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Stellar year for FMHS research scientist
Author: FMHS Marketing & Communications – Sue Segar
Published: 05/06/2024

​Dr Nabila Ismail, a research scientist at Stellenbosch University's Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, has had a remarkable year of accomplishments. First, she was invited to attend the prestigious Lindau 2023 Nobel Laureate meeting in Germany, then completed a six-month fellowship at Harvard University as a Fulbright Scholar, and finally received a Y2 rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) upon her return to South Africa.

Ismail's research focuses on drug-resistance mechanisms within Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria responsible for causing tuberculosis (TB). Her Fulbright Scholarship allowed her to work as a visiting scientist at Harvard Medical School under the guidance of Dr Maha Farhat, an associate professor in bioinformatics, where they studied rare and undetected variants in the M. tuberculosis genome that could be linked to drug resistance.

During her time at Harvard, Ismail was exposed to the university's extensive resources and had the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of researchers. "Going from South Africa, which has such a high burden of TB, to a well-funded, well-resourced setting gave me a bird's eye view of our situation," Ismail said. "It made me realise how, with the right tools and resources, we could revolutionise the way we treat TB."

Ismail's Harvard experience has significantly influenced her current work, and she is currently collaborating with researchers from both her Stellenbosch and Harvard groups on publications about tools for diagnosing TB. She also plans to finalise publications related to drug resistance mechanisms for new TB treatments, enhance her skills in data analysis, and mentor younger scientists interested in joining the STEM field.

Ismail's NRF Y2 rating recognizes her as an up-and-coming scientist in South Africa. "I felt a sense of achievement that the quality of my work was on par with other young researchers," she said. "It is my hope that as a rated researcher I can share what I have learnt with others and move forward to become a nationally and internationally recognised researcher."

Looking ahead, Ismail has been invited to present her research on drug-resistant TB at the American Thoracic Society Conference in San Diego this year. She hopes to continue making a difference by applying the knowledge and skills she has gained to her research and inspiring other scientists along the way.