Two PhD candidates with the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) were among 14 exceptional young women scientists in sub-Saharan Africa to receive coveted fellowships from the L'Oréal Foundation.
The FMHS' Mss Charlene Goosen and Shalena Naidoo each received a PhD research fellowship from the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science regional programme. The awards, valued at 5000 Euros (about R80 000) each, were presented at the Sub-Saharan Africa Fellowship Ceremony which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, late last year.
The 14 fellows – 12 doctoral and two post-doctoral – were drawn from five countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana, Mauritius, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria). They were selected for the scientific excellence of their work from more than 480 applicants.
“The world needs science, and science needs women: nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in African countries, which face significant challenges including climate change, access to energy or food security. Science and technology are key to addressing these challenges, and this will not be possible without women. Their talents and perspectives enrich relevant research," Alexandra Palt, Executive Vice President of the L'Oréal Foundation said in a statement.
Ms Charlene Goosen
Goosen, a PhD student in Epidemiology, says that she was honoured that her work was being noticed by an external body. Her research focuses on the “effect of oral iron supplementation on the gut microbiome in HIV infected children".
“There is a growing body of evidence of the potential adverse effects of iron fortification and supplementation strategies on the gut microbiome. There is currently no data of the effect of routine iron supplementation, a widely used therapeutic measure for correcting iron deficiency, on the gut microbiome in virally supressed HIV-infected children, nor has the gut microbiome been characterised in older children with perinatal HIV infection and early onset ART, or in those with overlapping HIV infection and iron deficiency," says Goosen, a registered dietician with a background in nutrition and HIV policy development.
Her PhD study aims to fill these knowledge gaps and to contribute to the rapidly expanding field of the human microbiome and its interactions with health and disease. “The study will also describe the nutritional status (in relation to iron nutrition) of the participants."
She hopes that her study will inform policy makers of the safety of oral iron supplementation interventions in HIV, and the iron bioavailability in the context of HIV using a stable isotope method.
Ms Shalena Naidoo
“I am honoured, deeply appreciative and excited to have received this prestigious award," says the second FMHS candidate, Naidoo, who is pursuing her PhD in Immunology/Virology. “Pursuing doctoral studies and striving to make a valuable contribution in my research field comes with many challenges. An award such as the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science provides recognition that really validates the significance and impact of my work and role I serve as an aspiring woman in science," says Naidoo.
Her research “Longitudinal Perspective on the Impact of Immune Status on the HIV-1 Latent Reservoir and Neurocognitive Outcomes in Virologically Supressed Children", aims to determine how the immune system of children who are born HIV-positive develops over time in comparison to other children, and whether immune system damage inflicted early in life persists after years of therapy.
Her work also aims to delineate and understand the immune risk factors involved in the development of neurocognitive impairment, and other non-infectious diseases which may lead to novel therapies to minimise this risk in future.
“Studying the cellular components of immunology in children will assist in providing knowledge on the treatment and clinical management of vulnerable children infected with the disease," she explains. “Considering the high disease burden that we are experiencing in South Africa, I found it very useful to bring that knowledge to clinicians." Understanding the interplay of the immune system and the virus in HIV-infected children will yield knowledge on vaccine development and potentially cure strategies.
Last year Naidoo also received an AIDS 2018 Conference Scholarship Award and a Polio Research Foundation (PRF) Bursary Award. She has also previously won the South African Immunology Society (SAIS) Conference Scholarship Award and the SAIS Immunology Primer Training Scholarship Award.
Caption: Mss Charlene Goosen (second from left) and Shalena Naidoo (fifth from left) with the other South African recipients of the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowships.