Prof Kathy Myburgh, distinguished professor and holder of the South African research chair in Integrative Skeletal Muscle Physiology, Biology and Biotechnology at Stellenbosch University (SU), is amongst a select group of physiologists from around the world selected as Honorary Fellows and Fellows of the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS).
With three former Nobel laureates amongst them (as Honorary Fellows), the 30 Fellows are the inaugural members of the newly established IUPS Academy of Physiology.
The IUPS, with a history going back to 1889, is the only organisation to represent the physiological sciences on an international scale. Currently the national physiology societies of more than 60 countries are full members.
According to a media release issued by the IUPS, the IUPS Academy of Physiology was established in 2021 to celebrate the important contributions made by physiologists to science and health. This first group of Fellows was selected for their “exceptional contributions to physiological sciences, in the form of original discovery or sustained excellent contributions to scholarship".
Prof Myburgh's research group in the Department of Physiological Sciences aims to close the gap between an in-depth understanding of the biological effects of trauma, the subsequent immune response and processes involving the muscle-specific stem cells. This biology underlies the well-known ability of muscle to gain strength and regenerate from injury. In her research group, postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows study skeletal muscle at three complementary levels: whole body physiology of real humans, cellular and molecular biology of tissue and cells in culture dishes, and biotechnology for manipulation and regeneration. This multi-layered combination of expertise is unique in South Africa and uncommon worldwide.
Prof Myburgh says she is truly honoured to have been selected to serve the discipline of Physiology in this way: “I'm looking forward to be working amongst highly respected peers, some of the giants in the field."
Looking back, she says there were pivotal moments in her career when she was able to make major contributions to the field: “The last chapter of my doctoral thesis has been cited 312 times because it was the first to show that low bone density underlies stress fractures in otherwise healthy athletes," she remembers.
More recently, her research group has contributed to current ground-breaking research delineating circulating vesicles as the newly discovered biological communicators between cells, tissues and distant organs: “The first article from my research group on this topic has already gained 23 citations since 2018 and led to an invitation for me to contribute to a Guidelines paper which has been cited 1 967 times in less than three years. Some of the complex work we are busy with at the moment assesses the fusion process between muscle stem cells, a process necessary for muscle repair, and evaluating the genetic cargo that is carried in vesicles and plasma after muscle damage," she explains.
Prof Myburgh is an elected member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (Assaf) and a Fellow and Council member of the South African Royal Society. She has a long history in the Physiological Society of South Africa (PSSA) as regular attendee, two terms as president, winner of the Senior Scientist Award for Excellence in Physiology Research and, most recently, Honorary Life Membership. Over the span of her career she has amassed over 6 000 citations resulting in an H-Index of 33 excluding self-citations (marginally higher at 35 including all citations).
Another three physiologists from Africa were elected as Fellows. They are Prof Amal Saeed from the University of Khartoum in Sudan, and Prof Antony Ebeigbe from Nigeria, and Prof Gavin Norton from the University of the Witwatersrand.