Antin Widi (Indonesia)

JCU PhD candidate recognised at Study Cairns International Student Awards

PhD candidate Antin Widi smiling while holding two award certificates

At a sun-soaked ceremony on the Cairns waterfront last Friday, James Cook University PhD candidate Antin Widi was awarded the Study Cairns 2023 International Student Award of Excellence.  An Australian Awards Scholarship recipient, Ms Widi is currently completing a Doctor of Philosophy (Medical and Molecular Sciences) at the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) and was recognised at the ceremony for her valuable contributions and achievements as an international student in the Cairns community.

Leading by example

A Lecturer within the Faculty of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at Nusa Cendana University in Indonesia, Ms Widi’s current research activities are focused on the potential of bioactive compounds from the Euphorbia plant family on recovery from diabetic ulcers. Prior to her PhD, she previously completed a JCU Master of Tropical Veterinary Science.

Amongst a competitive field of candidates, Ms Widi was selected for her exceptional leadership and commitment to the JCU values of authenticity, excellence, integrity, and respect. She is celebrated amongst her peers for her dedication to research and a ‘laser focus’ that has contributed to her success as both a student and a researcher. Her colleagues value her innate leadership abilities as well as her determined work ethic. Her original and highly innovative work in diabetes research has proven a positive example for future Australian Awards Scholarship recipients to follow.

Group of JCU staff and students in front of blue sky and palm trees with a Cairns city sign

Ms. Widi celebrates with fellow attendees at the Study Cairns event (From top left: El Mc-Adam Stroza, Francis Edo, Penny McIntyre and Ivan Gubis. Front: Hien Thuong Ha (Tracy), Amie Mcauliffe, Sharon Gore and Antin Widi).

About Antin Widi’s research:
Traditional medicine plant may speed recovery from diabetic ulcers

Ground-breaking research sparked by natural remedies

Ms. Widi’s PhD research involves a pioneering analysis of bioactive compounds found in a traditional medicine plant family, Euphorbiaceae, known for its wound-healing properties – and the initial results are highly promising.

Preliminary testing of compounds isolated from several varieties of the plant species have demonstrated their ability to enhance cell growth – a crucial part of the wound-healing process – by up to 150 per cent.

“This is the first in-depth study that reveals the particular bioactivity of euphorbia plants and their bio-constituents – and their potential for modern wound healing treatment, including diabetic ulcers,” said Ms. Widi.

Euphorbia plants are a popular traditional medicine in countless countries around the world. They grow easily in a range of habitats, including tropical and arid areas, making them easily accessible.

Ms. Widi and her husband, both qualified veterinarians, first encountered the healing properties of Euphorbia in their home country, Indonesia, where a local farmer recommended that they use the plant to treat a goat with an inflamed leg wound. The injury healed quickly – sparking Ms. Widi’s scientific curiosity, which she was able to pursue in earnest when she enrolled for a PhD at AITHM in 2020, under the supervision of renowned structural biologist, Professor Norelle Daly.

Herbal medicines are traditionally applied in the form of crude extracts which might also contain toxic compounds that produce negative side effects. The Euphorbia plant family is known for its toxic sap, which irritates the skin and can even lead to temporary blindness.

Hence the need to identify and isolate promising bioactive compounds within the plants that can be safely utilised without triggering side effects.

Ms. Widi used High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) to extract bioactive compounds from crude Euphorbia extracts, which were then subjected to the cell proliferation tests. The most promising compounds were then characterized, using Mass Spectrometry (MS) to determine their molecular mass, and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) to configure their molecular structure.

“It’s important to do the molecular characterization side of bio-discovery, so we know what’s actually causing the activity, rather than merely looking at the results,” said Professor Daly.

The next stage of the research project will involve assessing the wound-healing potential of the compounds through in vitro scratch-assay tests, followed by in vivo tests involving a diabetic mouse model to gauge and compare the therapeutic impact of each compound on diabetic wounds.

Professor Daly welcomed her PhD student’s promising results to date.

“When you start these projects, you don’t know what to expect. When you initially get really good results, you know you’ve got somewhere to go!” she said.

With another accolade to add to her growing collection, Ms. Widi, whose PhD is now nearing completion, looks set for a bright future – whatever she turns her curiosity to next.

(Research story originally published by AITHM 10 May 2023, re-published here with permission)