Molecular Biology Human Genetics
Welcome to Stellenbosch University

​​Division of Molecular Biology and Human Ge​​​netics​

 SU News

 

 

Test developed to identify bovine TB in wild rhinoshttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8109Test developed to identify bovine TB in wild rhinosFMHS Marketing & Communications / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie - Michelle Galloway<p>​Her curiosity about understanding diseases – in animals and humans – has led to Dr Josephine Chileshe developing a novel tool to help diagnose tuberculosis (TB) in rhinos, for which she received a doctoral degree from Stellenbosch University (SU) this week. <br></p><p>“As an animal health technician I'm interested in both animals and disease. My long-term interest is prevention and control strategies for zoonotic diseases of which bovine TB is one. If we can diagnose diseases in animals before they reach humans, we will make a huge impact," said Chileshe, who did her PhD with the Animal TB Research Group at SU's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. </p><p>Chileshe's PhD dissertation, entitled<em> Identification of immunological biomarkers for detection of Mycobacterium bovis infection in African </em><em>rhinoceros, </em>focused on the detection of biomarkers and their diagnostic use for <em>Mycobacterium bovis</em> infection in African rhinoceros. The bacteria <em>Mycobacterium bovis</em> causes bovine TB, which usually affect animals such as cattle, but can also infect and cause disease in all mammals, including humans. </p><p>Although we have known about TB in rhinos since the 19<sup>th </sup>century, it had only been reported in captive rhinos. Bovine TB is endemic in many animal species across South Africa, including animals in the Kruger National Park, where this work was done. Finding bovine TB in rhinos that had died from other causes made it clear that it can infect wild rhinos. </p><p>“With poaching and decreasing rhino numbers, it is key to be able to translocate these animals to strongholds where we can keep them safe and preserve their genetic diversity. TB is a controlled disease so once it was found in Kruger, the Department of Agriculture imposed a quarantine and we were not allowed to move rhinos," explained Prof Michele Miller, who leads the Animal TB Research Group and supervised Chileshe's dissertation. “The solution was to come up with a test to identify infected animals before they are moved to prevent disease transmission." </p><p>A blood test means it's possible to identify TB in living animals and also to get an idea of its prevalence – at the moment it is believed that about 5% of the Kruger population has been exposed.<br></p><p>“Chileshe's thesis explored the best way of identifying infected animals – not so much for the health of the individual animals because we don't think that TB is killing rhinos, but to prevent the spread to other susceptible populations. These findings are significant contributions to knowledge and management of animal TB," said Miller. </p><p>Chileshe developed and validated an interferon-gamma release assay (a blood test used to detect TB infection), and characterised cytokine gene-expression assays that can be used to distinguish between <em>Mycobacterium bovis</em>-infected and uninfected rhinos.<br></p><p>She explained that current knowledge on biomarkers in other species including humans was the starting point. “We looked at biomarkers identified in other species and if we could identify them in rhino. Interferon gamma has been well studied in humans. We were able to identify a test that recognised that marker in the rhino. Using real-time gene expression we were also able to identify Interferon gamma-inducible protein 10 (IP10). We identified six out of 84 markers in one screening test. The more markers you identify, the better." </p><p>In field conditions it is also important to use available reagents and test kits for easy reproducibility. Various kits were tested to come up with a system that consistently detected the biomarkers. </p><p>“Obviously in the wild animals can't be that closely monitoring," said Chileshe. “Earlier indication of infection would allow us to act proactively. But testing is the tip of the iceberg, there are still many unknowns." She pointed to the need for more validation of testing in larger cohorts; understanding the mechanism behind IP10 production and whether it's indicative of disease in rhinos; the evaluation of more cytokines as biomarkers, and, understanding immunology in bovine TB infection. </p><p>For now, her interest is moving to humans. “I will be doing a postdoc at the University of the Free State on developing a point-of-care diagnostic tool for Covid-19," she said. </p><p>“As we have learned from Covid-19 many diseases cross species barriers," added Miller. “We can't have a species-centric focus but must look at diseases at the interfaces between humans, livestock, pets and wild animals and how we can accurately predict infections. We will never win the battle by trying to control disease in just one species." </p><p> <br></p><p><em>This work was done in collaboration with South African National Parks, the Department of Agriculture and state veterinarians. </em>​</p>
Bronchoscopy facility unlocks major research opportunitieshttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7953Bronchoscopy facility unlocks major research opportunitiesFMHS Marketing & Communications / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie - Birgit Ottermann<p>​Stellenbosch University's (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences recently launched the Biomedical Research Institute (BMRI) Research Bronchoscopy Suite, housed within the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics.<br></p><p>“The BMRI Research Bronchoscopy facility will pave the way for site-of-disease research for lung diseases, particularly tuberculosis," Prof Gerhard Walzl, head of the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics said at the launch.</p><p>“The physical proximity of the facility to advanced microbacteriology, immunology and genomic research groups and laboratories of the new BMRI facility, and its proximity to established community-based research sites with a high TB-disease prevalence, unlocks major research opportunities of international importance." </p><p>The new theatre is equipped with a Fujifilm Eluxeo Lite System Eluxeo Lite Processor with multi-light technology, advanced infection prevention features and a fully-equipped reception and recovery area.</p><p>According to Dr Fanie Malherbe, chief medical officer of the Molecular Biology Clinical Research Unit, the FMHS have been doing bronchoscopies for more than ten years in partnership with the Tygerberg Academic Hospital. </p><p>“However, the demand has grown to such an extent that we needed our own facility. We have multiple big international grants that require bronchoscopies but because we shared the facility with the hospital, patients understandably came first, and our research procedures had to wait." </p><p>To complicate matters further, the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a complete halt of research bronchoscopies as the theatre space was needed for patient care. </p><p>“It was clear that we needed our own space. In order to allow research to continue the university established a bronchoscopy facility within the faculty. We performed our first procedure successfully in our new theatre on 10 December 2020."</p><p>According to Walzl, a bronchoscopy is a well-established, relatively safe endoscopic procedure where a camera is inserted into a segment of the lung of interest and a saline solution injected to collect immune cells for examination. </p><p>“Bronchoscopies are important for the study of tuberculosis as the lung is both the primary site of infection and the source of transmission. Site-of-disease responses are different to peripheral blood responses. It doesn't help to search for your lost key only under the streetlight. Sometimes you have to look a bit wider. That is why site-of-disease responses are becoming increasingly important to study," he explains. “The lung also has an alveolar macrophage population that can be crucial in outcomes of many airborne infections. The reason why the lung is so different is that its primary function is to breathe, and not to fight infection. It needs to play a very careful balancing act between maintaining its gas exchange ability and fighting off any invaders. Some pathogens like TB exploit that." </p><p>“The scourge of tuberculosis is one of the biggest ongoing global pandemics, with a great impact on our country and continent," Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, FMHS Vice Dean: Research and Internationalisation said at the launch.</p><p>“We have a strong track record of TB research, extensive international collaborations, and are home to the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research and SAMRC Centre for Molecular and Cellular Biology. I am excited to see how this new bronchoscopy facility will support our research efforts in the future."</p><p>Prof Eugene Cloete, SU Vice Rector for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate studies, congratulated the Molecular Biology Clinical Research Unit on their new initiative. “The bronchoscopy research suite will enable cutting-edge research on samples from the site of disease of a range of conditions, including tuberculosis. It forms part of a continuum of high-tech research infrastructure that also includes the research PET/CT facility that we launched in 2019, the biorepository and the immunology laboratories in the BMRI. I wish you well. May you spend many productive hours in this new research facility."</p><p><em>*</em><em> </em><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kINbJN1S71Q"><em>Watch a recording of the launch on YouTube</em></a><em>.</em></p><p><em><br></em></p><p><em>Caption: Dr Donald Simon takes guests on a tour of the new BMRI Research Bronchoscopy Suite <em>at the launch </em>.</em></p>
TB researcher scoops coveted L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science granthttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7945TB researcher scoops coveted L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science grantFMHS Marketing & Communication / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie<p>​​Dr Charissa Naidoo is one of six South African researchers who were recently awarded a grant from the L'Oréal-UNESCO <em>For Women in Science</em> South African National Young Talents Programme.</p><p>Naidoo, a postdoctoral researcher in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, who is also part of the Clinical Mycobacteriology and Epidemiology (CLIME) Group where she is studying the gut microbiome of patients with tuberculosis (TB), which she hopes will lead to innovative diagnosis tools and more accessible treatments. </p><p>TB is the world's leading infectious cause of death. Studies on diverse microbial communities in the lower airways (lung microbiome) have, to date, focused on diseases relevant to the developed world, but remain understudied in TB. This is especially important in African populations where efforts to control the disease are impeded by disproportionately high rates of poverty and HIV. Naidoo's research shows how – even before antibiotic treatment – patients with TB have a unique gut microbiome: this could lead to innovative diagnostic tools and more accessible treatments. </p><p>The research integrates innovative clinical, laboratory and computational approaches to understand how the microbiome and the host interacts at the site of disease and is the first of its kind. In addition to building African expertise, the research will lay the foundation for large-scale clinical trials with therapeutic agents that target the microbiome, to improve long-term TB clinical outcomes. </p><p>Naidoo isn't a newcomer to achievement, with myriad awards and grants under her belt – including a Career Development Fellowship from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP). </p><p>Her studies on the impact of lung microbiomes is internationally ground-breaking and its appeal, to her, lies in the fact that it falls with an exciting and new area of research; that it comprises a unique blend of basic science, clinical science and bioinformatics and – most importantly – addresses a critical knowledge gap in this disease. </p><p>“Our bodies consist of trillions of bacteria known as 'the microbiome' which are important for our health," she explains. “However, we do not yet understand its relationship with TB – the biggest killer in South Africa. Although TB can be cured, patients have to take many pills for a long period of time and often do not complete their treatment." </p><p>Motivated by the formidable challenge that tuberculosis presents in South Africa, “especially amongst the poor and vulnerable", her dream is to see an end to TB in the country. “Rather than  chasing wealth, I have committed myself to pursuing a career for a worthy cause that would lead to improved quality of life," she explains.</p><p>This fellowship is especially meaningful to her work because she points out that there is an acute shortage of funding opportunities for postdoctoral fellows in South Africa. The benefits of the fellowship are short and long term – material collected in her project will enable Naidoo to initiate a long-term research programme at her current institution.<br></p><p>“This research grant will increase my eligibility for competitive funding opportunities, thereby opening new doors," she explains. “It will also allow me to strengthen my scientific track-record, thereby enhancing my candidacy within the faculty."<br></p><p>In the pursuit of her goals, she is confronted by challenges over and above a lack of funding, such as an insufficiency of local analytical expertise and infrastructure for complex relevant data analysis.<br></p><p>Charissa used 2020's shutdown to work remotely, finalising data analyses, preparing manuscripts and participating in virtual microbiome workshops. Naidoo embodies the advice that she gives to younger girls, with an interest in science. She emphasises that that they shouldn't be afraid to step out of comfort zones. In addition she says, “Volunteer or intern at a research laboratory and identify good mentors who are invested in your academic development."<br></p><p>She explains the impact of the fellowship on her scientific career, as a woman: “Being a recipient of this award is extremely encouraging and empowering. Science is still a male-dominated field, where fewer and fewer woman scientists are retained further along the career path. This award will not only permit my own career development but also enable me to mentor other young women scientists. In this way, we will enhance local capacity and, in the long-term, help bridge the gender gap in science."<br></p>
10 distinguished professors proof of FMHS’ academic excellencehttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=789410 distinguished professors proof of FMHS’ academic excellenceFMHS Marketing & Communications / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie – Tyrone August<p>​​Ten of the 37 academics recently honoured as Distinguished Professors by Stellenbosch University are from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) – more than any other Faculty. And, of the 10, five are female – once again, more than any other Faculty. <br></p><p>Their appointment – and, in six cases, reappointment – is an acknowledgement of their exceptional academic performance, and take into account their contribution to research, publishing, teaching and postgraduate supervision, as well as the social impact of their work.</p><p><strong><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/Louw.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:151px;height:200px;" />Prof Quinette Louw</strong>, head of the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, is one of three females newly appointed as Distinguished Professors. “I am very pleased to see the increasing number of female appointees," she comments. “It marks a celebration of excellence by female academics. I believe it will inspire the next generation of female academics to excel and reach the pinnacle of their careers.</p><p>“My new position, together with my Research Chair in Innovative Rehabilitation, are wonderful accolades that position me well to positively influence young academics and steer extraordinary research that will embody new thinking and pushing the frontiers in knowledge and practice in the field."</p><p>Louw, appointed in 2005 as the first professor in physiotherapy at Stellenbosch University to develop research and postgraduate training, says: “My research objectives are closely linked to my Research Chair, in which I am well-positioned to produce novel advances in rehabilitation research within resource-constrained South African contexts.</p><p>“My research is guided by inclusivity, collaboration and integration to effectively engage with key stakeholders and end-users. In addition, I hope to reposition rehabilitation across a range of sectors."</p><p>Louw points out that innovation is an important pillar of her work: “Covid-19 has accelerated scientific innovation in order to address mounting health needs globally amidst rapidly changing contexts. My innovation will take three approaches. I hope to lead innovations in research methods as applicable to rehabilitation, innovation in health systems as well as evidence translation for societal impact."</p><p>In addition, Louw intends to pay close attention to building partnerships: “I aim to invest significant time and effort in expanding my networks and strengthening existing productive partnerships."</p><p>She has already made numerous presentations at national and international conferences, including at the International Society of Biomechanics and the World Confederation for Physical Therapy. She has been invited to speak at the World Physiotherapy Congress in April 2021.</p><p><strong><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/Moodley.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:151px;height:200px;" />Prof Keymanthri Moodley</strong>, director of the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law, is another well-deserved appointee as Distinguished Professor. She established the first Bioethics Unit at the FMHS in 2003, which was the forerunner of the Centre.</p><p>“I am delighted to be acknowledged for my contribution to the field of bioethics, particularly in the context of the pandemic and the general state of despair we have all experienced during 2020," says Moodley.</p><p>She also regards her appointment as recognition of the importance of her field: “Bioethics is generally less appreciated in academia in South Africa, despite it being critical to all disciplines. This acknowledgement therefore also serves to highlight the value that bioethicists add to health sciences' education and research."</p><p>Under Moodley's leadership, the Centre has played a leading role in building capacity in the field of bioethics in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. “Over the past 17 years, it has extended Stellenbosch University's educational mandate into 10 African countries by developing bioethics capacity in 40 mid-career professionals on the continent," she points out. “Our Advancing Research Ethics Training in Southern Africa (ARESA) Leadership Program in Bioethics currently has seven PhD trainees."</p><p>Moodley adds: “Many of my research and training outputs were achieved with external funding from the National Institutes for Health (NIH) in the US. The four grants awarded to the Centre over the past seven years have brought in about R50 million, which has enabled the training of African scholars, employment of part-time academic and administrative staff, and promoted research into ethical, legal and social aspects of HIV and genomics biobanking."</p><p>As a result of such initiatives, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated the Centre as a WHO Collaborating Centre in Bioethics – one of just 10 in the world, and the only one in Africa: “This has resulted in international recognition of our work via global collaborative research and teaching as well as community engagement."</p><p><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/Young.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:151px;height:200px;" />Another richly deserved appointee as Distinguished Professor is <strong>Prof Taryn Young</strong>, executive head of the Department of Global Health. She is also head of the Department's Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and director of its Centre for Evidence-based Health Care.</p><p>A key motivating factor in her work is to provide the necessary leadership to advance global health: “As Head of the Department of Global Health, I strive to provide academic leadership to advance global health – the field of scholarship and practice seeking to advance health equity.</p><p>“Key to this role is conducting, and supporting the conduct of, relevant, robust and timely research, and to engage with decision-makers to translate research into health policy and practice."</p><p>Young, who has conducted training in a number of African countries since 2010, stresses: “I am especially keen on fostering and advancing equitable partnerships to enable greater impact in what we do. Paying it forward through investment in the next generation is always close to my heart – to build their capacity to be able to address the variety of health and social challenges we face."</p><p>Like Moodley, she readily acknowledges the contribution of others to her academic achievements: “Achieving the academic goals for Distinguished Professorship is definitely a road one does not travel alone," notes Young.</p><p>“My special thanks go to all my colleagues, collaborators, students, funders and the many support staff working behind the scenes. My sincere appreciation for the enabling environment provided by the Faculty, and to my family for their unconditional support."</p><p>She takes pride in her FMHS colleagues who have been similarly honoured by the university: “I congratulate my colleagues who have also been appointed as Distinguished Professors, and am really pleased to see that 10 of the appointees are in our Faculty."</p><p><strong><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/Mash.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:151px;height:200px;" />Prof Bob Mash</strong>, executive head of the Department of Family and Emergency Medicine and head of the Division of Family Medicine and Primary Care, is delighted at the recognition of his work in the title of Distinguished Professor.</p><p>However, he also regards his appointment as far more than an individual honour: “It is great recognition for the way in which family medicine and primary care has emerged as a strong academic discipline at the university. In the 1990s, family medicine was a fledgling discipline struggling for recognition and traction at the Faculty. Now, 20 years later, this accolade affirms the importance of this discipline in the life of the university."</p><p>Yet Mash still sees many other formidable challenges ahead: “I want to support the strengthening of primary healthcare in South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and globally through research and appropriate training of health professionals. </p><p>“There is growing political and policymaker momentum on the importance of primary healthcare to achieving universal health coverage and sustainable development goals. We need, however, to turn words into action, and in many countries in Africa, primary healthcare remains the Cinderella of the health system."</p><p>Mash adds: “I am involved in a number of initiatives in this regard – a global Primary Health Care Research Consortium, the Primary Care and Family Medicine network in sub-Saharan Africa, the <em>African</em> <em>Journal of Primary Health Care and Family Medicine</em> and developing primary healthcare as a niche research area in the Faculty."</p><p>Of the Faculty's 10 Distinguished Professors, three of the six reappointments are from one department – the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health:</p><ul><li><strong><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/Hesseling.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:150px;height:200px;" />Prof Anneke Hesseling</strong>, director of the Desmond Tutu TB Centre, holds the first South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) chair in paediatric tuberculosis. For the past two decades, she has conducted clinical research in children in settings with a high incidence of tuberculosis and HIV, both in South Africa and further afield. A key focus of the Centre's research is on improved and safe tuberculosis preventive and treatment strategies for, among others, HIV-infected and uninfected children through vaccination and chemotherapy. She has published widely, and serves on various national and international advisory groups.</li><li><strong><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/Cotton.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-1" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:150px;height:200px;" />Prof Mark Cotton </strong>is an internationally acclaimed specialist in the field of paediatric infectious diseases, with extensive experience in managing HIV-positive children. He established the Division of Paediatric Infectious Diseases at Tygerberg Children's Hospital in 1996, which he heads. He has been a technical advisor to the WHO on the paediatric classification for HIV and antiretroviral therapy guidelines since 2004. From 2005 to 2011, he was co-principal investigator of the Children with HIV Early Antiretroviral (CHER) study, which changed antiretroviral guidelines worldwide to early treatment regardless of the stage of the disease. He is president of the World Society of Paediatric Infectious Diseases.</li><li><strong><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/Schaaf.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:150px;height:200px;" />Prof Simon Schaaf</strong> is a senior specialist in the Department. He is widely regarded as a pioneer of research on childhood tuberculosis, with a special focus on multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Today he is recognised as one of the world's leading experts in this area, and his research has helped to broaden the understanding and management of tuberculosis, especially in children. He has published extensively, and co-edited the widely used textbook <em>Tuberculosis: A Comprehensive Clinical Reference</em>. He was awarded Honorary Membership of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease in 2015.</li></ul><p>The Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics in the Department of Biomedical Sciences also features prominently among the FMHS's Distinguished Professors, with two of those reappointed based in this Division:</p><ul><li><strong><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/Warren.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:150px;height:200px;" />Prof Robin Warren </strong>is Unit Director of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Centre for Tuberculosis Research. His research in molecular epidemiology has led to numerous landmark publications in the field of tuberculosis. He is a major contributor to the data guiding WHO tuberculosis testing, and his research is cited in WHO technical guides for tuberculosis diagnostics and treatment. In addition, he has developed a virtual whole genome sequence (WGS) training program for MSc and PhD students in collaboration with Antwerp University. He received the SAMRC Gold Medal award for scientific excellence in 2015.</li><li><strong><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/Walzl.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-1" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:150px;height:200px;" />Prof Gerhard Walzl </strong>is head of the Stellenbosch University Immunology Research Group (SUN-IRG), which he established in 2002. He is a clinician scientist trained in the fields of internal medicine, pulmonology and intensive care medicine. His research focuses on the immunology of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection and in particular host biomarkers.<strong> </strong>SUN-IRG research bridges the divide between clinical and laboratory sciences in a high tuberculosis prevalence area. In addition, Walzl has set up a research program at Tygerberg Academic Hospital to investigate immune responses in the lung and pleura. </li></ul><p>The sixth reappointment from the FMHS as Distinguished Professor is based in the Department of Psychiatry:</p><ul><li><strong><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/Seedat.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:150px;height:200px;" />Prof Soraya Seedat, </strong>executive head of the Department of Psychiatry, is an expert in the field of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorders. She directs the SARChI Research Chair in PTSD in the Department, and is also engaged in various collaborative projects with colleagues in the United States, Europe and several African countries. In addition, she is involved in multiple research training, capacity building and leadership development activities in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2014, she became an International Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and is president of the College of Psychiatrists of South Africa.<br></li></ul><p><br></p>
Important TB study sheds light on disease developmenthttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7792Important TB study sheds light on disease developmentFMHS Marketing & Communication / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie – Sue Segar<p>​A study by Stellenbosch University scientists has shown that certain people's immune systems react differently when exposed to the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (<em>Mycobacterium tuberculosis or Mtb</em>)<em> </em>than others.</p><p><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/MTB_Article%20pic2.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:500px;height:357px;" />This research, recently published in The Lancet's EBioMedicine journal, brings scientists one step closer to finding ways of preventing people from developing the disease. People living with HIV are at increased risk of TB, and it is particularly significant that the researchers found this immune reaction in some people living with HIV as well.</p><p>The study challenges paradigms about what happens after people are infected with <em>Mtb, </em>said Professor Marlo Möller with the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.</p><p>“In the past we had a simpler view of what happens after <em>Mtb </em>infection, but the study changes this," said Möller, the senior author of the manuscript. The field work was led by her colleague, Dr Elouise Kroon, with Prof Eileen Hoal as the local Principal Investigator.</p><p>The study shows that the tests commonly used to infer <em>Mtb</em> infection are not always able to detect infection in all people. “Not everyone will give a positive test when they've been in contact with the bacteria. Our study has shown some people who test negative have antibodies against the bacteria so they have been in contact with it and maybe the immune system is dealing with it in a different way," Möller said.</p><p>Elaborating on the significance of the manuscript, she said: “This research brings us a step closer to understanding why some people, even though they were exposed to and infected with <em>Mtb</em>, do not go on to develop active tuberculosis. If we can figure that out, we may be able to prevent people from developing active disease after being infected.</p><p>“It is important to understand all the processes that happen when you get infected with <em>Mtb </em>and this research assists with this. Understanding the mechanisms of resistance will enable us to develop TB prevention and treatment modalities."</p><p>Möller said it was also significant that the study looked at the two tests commonly used to infer <em>Mtb</em> infection. “They are not a direct test to say you definitely have the bacteria in you. Instead they test the immune system to see if it recognises the bacteria which determines if it has been in contact with the bacteria before.</p><p>"It is significant because these persons may have possible alternative mechanisms of clearing infection and preventing progression to TB disease."</p><p>Reacting to the news of the acceptance of the manuscript, Möller said it was very satisfying to see the work of herself and her colleagues in such a prestigious journal.</p><p>“It is always a highlight to get a manuscript accepted. This is what we work towards to contribute to the body of science out there and to improve the health of people. It's the crown on your hard work and the long hours you put in and the challenges you face."</p><p>Below are links to more information on the research: </p><p><a href="https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ebiom.2020.103053&data=02%7c01%7c%7cb87b21528fd045cf1de508d86ed00aae%7ca6fa3b030a3c42588433a120dffcd348%7c0%7c0%7c637381187128154012&sdata=je/F0fLEIVe8HbP5g6ohUdvaJX94BY2f1Is5104yl30%3D&reserved=0">https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ebiom.2020.103053</a><br></p><p><a href="https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https://www.thelancet.com/journals/ebiom/article/PIIS2352-3964%252820%252930429-1/fulltext&data=02%7c01%7c%7cb87b21528fd045cf1de508d86ed00aae%7ca6fa3b030a3c42588433a120dffcd348%7c0%7c0%7c637381187128154012&sdata=onpljSvcSpUlzHBjORFb6TzlZ42EUjzu%2BG4TqZsHigc%3D&reserved=0">https://www.thelancet.com/journals/ebiom/article/PIIS2352-3964(20)30429-1/fulltext</a><br></p><p><em>Caption: Nosipho Mtala, Elouise Kroon, Sihaam Boolay, Marlo Möller, Craig Kinnear​. Insert: Profs Eileen Hoal & Gerhard Walzl.</em><br></p>
Multinational study evaluates new TB tests for diagnosis and treatmenthttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7656Multinational study evaluates new TB tests for diagnosis and treatmentFMHS Marketing & Communications / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie – Michelle Galloway<p>​​<img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2019/Walzl_H%26S.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:300px;height:400px;" />Stellenbosch University (SU) was recently awarded a R128 million grant by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate new tuberculosis diagnostic and predictive tests in a multi-national research study. The award is in addition to R65 million from the European Union's (EU) European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) to also investigate new diagnostic tests.<br></p><p>“Our goal is to conduct a global clinical project to compare side-by-side the most-promising new TB tests for various healthcare settings. We have included experienced clinical sites in Africa (South Africa, The Gambia and Uganda) and Vietnam, and laboratories in the USA and Europe, to test the performance of novel TB assays in cohorts that include adults, children, and people living with HIV and type-2 diabetes," said Prof Gerhard Walzl, principal investigator and Executive Head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at SU's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS).</p><p>The study will last five years, involve nearly 4000 participants and seven novel tests, that will be  evaluated for diagnosing active TB; for TB treatment-response outcomes; and, for predicting those at risk of progressing to active TB. Evaluations will be done at point-of-care as well as at regional and central laboratories.</p><p>Although TB mortality is falling globally, meeting the World Health Organisation's END TB goals means there is a need for dramatically improved diagnosis and treatment. Most deaths from TB are preventable, however, millions of patients are not diagnosed or treated due to inadequate tests that are either not sensitive enough or require sophisticated laboratory infrastructure. Varied diagnostic capacity may exist within one country, therefore a comprehensive battery of diagnostic tests appropriate for specific settings are needed.</p><p>“Most of our new tests are multi-purpose and work by identifying genetic or inflammation-marker signatures in easily-obtainable samples, like finger-prick blood," said Walzl.</p><p>“TB is a specific problem in these countries," he continued. “Point-of-care triage tests, in particular, are needed. Many people need to be investigated for TB but this can be logistically challenging. For example, if you go to a rural district – you take sputum from someone with symptoms, transport it to an urban laboratory for testing and then come back and have to find the person again to give them the result. There is a high loss to follow-up in this traditional approach. Using a finger-prick test, you could immediately identify those needing more expensive, technically advanced tests and would focus scarce resources on those who would benefit most." </p><p>Managing treatment is also challenging. </p><p>“We currently only cure about 80% of cases," said Walzl, “mostly due to treatment interruptions, not drug resistance."</p><p>The standard, directly observed, six-month treatment duration often proves problematic for people who work or don't have access to transport to collect their drugs at clinics daily. Trials have demonstrated that 80-85% of patients with drug-sensitive TB achieve lasting cure after four months. A diagnostic test that indicates when sterilising cure has been achieved would be a major breakthrough. Shorter treatment would save costs, might improve treatment adherence and would be logistically less challenging.</p><p>“This study will therefore test to see which patients have a cure signature at four months," said Walzl. </p><p> </p><p>The study will also look at the effect of diabetes and HIV on the TB tests. Both diabetes and HIV change immune responses and it's possible that it could change the host signatures. </p><p>“It will be important to have a signature robust enough to not be adversely affected by HIV and diabetes," explained Walzl. “About a third of those we investigate for TB are also HIV positive. And in some areas, 25% of the population have diabetes." </p><p>There are also plans to look at the ability of the tests to differentiate between TB and Covid-19 infection. </p><p>“This is the culmination of 15 years of work conducted by Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town and our partners in Uganda and The Gambia," said Walzl. “We conducted the studies and generated the data from which some of the blood signatures in the tests were developed. A lot of this work was led from South Africa. So, in a way, it's a home-grown solution for an African problem." </p><p> </p><p><strong>Research partners:</strong></p><ul><li>Department of Biomedical Sciences, Stellenbosch University</li><li>SA Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, UCT</li><li>MRC TB Research Unit, The Gambia</li><li>Vietnam Wellcome Africa Asia Programme/Oxford University Clinical Research Unit</li><li>Colorado State University</li><li>Linq Management, Germany</li><li>Leiden University Medical Centre, The Netherlands</li></ul><p><br></p><p><em><strong>Photos</strong></em><br></p><p><em>BANNER: <em style="color:#333333;font-family:calibri, verdana, trebuchet, helvetica, arial, sans-serif, "helvetica neue";font-size:14px;background-color:#ffffff;">Mycobacterium tuberculosis</em><em style="color:#333333;font-family:calibri, verdana, trebuchet, helvetica, arial, sans-serif, "helvetica neue";font-size:14px;background-color:#ffffff;"> under the microscope</em>. By Dr Marisa Klopper (SU)</em><br></p><p><em>INSERT: Prof Gerhard Walzl. By Stefan Els</em></p>
SU co-leads groundbreaking TB research projecthttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7510SU co-leads groundbreaking TB research projectSusan Erasmus<p>​​​​​Professor Samantha Sampson, a senior researcher with the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at Stellenbosch University, is one of three eminent researchers who has received an award from the American National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research on therapies aimed at the eradication of tuberculosis.<br></p><p>The research will be done at three different sites, two in South Africa, and one in the United States. There will also be collaborators on the project from the University of Zimbabwe.</p><p>"This project provides an opportunity to take an innovative and multi-disciplinary approach in tackling the enormous public health problem represented by TB," said Sampson. "On a personal note, I have enjoyed collaborating with Professor Dube [from the University of the Western Cape] since 2016, so it is great that our groundwork and the potential of this research has been recognised by the NIH."<br></p><p>But, according to Professor Sampson, the award is the result of a team effort: "I would also like to include a thank you to Professor Helena Kuivaniemi (also in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics), who very capably and graciously mentored me through the grant writing process."</p><p><strong>TB remains a global public health threat</strong></p><p>Tuberculosis remains a major global public health threat and the World Health Organisation estimates that just in South Africa, around 301 000 people fell ill with TB during 2018. In the same year approximately 63 000 thousand South Africans died from this disease – about two-thirds of them were HIV-positive. TB is the leading cause of death due to infectious disease in this country. </p><p>Although available treatments are mostly effective, the incidence of drug-resistant TB strains and bacterial persistence continue to be problematic.</p><p><strong>Research on eradication of all forms of TB</strong></p><p>The research for which the NHI has given this award, focuses on using engineered nanoparticles to modulate the response of the white blood cells, which are rendered less effective by the TB bacterium when the immune system tries to fight this bacterial infection. These nanoparticles mimic the appearance of the bacteria, and appear to induce the killing of the virulent mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is thought that they may be effective in eradicating all forms of tuberculosis, including those that are drug-resistant and persistent.</p><p>The award, given over a five-year period, is worth just under R30 million ($1,632, 268), and Stellenbosch University is one of the sites where the research will be done.</p><p><strong>Principal Investigators and collaborators</strong></p><p>The other two recipients of the award, who, together with Sampson, will be the principal investigators on this project, are Professor Admire Dube and Professor Joshua Reineke (South Dakota State University in the USA) and these universities will also be research sites, making this an inter-institutional project.</p><p>Collaborators on this project will also include the following</p><ul><li>Dr Nelita du Plessis, senior scientist, Stellenbosch University (role: co-investigator) </li><li>Dr Charles Maponga, professor, University of Zimbabwe (role: mentor and supervisor) </li><li>Ms Faithful Makita, PhD candidate, University of Zimbabwe (role: trainee) </li><li>Dr Gene Morse, professor, University at Buffalo (role: mentor.<br></li></ul>​Dr Christian Serre, from the<em> Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique</em> (CNRS) in France, will supply the initial metal organic framework materials as well as provide expertise in their modification and experimental use. <br><br>"We are very excited to start the work on this project," according to Sampson.​<br><p><br></p><p><em>Photo credit: Stefan Els</em><br></p>
Ten SU finalists compete for SA’s ‘Science Oscars’ http://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7411Ten SU finalists compete for SA’s ‘Science Oscars’ Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]<p>​​Over the past few years, Stellenbosch University (SU) has featured prominently at the annual <a href="http://www.nstf.org.za/awards/about/"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)/ South32Awards</strong></a>. This year is no different with 10 SU finalists competing for the 2019/2020 NSTF/South32 Awards at South Africa's “Science Oscars". As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement of the winners will take place through a live-streamed Gala Event on Thursday, 30 July 2020.</p><p>Regarded as the most sought-after national accolades of their kind in the country, the NSTF/South32 Awards recognise, celebrate and reward the outstanding contributions of individuals, teams and organisations to science, engineering and technology (SET) in the country. Among the competitors are experienced scientists, engineers, innovators, science communicators, engineering capacity builders, organisational managers and leaders, as well as data and research managers.<br></p><p>According to the organisers, it is an extraordinary honour to be a finalist given the quality of the nominations received every year, the fierce competition that nominees face and growing interest from the SET community over the years.<br></p><p>The SU finalists (with department or environment) and the categories in which they will compete are as follows:<br></p><p><em>Lifetime Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Prof Leslie Swartz </strong>(Department of Psychology)</li></ul><p><em>TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Researcher:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Prof Christine Lochner</strong> (South African Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders and Department of Psychiatry)</li></ul><p><em>TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Emerging Researcher:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Dr Wynand Goosen</strong> (Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, Department of Biomedical Sciences)</li><li><strong>Prof Richard Walls</strong> (Fire Engineering Research Unit)</li><li><strong>Dr Jacqueline Wormersley</strong> (Department of Psychiatry)</li></ul><p><em>​NSTF-Lewis Foundation Green Economy Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Prof Thinus Booysen</strong><em> </em>(Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering). He is also a finalist in the <em>NSTF-Water Research Commission Award</em> category.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Prof Wikus van Niekerk</strong> (Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies)</li><li><strong>Sharksafe (Pty) Ltd</strong> with CEO and Co-Inventor Prof Conrad Matthee (Department of Botany and Zoology)</li></ul><p><em>Data for Research Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Stellenbosch University Computed Tomography Scanner Facility Team with Leader Prof Anton du Plessis </strong>(Department of Physics)</li></ul><p><em>Communication Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Dr Rehana Malgas-Enus</strong> (Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science)​<br></li></ul><p><br></p>
FMHS staff and student volunteers keep experts up to date with latest COVID-19 infohttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7378FMHS staff and student volunteers keep experts up to date with latest COVID-19 infoSue Segar<p>​​In yet another example of how staff and students from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) at Stellenbosch University are rising to the challenge of COVID-19, a Daily Briefing, initiated by professors in the department of Global Health, has, in a matter of weeks, evolved into a vital document which is now serving many more people than originally intended.<br></p><p>The Daily Briefing – which was the brain child of Dr Brian Allwood, a senior specialist in the Division of Pulmonology – provides a round-up of all the latest statistics and research on the COVID-19 outbreak. Professor René English, who heads the FMHS's Division of Health Systems and Public Health, indicated that the aim of the briefings is primarily to provide critical care clinicians and public health experts with a “one-stop document" with all the latest and relevant information and clinical evidence about the pandemic to help them treat patients effectively and to assist in developing policies based on the most accurate and current data.</p><p>The briefings comprise the latest global data, South African data and a range of articles of interest drawn from scientific publications.</p><p>The daily compilation of the briefs has become yet another instance of how colleagues at the FMHS and Tygerberg Hospital have responded and collaborated in a time of crisis, and of how medical students have voluntarily joined forces to fight the battle against COVID-19.</p><p>English explained how the daily briefings came about, stressing that it has been a collaborative effort based on inspiring team work.</p><p>“When COVID-19 hit our shores and Tygerberg Hospital was gearing up to see patients, we as public health academics offered our assistance," English explained. Various role players from both the clinical and academic environments responded to the offer and a meeting was held to determine how best to collaborate.</p><p>“There were two broad areas for collaboration – one was on jointly writing research protocols and conducting research, and the second was providing summaries on the latest evidence from peer-reviewed research and key research outputs from scientific literature on a daily basis.</p><p>“We immediately started work on the research protocols … but with regard to the daily briefs, we didn't have anyone else immediately to start doing them, so I started doing them," said English.</p><p>“I scanned the literature, summarised key research articles on COVID-19 and put together the reviews. Allwood provided a template for how the briefs would look," said English.</p><p>Soon the briefs were being sent to a WhatsApp group of clinicians and Global Health colleagues.</p><p>Within a few days, English had received a request from medical students who wanted to assist with the briefs.</p><p>“So we drew them in too. Medical students Sergio Alves and Nonto Mponda mobilised a group of 15 students. I met with them and gave them the brief and we started collectively putting the brief together.</p><p>“Prof Taryn Young, head of the Department of Global Health, ran a training session for the students, which included a refresher on what students must look for when screening for articles.</p><p>“Later we also brought in Dr Elizna Maasdorp, who had also volunteered her services, to provide oversight of the morning briefs and she has done an excellent job. We also received wonderful support from Maasdorp's head of department, Prof Gerhard Walzl."</p><p>“The feedback was so positive. It was an unintended consequence of the briefs. It was never meant to go beyond the shores of a WhatsApp," said English.</p><p>She stressed that their daily briefings were merely summaries of key published research and not an “exact science".</p><p>“It was always meant to be quick summary of the latest evidence and the challenge is to maintain the quality of the brief and adhered to evidence-based practices, and critically reflect on the articles before putting them into the brief within a short turnaround time."</p><p>The briefs were initially sent to a WhatsApp group comprising clinicians at Tygerberg Hospital and the FMHS. At this stage they are going so far afield that the team is not sure how many people are reading them.</p><p>English said the briefs have proven to be a wonderful initiative for the university.</p><p>“They are a demonstration of how we as colleagues can pull together, cross the boundaries of academia and clinical medicine and support each other and respond in a time of crisis so as to deliver the best care we can to the patients, as it is actually about the patients at the end of the day," she said.</p><p>“It has been truly exceptional to see the response from the students and how they were able to mobilise, and then to see the spinoff."<br></p><p>English said the students involved would like to maintain the briefs going forward. “Even though classes will resume they want to continue and I think they should be lauded and they are very much part of the success of the morning brief."<br></p><p>Allwood said he believes the morning briefs are reaching “probably in the hundreds of doctors" every day.<br></p><p>“We have no idea how far it's going. It's difficult to work out. We are surprised and encouraged that they have been so widely and well received as it means it is filling an important need at the bedside. The collaboration has been phenomenal. Too often in clinical medicine we have worked in our own silos, but this initiative has fostered cross-divisional and cross-departmental collaboration within the University. It would be wonderful if this co-operation could be expanded to the greater university.</p><p>“We have massive resources and huge intellectual capital in the greater university that could be put to use on the frontlines."<br></p><p><br></p><p><em>Caption: Some of the staff and students involved in the compilation of the Daily Briefing.</em><br></p>
#MBHGHipHop intervention raises TB awarenesshttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7285#MBHGHipHop intervention raises TB awarenessSusan Erasmus<p>​​<br></p><div class="ms-rtestate-read ms-rte-embedcode ms-rte-embedil ms-rtestate-notify"><iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/215UCGrsydc" frameborder="0"></iframe> </div><p><br></p><p>TB researchers recently decided to use hip hop and rap to increase awareness about TB in the community. </p><p><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/HHarticlepic1.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:400px;height:267px;" />The #MBHGHipHop TB intervention, which involved researchers and staff from MBHG and learners from Cedar High School of the Arts in Mitchells Plain, was aimed at raising TB awareness, and at inspiring the youth to follow careers in science.</p><p>The programme, presented by the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics (MBHG), promoted engagement and learning in science by means of the popular mediums of rap, hip hop and music. </p><p>"The placement of science within a popular culture space provided an opportunity for it to be owned by young people - rather than remaining foreign and inaccessible," said Dannielle Moore,  Communication and Marketing Officer at the MBHG.</p><p><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/HHarticlepic2.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-1" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:400px;height:267px;" />This four-day initiative took place took place earlier this year and was hosted by 13 researchers from MBHG at the University of Stellenbosch. They volunteered to take part in this programme. This engagement project enabled scientists from the MBHG to engage with learners from the above school around the topic of tuberculosis, and how it affects the community. They also focused on the relevant research conducted in the field. </p><p>Cedar High School of the Arts is offers subjects such as Dance, Music, Visual Arts, Drama and Design. This school was chosen for the project, as one of the staff members of MBHG is a former learner from this school. Also because of where it is situated, it made it possible to widen the reach of the projects of the MBHG to beyond the Cape Winelands and Tygerberg areas, where there projects are usually run.</p><p>On Day One of the programme, learners were divided into groups of 10 and moved to five different stations. At each one they could learn more about specific aspects relating to TB, such as how it spreads, how it can be prevented, its signs and symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, as well as more about the myths surrounding this disease. Learners received information packs and comics, as well as merchandise donated by the South African Medical Research Council.</p><p>Each group was assigned a topic, and by the end of Day One had to come up with a chorus for the song that would deliver their particular message – and record it in the pop-up studio. Day Two consisted of a talk by Mr Goodman Makanda from TB Proof. He is a #TBchampion and disease advocate, and he shared his TB journey with the learners. They had to draw some images based on what the talk meant to them.</p><p>Learners were also given masks (like the ones healthcare workers and TB patients use) to wear for two hours to give them an idea of what it felt like.</p><p>On Days Three and Four the learners recorded their lyrics for the songs, and used the time to develop some dance moves and short skits for inclusion in their performance at the final event on the last day. </p><p>"This was not a competition and creating awareness was the main aim of the initiative," said Moore.</p><p><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/HHarticlepic3.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:400px;" />This final day was all about the music, and allowed learners to take ownership of what they had learnt and created.  This day made time for sound and lighting checks, dress rehearsals and venue set-up. As this school is art-centred, learners were in a domain familiar to them, which made it easier for them to connect with the material and make it their own. Learners performed their tracks live to select classes of the school and to invited community members in order to spread the message about what they had learnt through the popular medium of music.<br></p><p>By the end of this programme, the learners had conceptualised, produced and performed five original rap and hip hop songs, which conveyed key messages about TB that they felt were important for the community to know. The content of these songs was based on their interaction with the staff and students of the MBHG. By means of this engagement the learners moved from a place of not knowing much about TB and research efforts to combat its prevalence, to becoming empowered advocates for the cause. </p><p>The funders of this event included the Stellenbosch University Faculty of Medicine and Health Science Social Impact Fund and the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Tuberculosis Research.<br></p>