North-West University (NWU) academic Dr Makhotso Lekhooa is investigating the possibility that an indigenous plant can be used to treat depression.

This research is very applicable as the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that 4,4% of the global population suffers from depression, while in South Africa this percentage amounts to 4,6 %.

Moreover, South-Africa also has a poor response rate, with less than 50% of patients achieving remission and battling adverse side effects.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is having a detrimental effect on the health and economy of the world, and as such the prevalence of depression is expected to increase,” says Dr Lekhooa, a senior lecturer at the DST/NWU Pre-Clinical Drug Development Platform (PCDDP).

Dr Lekhooa’s research topic was “Evaluating the effects of South African medicinal plants such as Sceletium tortuosum in an animal model of depression”.

She says in Africa many plants used for mental health issues lack robust scientific evidence to support claims of their medicinal value.

“One such plant is Sceletium tortuosum, which has been used for ages by the Khoisan people to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, improve mood and enhance concentration,” she explains.

“In my research study I used a genetic rat model of depression to evaluate different doses of Sceletium tortuosum as either a monotherapy and/or adjunctive therapy to current antidepressants, examining both behavioural and biological markers.”

The results generated from her research will illustrate the effect of Sceletium tortuosum in a rat model of depression, and will indicate whether it could be beneficial in the treatment of depression.

Furthermore, providing scientific evidence for the safety and efficacy of medicinal plants is in line with the WHO traditional medicine strategy for 2014 – 2023.

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