One of Stellenbosch University (SU)'s eminent scientists, Prof Gerhard Walzl, Head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, received his first A-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) recently.
Walzl's rating puts SU's total of A-rated researchers at 21 – the most ever at the institution. SU now boasts a total of 504 NRF-rated researchers.
An A-rating is the highest achievable rating for researchers on the NRF's rating system. A-rated researchers are unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their respective fields for the high quality and impact of recent research outputs.
A clinician scientist, trained in internal medicine, pulmonology and immunology, Walzl, who is also a Distinguished Professor, leads the multi-disciplinary Immunology Research Group in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at SU.
He was honoured by the NRF for his outstanding research on the immunology of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) infection and in particular host biomarkers, including diagnostic markers and markers of TB treatment response and of protective immunity against MTB.
Commenting on his A-rating, Walzl said it signifies the leading role that South African scientists can and do play. He added that this is only possible through sustained collaboration both within the country and globally, and through the support of the university and South Africa and global funders of an exceptional team.
“My team is humbled by this recognition and grateful that more than two decades of hard work is seen as meaningful and cutting edge. It also shows that our research topic, immunology and biomarkers of TB, is seen as important. At the same time, we recognise that the job is not at all done and that a lot has to happen before one can say that health sciences have made a meaningful dent into the devastating TB challenge."
Prior to receiving an A-rating, Walzl was honoured by the South African Medical Research Council with a gold medal for Outstanding Lifetime Scientific Contributions to Health Research and also elected a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa in 2021. In the same year, an international research team led by him received the EDCTP (European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership) Scientific Research Team Prize.
Walzl has played a leading role in several international multisite projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the EDCTP and the US National Institute for Health. Under his leadership, the Department of Biomedical Sciences was instrumental in the recent launch of the state-of-the-art Biomedical Research Institute at SU, the most cutting-edge and advanced biomedical research complex of its kind in Africa.
Walzl has published widely on biomarkers for TB treatment response and contributed significantly to educational activities by supervising more than 30 postgraduate students during the past 15 years. He has also submitted six different patent applications, two of which were granted and four are still pending.
The NRF rating system is a benchmarking system whereby individuals who exemplify the highest standards of research, as well as those demonstrating strong potential as researchers, are identified by an extensive network of South African and international peer reviewers. Ratings are based on the quality and impact of recent research outputs (over an eight-year period).
- Click here for a list of SU's NRF-rated researchers.
Photo by Stefan Els