Taylor's Case Study: Natural Plants - The New Antimicrobial Agents

Lurking in the depths of our bodily hosts are a variety of fungi. One of the most common fungal friends that makes up part of the microorganisms in our bodies is a type of yeast called the Candida.

Considered to be the most prevalent cause of fungal infections in people, Candida can be found in various parts of the human body, mainly the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract, mouth, and vagina. Candidiasis, an infection caused by Candida, is a fairly common occurrence for the human body that isn’t all that problematic until it grows out of control. (Eep! If Candida was a person, you’d definitely wouldn’t call it a fun guy!)

Did You Know? 

Although results may be temporary, Candidiasis can be treated with probiotics, fungal cream or a suppository, as well as natural remedies like garlic, coconut oil, aloe vera, etc.

Although the yeast is fairly harmless, when it grows out of control, they can cause many fungal infection symptoms and could potentially enter into the bloodstream, affecting vital organs like the heart and brain. While there are treatments available for this infection, research has found that Candidiasis may be harder to treat as it's becoming more resistant towards available antifungal agents.

According to Dr. Priya Madhavan, Senior Lecturer from the School of Medicine at Taylor’s University, there has been a rise of *immunocompromised patients in Malaysia and around the world.

“They’re prone to fungal infections and would make Candidiasis a chronic infection to deal with,” she adds. This issue led Dr. Priya to explore a treatment for Candidiasis using natural plant compounds.

*Immunocompromised patients: People with weak or compromised immune systems and are unable to respond normally to infection.

An All-Natural Treatment

Pursuing her project in unravelling the molecular mechanism of the antifungal resistance of the Candida during her PhD years in University Putra Malaysia, Dr. Priya has since stuck with her area of interest up to now with the intention to continue helping the many immunocompromised individuals and pregnant women who have recurrent Candida infections.

“It’s really difficult to treat them as recurrences have been reported among these patients over the last few decades. Since then, I’ve given much thought into exploring natural medicines to provide alternatives to commercially available drugs. Natural plants can be the source of new antimicrobial agents,” she explained.

A Cross Between Candidiasis and Alzheimer’s Disease

Besides her research on Candidiasis, Dr. Priya is also exploring a natural remedy that would help in slowing down the process of dementia in Alzheimer’s disease. “When I saw how ageing can be very challenging for my aged family members and their caretakers, I was inspired to create something for people suffering from dementia,” she shared.

While there is still no treatment for Alzheimer’s, unlike Candidiasis, there are treatments available to manage the symptoms of dementia. “Natural remedies may help to reduce their intake of pharmaceutical drugs which has many side effects and, hopefully, this will improve their quality of life,” she explained.

Did You Know?

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that causes dementia symptoms which worsens over time. One of the early symptoms of a person that has Alzheimer’s is trouble remembering new information as the part of the brain associated with learning is impacted first.

Dr. Priya’s goals of discovering natural products that can provide a solution to end recurrent Candidiasis and slow down the progression of Alzheimer disease to ensure a better quality of life for those infected is definitely heading towards where she wants it to go. 

“Together with researchers from Monash University Malaysia and Shibaura Institute of Technology in Japan, we've seen promising results for some plant compounds and I'm hoping that the research can lead to testing in various animal models and, later, towards clinical trials.”

The Role of an Educator

Even though she has come a long way in her project, Dr. Priya’s fondest memory in her research has always involved her students. “My proudest moment in my research is definitely the preliminary screening with my undergraduates who were guided by the postgraduates. They felt that they were valuable and could contribute to society while doing the projects,” she explained. 

Always selflessly dedicating herself to her students, Dr. Priya maintains an open-door policy for her students. Aside from training them to work effectively independently and collaboratively, she also listens to them with an open heart. 

Dr. Priya’s dedication towards her students also shows results. “One of my PhD students was selected to bid for a Merdeka Grant Award in 2018. I’ve also travelled to Japan with another PhD student to look at a transgenic animal facility in a renowned professor’s laboratory."

"Additionally, a few students who have completed their benchwork and having obtained promising results, published some data in good ISI-indexed journals such as SAGE, PeerJ, and Frontiers. Two of my students even went on to win the best oral presentations at renowned conferences!”

"Perseverance is the key to achieve greater heights and goals, no matter what hurdles you will have to jump over. And keep writing," she advices all knowledge-seekeres out there. 

Karen Grace Prince is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communication (Honours) at Taylor's University. She is also the Director of Events Committee for the Taylor's Model United Nations Club (TLMUN) and Director of Ext. Operations for TLMUN 2020 Conference Secretariat Team.