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Maties lecturer tackling up-hill Comrades for students in need AND healthy brain cells
Author: Faculty of Science (media and communication)
Published: 17/05/2024

​​Prof Ben Loos, head of the Department of Physiological Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU), will use the challenge posed by the Comrades Marathon – also called “the ultimate human race" – to raise funds for science students in need.

This will be his second Comrades Marathon, but his first time tackling the uphill race.

“I know it sounds a bit mad to run almost 90 km, for fun. The run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg is going to be a tough run, almost a whole marathon length up-hill. I am quite worried, and that is probably a good thing!" he commented this week.

But besides running for students in need, he has another reason for keeping fit! His research group in the Department of Physiological Sciences at SU studies the biology and physiology of the cell, using advanced microscopy and biochemistry tools to understand what goes wrong in our brain cells in the case of neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.

“We know that exercise increases the levels of autophagy, a cellular process during which brain cells get rid of damaged proteins, thereby decreasing the risk for the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. This is where my research interest and the running come together," he explains.

He hopes to raise at least R20 000: “It has been a hard beginning of the year for the students, with many struggling financially, often because funding has been tight and delayed. Their resilience and grit are inspiring and wants you to do more," he says.

“We are proud of our students, and we look to them for new ideas and solutions. They do the tough work, and often push past what is possible, for a better blot, a better micrograph, another repeat, a novel approach, and that often under immense personal pressure and financial vulnerability. This deserves celebration."

While he enjoys the Comrades Marathon's incredible spirit of togetherness, it is for him also a celebration of life and conquering that which at first seemed unachievable.

Please support Prof Loos' initiative at the GivenGain platform, where he will be joining a growing number of SU staff, students and alumni running the #Move4Maties Comrades Marathon for students in need.

Click here to join the #Move4Maties Comrades Marathon WhatsApp group.

In April this year, Dr Marietjie Lutz raised over R60 000 for BSc chemistry students in need when she cycled a gruelling 600 kilometres in six days.

On the image above - Cells undergoing the process of autophagy: The green vesicles in the image are so-called autophagosomes – small vesicles that are responsible for the engulfment of cargo to be degraded. Here, the cell is very active and in the process of removing old and damaged proteins. These proteins are broken down into their separate molecules, which are then available again for the cell to build new ones or to generate energy. A very efficient recycling system at play. Images: Ben Loos