A University of Waikato researcher who identifies compounds in marine species which could be used for pharmaceuticals has had her work ranked among the top one per cent of research cited in the world.
Associate Professor of organic chemistry, Michèle Prinsep, specialises in an area known as natural product research. She spends her days searching for compounds or chemicals made by living things that could have pharmaceutical applications.
“Natural products are something made by living things, but they’re not directly necessary for life. We try to isolate and structurally elucidate new novel and bioactive natural products from these marine species.”
Her work focusses on natural products created by cyanobacteria, the photosynthesising bacteria responsible for brightly coloured algal blooms and bryozoans, marine invertebrates.
“We want to identify antibacterial, antiviral or antifungal compounds that can be used as lead compounds in pharmaceuticals.”
This month she was ranked in the top one per cent in the world for research citations in her field, by the Institute for Scientific Information, at the Web of Science Group. She has also received similar accolades from Thompson-Reuters for the past three years.
“It’s nice to be recognised. It shows that what you do is being read and is worthwhile and that’s pleasing.”
Her current research has her working for Zespri, investigating whether there are compounds in marine organisms that could combat the costly kiwifruit disease Psa. Another project is working for the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment investigating invasive marine organisms and what it is that makes them thrive over indigenous species.
“If we can understand what makes them successful and understand their chemistry then we can also better manage them.”
While her research is dedicated towards finding lead compounds for pharmaceuticals, she says she is yet to have one of her finds make it to the pharmaceutical stage, although she has had compounds that have made it to testing.
“There is a very low hit rate of success to get to the pharmaceutical stage. It’s a very long process and of course pharmaceutical companies aren’t really interested or don’t want to invest until you’re very near the final stages.”
David Pendlebury, Senior Citation Analyst at the Institute for Scientific Information said the highly cited list recognised exceptional researchers who were extending the frontiers of knowledge.
“These researchers create gains for society, innovation and knowledge that make the world healthier, richer, more sustainable and more secure.”
The list identifies scientists and social scientists who produced multiple papers ranking in the top one per cent by citations for their field and year of publication, demonstrating significant research influence among their peers.
This year the list includes 6,217 Highly Cited Researchers in various fields from nearly 60 countries around the world. Among them were 23 Nobel laureates.