US based Kenyan crowned scientific hero
A leading Kenyan scientist based in the U.S. was last week named a "Hero of Chemistry" by American Chemical Society. Dr. F. George Njoroge, a leading scientific researcher based in Indiana, has been inducted into the coveted scientific "Hall of Fame" as a 2012 Hero of Chemistry by the world’s largest scientific society.
In a ceremony held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania along with a team of other four doctors were honoured for the discovery and development of the Hepatitis C drug, Victrelis.
“It’s a great honour to have been part of a team that led to medical discoveries that will make a difference to the lives of our fellow humans," said Dr Njoroge.
He traces his fascination with medicine way back into his childhood.
“My attraction with drug discovery traces back to my maternal grandmother, a herbal medicine doctor in rural Kenya. Even without any formal education, I was amazed as to how she was able to use various natural remedies to successfully save people’s lives. The glamour and respect that my grandmother received from our society encouraged me to get an education where I could continue in the same career as hers.” Reveals Dr Njoroge.
Dr Njoroge attended Thika High school after his primary education at Kiawairia and Kamuchege primary schools. He accomplished his ‘O’ in 1973 and ‘A’ levels in 1975.
After completing a Bachelors degree in Organic Chemistry from Nairobi University where he graduated with first class honours, Njoroge joined Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, for his Ph.D. in organic chemistry.
“I undertook graduate studies in both physical and synthetic organic chemistry; a field that would eventually prepare him in getting into one of the medical research,” Said Njoroge.
Dr. Njoroge then joined Universities Hospitals of Cleveland, as a postdoctoral student, where he was offered a research position to study the chemistry behind the browning of foods and how it related to the ageing process and diabetes in humans.
“It was an interesting encounter since I was the only ‘professional’ organic chemist working in the entire pathology institute and tasked with finding a solution to such an enormous problem. Luckily, through my proper graduate school training, I was able to design and execute a number of experiments that clearly illustrated that there was a good connection among those three systems,” he narrated.
“My discovery of the pyrraline cross-linking agent in glycation process was a testimony to a significant accomplishment that I made during my two years stint as a post-doctoral scientist at University Hospital of Cleveland,” said Njoroge of his accomplishment.
Njoroge then joined Schering-Plough Corporation in April of 1988, where he was charged with the responsibility of exploring the possibility of arresting cancerous tissues by inhibiting collagenase IV, a key enzyme thought to be responsible for destroying collagen and subsequent extravasation.
“Within a short time, I was able to come up with very potent inhibitors of this enzyme and these compounds were eventually used to validate this target. Shortly there after, I was moved to an oncology program whereby, I was tasked with designing and synthesizing compounds that were to be used to stop the signal transduction, a process used by cancer cells for communicating with each other,” recounted Njoroge
Through extensive research, Dr Njoroge was part of the team that led to discovery of
Sarasar-a treatment of solid cancer tumors.
In a study that is being carried out by Boston University Hospital, Sarasar has also been found to be effective in treating children with Progeria, a rare disease that accelerates aging in toddlers and leads to premature deaths.
“Encouraged by my success the management at Schering accorded me a leading role in scouting for small molecules that would be useful in curing Hepatitis C virus. The project was very challenging as evidenced even after testing close to 4.5 million compounds we were not able to come up with any viable lead.” Says Njoroge.
“The discovery of Victrelis, provided a great pride to my group and demonstrated what good science can achieve even in a complicated program like that one. We are excited with the discovery of Victrelis as we realize that this molecule will go a long way in saving lives in patients with this deadly disease. “ enthused Njoroge.
Dr Njoroge has over the years published 111 papers in peer-reviewed journals and has 75 patents that have been granted in USA.
“I have received numerous accolades that include two Presidential awards for the discovery of Sarasar and Victrelis, an Emerald award for professional achievement in the pharmaceutical industry, New Jersey minority Achievers award and more recently, the Thomas Alva Edison Patent award for Victrelis patent.”