biological Chemistry, the International Journal of Pharmacology, and the Research Journal of Medicinal Plants.

The prizes awarded to him are the Diploma and Medal of Scientific Merit of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the year 2010; the African Prize for Liberty and Development, 2009; the Diploma of Honor and Merit as Best Congolese Professor for 2008.

Some patents to his credit are: World International property organization WIPO, Patent No W02011/064710 A1 “ In vitro antisickling activity of betulinic acid, oleanolic acid and their derivatives”. Most relevant, is his book “ Biophysique medicale”, volume I, first edition 2006 and second edition 2010, published by Resud Edition, Kinshasa. He is the author of 78 research papers.

 Interview: Dealing with Sickle Cell Disease

ICTP Senior Associate discusses his advances toward treating SCD