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SAMRC lauds FMHS scientists for excellence in health research
Author: Wilma Stassen
Published: 11/09/2018

​Two stalwart scientists of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), Stellenbosch University, were awarded prestigious accolades for the profound impact that their research have had on the health of South African people.

The FMHS' Profs Soraya Seedat and Gerhard Walzl were each recently awarded a Gold Scientific Merit Award from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) that recognises excellence in health sciences. Prof Anna-Lise Williamson from University of Cape Town was the third recipient of the SAMRC Gold Award in recognition of her work in vaccinology.

These gold medals are awarded annually to established senior scientists who have made seminal scientific contributions that have impacted on the health of people, especially those living in developing countries.

“I feel very honoured by this award, and am privileged to have enjoyed the support of the SAMRC since I first set out as an early-career researcher," says Seedat, executive head of the FMHS' Department of Psychiatry, and whose research has contributed to the field of psychiatry and mental health. She holds the South African Research Chair in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and also co-directs the SAMRC's Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders.

Seedat also acknowledges the contribution that colleagues and collaborators have made to her career: “The award stands for the co-achievements of the researchers with whom I work and highlights the co-dependency that is needed to advance excellent sciences."

According to Walzl, executive head of the FMHS' Department of Biomedical Sciences, this award recognises the work that he and his team have done in TB biomarkers, including work on diagnostics, treatment response evaluation and understanding protective immune responses. “As a team the Immunology Research Group has managed to secure large international grants, make important inroads into the field of TB biomarkers, graduate promising students, publish in top journals, secure patents and to be on the brink of establishing new tools for implementation in the TB field," says Walzl, who is also director of the National Research Foundation/Department of Science and Technology Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Tuberculosis Research.

His advice to young researchers is to follow their passion, and to team up with likeminded people following the same goal. “Find the best people to join and then work very hard."

Seedat echoes this message: “Perseverance is key. Small incremental accomplishments will pave the way for bigger successes, but this can take time. Challenge the ideas of your supervisors, and don't be afraid to ask. And never settle for less than what you deserve!"