University of Nottingham Malaysia
Research
     
  

Inspiring people

Kuan Hon Lim
Discovering new medicines to treat high blood pressure
Associate Professor, Faculty of Science
Lim-Kuan-Hon
Can you explain your research?

My research focuses on the discovery of natural chemical compounds that possess interesting or useful biological properties from Malaysian plants. Recently, we have isolated from a local fig plant a series of new natural compounds that dilate blood vessels, which has the potential application in decreasing blood pressure. We are also currently synthesising new chemical compounds that mimic the structures of the new natural compounds with the aim to discover effective medicines to treat resistant hypertension – high blood pressure that doesn't respond well to existing treatments. 

Humans have used plants as a natural remedy to treat many diseases for a long time.
Why synthesise compounds if they are abundant in nature?
Humans have used plants as a natural remedy to treat many diseases for a long time. There were countless instances where natural compounds obtained from plants have been developed into useful medicines. However, in the context of my project, the natural compounds were only obtained in very small amounts from the fig plant, which does not represent a sustainable source. For instance, we were only able to isolate 50mg of the most abundant new compound from 15kg of dried leaves. Therefore, from a sustainability point of view, it is better to synthesise the compounds in our labs than to isolate them from the harvested plants. We have to date successfully synthesised one of the new natural compounds in our lab and the synthetic compound showed equal potency to the natural one. 
What global impact will this research have?

Currently there is no single medicine that can treat resistant hypertension, so our research, should we be successful, has the potential to change many lives worldwide.

What further developments do you hope to make in the future?

In addition to synthesising the natural compounds in our lab, we are making lots of other molecules that mimic the structures of the bioactive natural compounds with the aim to discover compounds with improved or superior anti-hypertensive properties. Hopefully this process will pave the way to the discovery of drugs to treat resistant hypertension. 

Since research in drug discovery is highly multidisciplinary, it is only natural for us to collaborate with different research groups from within and beyond the University.
Why is collaboration important?

Since research in drug discovery is highly multidisciplinary, it is only natural for us to collaborate with different research groups from within and beyond the university so that scientists from different field of expertise can be pulled together to address different aspects of the research project. For instance, Prof Kang Nee Ting and her team from Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Nottingham Malaysia are currently looking at the mechanism by which the new natural compounds and some of the synthetic compounds that we synthesised in our lab elicit their blood vessel dilation activity. Based on the preliminary research data obtained from Prof Ting’s group, the compounds tested might be eliciting their activity via an important pathway that may be key to the establishment of a novel approach to treat resistant hypertension in the future.

Let your passion to discover drive you forward.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in research?

Press on, don’t give up and let your passion to discover drive you forward. Try to do your best, whatever situation you are in.

What are some of your current students working on?

Two of my three PhD students are working on the discovery of new alkaloids from Malaysian plants that may possess useful anticancer activity. My third PhD student is working on the synthesis of a series of new natural compounds that possess anti-hypertensive properties (discussed above). His project also involves the preparation of numerous compounds that mimic the structures of the new compounds.

How does the University of Nottingham in Malaysia support your research?
Our research has been supported in several ways and I would like to highlight the two that I have benefitted the most. Firstly, the University of Nottingham in Malaysia has previously provided fully funded PhD students to young academics and that has ultimately kick-started my research career on this campus nine years ago. Secondly, the internal research funding opportunities made available by the University to young researchers have subsequently assisted me in securing some research grants from external funding bodies.
 
 

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