Stellenbosch University
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Bronchoscopy facility unlocks major research opportunities
Author: FMHS Marketing & Communications / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie - Birgit Ottermann
Published: 26/01/2021

​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.

“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.

“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."

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.

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.

“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."

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.

“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."

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.

“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."

“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.

“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."

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."

* Watch a recording of the launch on YouTube.

Caption: Dr Donald Simon takes guests on a tour of the new BMRI Research Bronchoscopy Suite at the launch .