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SU co-leads groundbreaking TB research project co-leads groundbreaking TB research projectSusan Erasmus<p>​​​​​Professor Samantha Sampson, a senior researcher with the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at Stellenbosch University, is one of three eminent researchers who has received an award from the American National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research on therapies aimed at the eradication of tuberculosis.<br></p><p>The research will be done at three different sites, two in South Africa, and one in the United States. There will also be collaborators on the project from the University of Zimbabwe.</p><p>"This project provides an opportunity to take an innovative and multi-disciplinary approach in tackling the enormous public health problem represented by TB," said Sampson. "On a personal note, I have enjoyed collaborating with Professor Dube [from the University of the Western Cape] since 2016, so it is great that our groundwork and the potential of this research has been recognised by the NIH."<br></p><p>But, according to Professor Sampson, the award is the result of a team effort: "I would also like to include a thank you to Professor Helena Kuivaniemi (also in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics), who very capably and graciously mentored me through the grant writing process."</p><p><strong>TB remains a global public health threat</strong></p><p>Tuberculosis remains a major global public health threat and the World Health Organisation estimates that just in South Africa, around 301 000 people fell ill with TB during 2018. In the same year approximately 63 000 thousand South Africans died from this disease – about two-thirds of them were HIV-positive. TB is the leading cause of death due to infectious disease in this country. </p><p>Although available treatments are mostly effective, the incidence of drug-resistant TB strains and bacterial persistence continue to be problematic.</p><p><strong>Research on eradication of all forms of TB</strong></p><p>The research for which the NHI has given this award, focuses on using engineered nanoparticles to modulate the response of the white blood cells, which are rendered less effective by the TB bacterium when the immune system tries to fight this bacterial infection. These nanoparticles mimic the appearance of the bacteria, and appear to induce the killing of the virulent mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is thought that they may be effective in eradicating all forms of tuberculosis, including those that are drug-resistant and persistent.</p><p>The award, given over a five-year period, is worth just under R30 million ($1,632, 268), and Stellenbosch University is one of the sites where the research will be done.</p><p><strong>Principal Investigators and collaborators</strong></p><p>The other two recipients of the award, who, together with Sampson, will be the principal investigators on this project, are Professor Admire Dube and Professor Joshua Reineke (South Dakota State University in the USA) and these universities will also be research sites, making this an inter-institutional project.</p><p>Collaborators on this project will also include the following</p><ul><li>Dr Nelita du Plessis, senior scientist, Stellenbosch University (role: co-investigator) </li><li>Dr Charles Maponga, professor, University of Zimbabwe (role: mentor and supervisor) </li><li>Ms Faithful Makita, PhD candidate, University of Zimbabwe (role: trainee) </li><li>Dr Gene Morse, professor, University at Buffalo (role: mentor.<br></li></ul>​Dr Christian Serre, from the<em> Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique</em> (CNRS) in France, will supply the initial metal organic framework materials as well as provide expertise in their modification and experimental use. <br><br>"We are very excited to start the work on this project," according to Sampson.​<br><p><br></p><p><em>Photo credit: Stefan Els</em><br></p>
Ten SU finalists compete for SA’s ‘Science Oscars’ SU finalists compete for SA’s ‘Science Oscars’ Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]<p>​​Over the past few years, Stellenbosch University (SU) has featured prominently at the annual <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)/ South32Awards</strong></a>. This year is no different with 10 SU finalists competing for the 2019/2020 NSTF/South32 Awards at South Africa's “Science Oscars". As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement of the winners will take place through a live-streamed Gala Event on Thursday, 30 July 2020.</p><p>Regarded as the most sought-after national accolades of their kind in the country, the NSTF/South32 Awards recognise, celebrate and reward the outstanding contributions of individuals, teams and organisations to science, engineering and technology (SET) in the country. Among the competitors are experienced scientists, engineers, innovators, science communicators, engineering capacity builders, organisational managers and leaders, as well as data and research managers.<br></p><p>According to the organisers, it is an extraordinary honour to be a finalist given the quality of the nominations received every year, the fierce competition that nominees face and growing interest from the SET community over the years.<br></p><p>The SU finalists (with department or environment) and the categories in which they will compete are as follows:<br></p><p><em>Lifetime Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Prof Leslie Swartz </strong>(Department of Psychology)</li></ul><p><em>TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Researcher:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Prof Christine Lochner</strong> (South African Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders and Department of Psychiatry)</li></ul><p><em>TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Emerging Researcher:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Dr Wynand Goosen</strong> (Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, Department of Biomedical Sciences)</li><li><strong>Prof Richard Walls</strong> (Fire Engineering Research Unit)</li><li><strong>Dr Jacqueline Wormersley</strong> (Department of Psychiatry)</li></ul><p><em>​NSTF-Lewis Foundation Green Economy Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Prof Thinus Booysen</strong><em> </em>(Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering). He is also a finalist in the <em>NSTF-Water Research Commission Award</em> category.</li></ul><ul><li><strong>Prof Wikus van Niekerk</strong> (Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies)</li><li><strong>Sharksafe (Pty) Ltd</strong> with CEO and Co-Inventor Prof Conrad Matthee (Department of Botany and Zoology)</li></ul><p><em>Data for Research Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Stellenbosch University Computed Tomography Scanner Facility Team with Leader Prof Anton du Plessis </strong>(Department of Physics)</li></ul><p><em>Communication Award:</em></p><ul><li><strong>Dr Rehana Malgas-Enus</strong> (Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science)​<br></li></ul><p><br></p>
FMHS staff and student volunteers keep experts up to date with latest COVID-19 info staff and student volunteers keep experts up to date with latest COVID-19 infoSue Segar<p>​​In yet another example of how staff and students from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) at Stellenbosch University are rising to the challenge of COVID-19, a Daily Briefing, initiated by professors in the department of Global Health, has, in a matter of weeks, evolved into a vital document which is now serving many more people than originally intended.<br></p><p>The Daily Briefing – which was the brain child of Dr Brian Allwood, a senior specialist in the Division of Pulmonology – provides a round-up of all the latest statistics and research on the COVID-19 outbreak. Professor René English, who heads the FMHS's Division of Health Systems and Public Health, indicated that the aim of the briefings is primarily to provide critical care clinicians and public health experts with a “one-stop document" with all the latest and relevant information and clinical evidence about the pandemic to help them treat patients effectively and to assist in developing policies based on the most accurate and current data.</p><p>The briefings comprise the latest global data, South African data and a range of articles of interest drawn from scientific publications.</p><p>The daily compilation of the briefs has become yet another instance of how colleagues at the FMHS and Tygerberg Hospital have responded and collaborated in a time of crisis, and of how medical students have voluntarily joined forces to fight the battle against COVID-19.</p><p>English explained how the daily briefings came about, stressing that it has been a collaborative effort based on inspiring team work.</p><p>“When COVID-19 hit our shores and Tygerberg Hospital was gearing up to see patients, we as public health academics offered our assistance," English explained. Various role players from both the clinical and academic environments responded to the offer and a meeting was held to determine how best to collaborate.</p><p>“There were two broad areas for collaboration – one was on jointly writing research protocols and conducting research, and the second was providing summaries on the latest evidence from peer-reviewed research and key research outputs from scientific literature on a daily basis.</p><p>“We immediately started work on the research protocols … but with regard to the daily briefs, we didn't have anyone else immediately to start doing them, so I started doing them," said English.</p><p>“I scanned the literature, summarised key research articles on COVID-19 and put together the reviews. Allwood provided a template for how the briefs would look," said English.</p><p>Soon the briefs were being sent to a WhatsApp group of clinicians and Global Health colleagues.</p><p>Within a few days, English had received a request from medical students who wanted to assist with the briefs.</p><p>“So we drew them in too. Medical students Sergio Alves and Nonto Mponda mobilised a group of 15 students. I met with them and gave them the brief and we started collectively putting the brief together.</p><p>“Prof Taryn Young, head of the Department of Global Health, ran a training session for the students, which included a refresher on what students must look for when screening for articles.</p><p>“Later we also brought in Dr Elizna Maasdorp, who had also volunteered her services, to provide oversight of the morning briefs and she has done an excellent job. We also received wonderful support from Maasdorp's head of department, Prof Gerhard Walzl."</p><p>“The feedback was so positive. It was an unintended consequence of the briefs. It was never meant to go beyond the shores of a WhatsApp," said English.</p><p>She stressed that their daily briefings were merely summaries of key published research and not an “exact science".</p><p>“It was always meant to be quick summary of the latest evidence and the challenge is to maintain the quality of the brief and adhered to evidence-based practices, and critically reflect on the articles before putting them into the brief within a short turnaround time."</p><p>The briefs were initially sent to a WhatsApp group comprising clinicians at Tygerberg Hospital and the FMHS. At this stage they are going so far afield that the team is not sure how many people are reading them.</p><p>English said the briefs have proven to be a wonderful initiative for the university.</p><p>“They are a demonstration of how we as colleagues can pull together, cross the boundaries of academia and clinical medicine and support each other and respond in a time of crisis so as to deliver the best care we can to the patients, as it is actually about the patients at the end of the day," she said.</p><p>“It has been truly exceptional to see the response from the students and how they were able to mobilise, and then to see the spinoff."<br></p><p>English said the students involved would like to maintain the briefs going forward. “Even though classes will resume they want to continue and I think they should be lauded and they are very much part of the success of the morning brief."<br></p><p>Allwood said he believes the morning briefs are reaching “probably in the hundreds of doctors" every day.<br></p><p>“We have no idea how far it's going. It's difficult to work out. We are surprised and encouraged that they have been so widely and well received as it means it is filling an important need at the bedside. The collaboration has been phenomenal. Too often in clinical medicine we have worked in our own silos, but this initiative has fostered cross-divisional and cross-departmental collaboration within the University. It would be wonderful if this co-operation could be expanded to the greater university.</p><p>“We have massive resources and huge intellectual capital in the greater university that could be put to use on the frontlines."<br></p><p><br></p><p><em>Caption: Some of the staff and students involved in the compilation of the Daily Briefing.</em><br></p>
#MBHGHipHop intervention raises TB awareness intervention raises TB awarenessSusan Erasmus<p>​​<br></p><div class="ms-rtestate-read ms-rte-embedcode ms-rte-embedil ms-rtestate-notify"><iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0"></iframe> </div><p><br></p><p>TB researchers recently decided to use hip hop and rap to increase awareness about TB in the community. </p><p><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/HHarticlepic1.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:400px;height:267px;" />The #MBHGHipHop TB intervention, which involved researchers and staff from MBHG and learners from Cedar High School of the Arts in Mitchells Plain, was aimed at raising TB awareness, and at inspiring the youth to follow careers in science.</p><p>The programme, presented by the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics (MBHG), promoted engagement and learning in science by means of the popular mediums of rap, hip hop and music. </p><p>"The placement of science within a popular culture space provided an opportunity for it to be owned by young people - rather than remaining foreign and inaccessible," said Dannielle Moore,  Communication and Marketing Officer at the MBHG.</p><p><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/HHarticlepic2.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-1" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:400px;height:267px;" />This four-day initiative took place took place earlier this year and was hosted by 13 researchers from MBHG at the University of Stellenbosch. They volunteered to take part in this programme. This engagement project enabled scientists from the MBHG to engage with learners from the above school around the topic of tuberculosis, and how it affects the community. They also focused on the relevant research conducted in the field. </p><p>Cedar High School of the Arts is offers subjects such as Dance, Music, Visual Arts, Drama and Design. This school was chosen for the project, as one of the staff members of MBHG is a former learner from this school. Also because of where it is situated, it made it possible to widen the reach of the projects of the MBHG to beyond the Cape Winelands and Tygerberg areas, where there projects are usually run.</p><p>On Day One of the programme, learners were divided into groups of 10 and moved to five different stations. At each one they could learn more about specific aspects relating to TB, such as how it spreads, how it can be prevented, its signs and symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, as well as more about the myths surrounding this disease. Learners received information packs and comics, as well as merchandise donated by the South African Medical Research Council.</p><p>Each group was assigned a topic, and by the end of Day One had to come up with a chorus for the song that would deliver their particular message – and record it in the pop-up studio. Day Two consisted of a talk by Mr Goodman Makanda from TB Proof. He is a #TBchampion and disease advocate, and he shared his TB journey with the learners. They had to draw some images based on what the talk meant to them.</p><p>Learners were also given masks (like the ones healthcare workers and TB patients use) to wear for two hours to give them an idea of what it felt like.</p><p>On Days Three and Four the learners recorded their lyrics for the songs, and used the time to develop some dance moves and short skits for inclusion in their performance at the final event on the last day. </p><p>"This was not a competition and creating awareness was the main aim of the initiative," said Moore.</p><p><img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2020/HHarticlepic3.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:400px;" />This final day was all about the music, and allowed learners to take ownership of what they had learnt and created.  This day made time for sound and lighting checks, dress rehearsals and venue set-up. As this school is art-centred, learners were in a domain familiar to them, which made it easier for them to connect with the material and make it their own. Learners performed their tracks live to select classes of the school and to invited community members in order to spread the message about what they had learnt through the popular medium of music.<br></p><p>By the end of this programme, the learners had conceptualised, produced and performed five original rap and hip hop songs, which conveyed key messages about TB that they felt were important for the community to know. The content of these songs was based on their interaction with the staff and students of the MBHG. By means of this engagement the learners moved from a place of not knowing much about TB and research efforts to combat its prevalence, to becoming empowered advocates for the cause. </p><p>The funders of this event included the Stellenbosch University Faculty of Medicine and Health Science Social Impact Fund and the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Tuberculosis Research.<br></p>
SU researcher joins the fight against COVID-19 researcher joins the fight against COVID-19René-Jean van der Berg [Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie]<p style="text-align:justify;">Stellenbosch University (SU) doctoral candidate, Caroline Pule, has joined the frontlines in the fight against the COVID-19 virus which is already infecting hundreds of thousands of people globally.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">She recently joined as a volunteer for the CrowdFight COVID-19 initiative in South Africa. This is a global organisation enabling all-volunteer scientists from different countries to work together by helping where possible in their respective fields of expertise to support the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“Noticing what this COVID-19 pandemic is doing, hit me very hard and I could not stop shedding tears of sadness. Due to my passion for global health, medical research and ensuring we have a disease-free nation, I got the urge to come forward and contribute in any way possible to mitigate the effects of COVID-19." <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Caroline says that as a medical scientist with a background of working with one of the deadliest communicable diseases, Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (TB), and serving in several health and sciences organisations, it just made good sense to do something, even if was just by volunteering to help our country and the world to combat COVID-19.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">On a normal day, Caroline wears many hats – or lab coats. Not only is she a researcher in Tuberculosis at the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics within the SU's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, but she also shares her passion for science at schools through outreach programmes. She is the vice-chair of the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World, South African National Chapter (<strong>OWSD</strong> S<strong>ANC</strong>). She is also the founder of the Caroline Pule Science and Literacy Foundation (CPSLF) that has a number of initiatives, including book donations, science clubs, a literacy centres campaign and a mentorship programme.  </p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>About CrowdFight COVID-19</strong><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">​The CrowdFight COVID-19 initiative aims to bring together a global team of researchers in various fields to help understand and alleviate the scientific and health demands of the<br> COVID-19 virus. This initiative would like to get more medical and health sciences professionals on board and calls on those interested to volunteer their time and skills by signing up at <a href=""></a>.<br></p><p><br></p>
Our genes can make us more susceptible to TB genes can make us more susceptible to TBMarlo Möller & Craig Kinnear<p>​Tuesday (24 March) is World Tuberculosis (TB) Day. In an opinion piece for <em>News24</em>, Profs Marlo Möller and Craig Kinnear from the Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Tuberculosis Research in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences write about how our genes can make us more susceptible to TB.<br></p><ul><li>Read the article below or click <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">here</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>for the piece as published.</li></ul><p><strong>Our genes can make us more susceptible to TB</strong> </p><p><strong>Marlo Möller & Craig Kinnear*</strong><br></p><p>Classified as an epidemic by the World Health Organisation, Tuberculosis (TB) is a devastating infectious disease that remains one of the top ten causes of death worldwide. Although TB has plagued human populations for millennia, it was not until 24 March 1882 that Robert Kock presented evidence identifying the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), which spreads through the air, as the causative agent. In the ensuing decades, the tuberculin skin test, the Bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG) vaccine and a number of anti-tuberculosis medications were developed, all of which promised to eradicate the disease.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Sadly, as we mark another World Tuberculosis Day (24 March), TB still remains a global public health problem with an estimated 25% of the global population being infected with <em>Mtb</em>. In 2018 alone, an estimated 10.8 million people fell sick with TB of whom approximately 1.4 million succumbed. Infection with <em>Mtb </em>does not always result in active disease for the majority of individuals. Instead, infection and TB disease progression are likely multiphase processes to which environmental and human factors significantly contribute. We know from several lines of evidence that a person's genetic make-up (DNA) plays a crucial role in TB susceptibility. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">For example, a classic epidemiological study on the premature death of adoptees in Denmark suggested that the genetic contribution to infectious disease in general is greater than that for cancer or heart disease. A rare genetic syndrome called Mendelian Susceptibility to Mycobacterial Disease has helped to identify several genes that make people susceptible to TB. Individuals born with this syndrome are very susceptible to <em>Mtb, </em>environmental mycobacteria (not usually disease-causing in humans), the BCG vaccine and bacteria that cause food poisoning (<em>Salmonella)</em>. Genetic studies identified mutations in the genes that code for proteins (interferon-gamma, interleukin 12, and interleukin 23) secreted by immune cells that play a very important role in immunity against infections. This is now a well-studied pathway in TB susceptibility. What is proving to be extremely challenging, however, is identifying the genes and specific changes in these genes (genetic variants) that contribute to TB susceptibility in the general population.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">For the past three decades, several genetic association studies of TB susceptibility have been done to uncover the contributing genes and genetic variants in the general population. In such studies, the frequency of genetic variants in people with the disease is compared to that of people without the disease. Unfortunately, the results of these studies have been underwhelming and while there have been investigations linking certain genes and genetic variants to TB susceptibility, replicating those findings in independent studies has proven difficult. There could be several reasons for this. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">One reason is the way in which diseased or unaffected individuals were defined by initial studies. Since there are various phases during TB infection and the actual disease, these definitions are critical when designing genetic studies. For example, some of these studies grouped <em>Mtb</em>-infected, but not diseased individuals together with persons who have never been exposed to the bacterium. These unexposed individuals may very well have carried the disease-causing susceptibility variants, but because they were never exposed did not have the chance to become infected. Therefore clear definitions of healthy, infection and disease categories are now a priority for genetic association studies.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">As an example, recently there has been a focus on people (called “resisters") who despite being highly exposed to the bacterium, seemingly do not get infected as defined by current tests of <em>Mtb</em> infection. These tests rely on the part of our immune system that recognises previous infections. The one is administered as an injection of tuberculin (a protein extracted from <em>Mtb</em>) into the skin of the lower arm and the reaction is measured after two to three days, while the other is a newer test where blood is stimulated with <em>Mtb </em>proteins and the amount of interferon-gamma released is measured. Again there may be complexity in how we define these “resisters": some of these individuals may not get infected at all, while others get infected but manage to clear the bacteria before the adaptive immune system has time to react or perhaps these individuals' adaptive immune system responds in a different way. Even so, the idea is that “resisters" might carry genes and genetic variants that protect them against infection with <em>Mtb</em> and these findings could in future help to develop ways to prevent infection in the general population.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">In some cases, the genetic cause of disease might be specific to one population and not important in other groups. This then makes it impossible for follow-up studies to find the same genetic cause in another population. Although health disparities between populations exist and contribute to increased TB incidence in some communities, there is evidence that populations who have been exposed to <em>Mtb </em>for longer than others may have through natural selection developed resistance against the disease. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">There are also sex-specific effects: men are twice as likely to develop TB than women. Of course, there are behavioural, hormonal, and even socioeconomic differences between men and women; these differences, however, do not fully explain this bias towards male infection. The role of genetic factors, specifically the genes of the X chromosome, influencing the differences in TB susceptibility between males and females is now recognised as an important contributor to the higher proportion of male infections. Unfortunately, some of the earlier genetic studies did not take this into account and analysed male and female samples together. This means that genetic variants that are protective in females, but detrimental in males could not be detected. This discovery means that new TB susceptibility variants have been found.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">The human genetics field is progressing at enormous speed and technological developments have made it possible to investigate complete human genomes at an affordable price. Recently the South African Medical Research Council completed the first whole-genome sequence of a human in South Africa. These innovations will also impact on studies of genetic susceptibility to TB and will help to tease out how our genes contribute to <em>Mtb </em>infection and disease.</p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>*</strong><strong><em>Profs Marlo Möller and Craig Kinnear are affiliated with the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Tuberculosis Research in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University as well as the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Centre for Tuberculosis Research and SAMRC Genomics Centre.</em></strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;"> </p><p><br></p>
All wildlife must be protected wildlife must be protectedCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie <p>​​​Tuesday (3 March) is World Wildlife Day. In opinion pieces for<em> Cape Argus</em> and <em>The Conversation</em> respectively, Drs Tashnica Sylvester & Wynand Goosen (Molecular Biology and Human Genetics) and Prof Michael Samways (Conservation Ecology and Entomology) write about the importance of protecting all wildlife species, big and small. Click on the links below to read the articles.<br></p><ul><li><p>​Drs Tashnica Sylvester & Wynand Goosen (<a href="/english/Documents/newsclips/Sylvester_Goosen_CapeArgus_Mar2020.pdf"><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><strong>Cape Argus</strong></span></a>) </p></li><li><p>​Prof Michael Samways (<a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">The Conversation</strong></a>)​ </p></li></ul><p><br></p>
Three FMHS researchers receive ‘Women in Science’ award FMHS researchers receive ‘Women in Science’ awardSue Segar<p>Three FMHS researchers recently did Stellenbosch University proud when they each received a 2019 L'Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science sub-Saharan African award.<br></p><p>They are Carine Kunsevi-Kilola and Georgina Nyawo, who are both PhD students from the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics and Mweete Nglazi, a researcher from the Centre for Evidence-Based Health Care.<br></p><p>The three women now join the L'Oréal-UNESCO community of Young Talents. Out of more than 400 applicants, the award was given to twenty women researchers from fifteen different countries in the sub-Saharan African region and represented health scientists, computer scientists, engineers and other scientists.<br></p><p>The awards ceremony took place in Dakar, Senegal in November last year.<br></p><p>In interviews, all three agreed the awards were a wonderful endorsement of their work, which encouraged them to work even harder towards their research goals, and a memorable networking experience.<br></p><p>They also agreed that the food, the beaches, the music and the general culture of Dakar were the cherry on the top of a memorable trip to Senegal to receive their awards!<br></p><p>Kunsevi-Kilola, who originally hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo is investigating the link that exists between tuberculosis (TB) and type 2 diabetes (T2D) to determine the underlying risk factors in T2D patients favouring their progression to active TB. She intends to do post-doctoral studies and to eventually return to the DRC “to motivate more women to get involved in careers in Science".<br></p><p>Kunsevi-Kilola said she was delighted to have received the award. “It made me realize that people are noticing our work – and it really motivates me to continue doing what I do," she said.<br></p><p>She added that, apart from meeting other African women who are working in Science and learning about their work, it was also a highlight to meet senior people involved in research.</p><p>“We met the director of UNESCO for West Africa and the one of the first ladies from the DRC, as well as a number of ministers from Senegal. It was a privilege – and so encouraging - to have so many senior people in the ceremony. They took an interest in our work. It made me feel that I am not alone on my journey and that I can always count on people to give me a hand to the next level.<br></p><p>“The whole experience was just so positive! I am so grateful to Stellenbosch University for giving us the opportunity to make our dream come true and I will always give back to the junior scientists all the skills I have learned on this journey," she said.<br></p><p>Georgina Nyawo, who is from Zimbabwe originally, is particularly interested in the microbiome (complete bacterial communities in the human body) in TB in her current research. “In a nutshell, I am looking at all the bacteria found in patients that are suspected of having TB. I am interested in finding out how the bacterial communities in the body of somebody with TB differ from somebody without TB."<br></p><p>Nyawo said that receiving the award was a once in a lifetime experience. “The training in leadership, negotiation skills and in public speaking and handling the media which we got there was beyond anything I could have imagined.<br></p><p>“The organization has really put together a programme where one comes away with so much more than just recognition and funding. The discussions we had over the week of training with other women in science went beyond science.<br></p><p>“Apart from getting the award, I really learnt some valuable lessons, made new friends and connections. I also loved meeting the locals in Dakar and singing, dancing and drinking the local baobab and hibiscus juice," she said.<br></p><p>Nyawo said she intends to carry on working in TB research and in academia.<br></p><p>Mweete Nglazi, a part-time researcher at the Centre for Evidence-Based Health Care and a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town, said she was “happy and excited" to be recognized in the awards for the research she is doing. She added that the experience in Dakar was “career-changing" because of the knowledge she gained in the training provided by the organization.<br></p><p>Another highlight, said Nglazi, who is originally from Zambia, was networking with the other young women – from at least 15 different African countries – who received awards. “There were women there from West Africa, East Africa and Central Africa – all doing very interesting research. I learnt a great deal from them. Hearing about the work they are doing opened my eyes up to a whole world of opportunities. We are still keeping in touch with each other," she said.<br></p><p>Nglazi's PhD project is entitled “An analysis of overweight and obesity in South Africa: the case of women of childbearing age".</p><p>Her research is aimed at understanding the trends, socioeconomic inequality and determinants of overweight and obesity in women of childbearing age between 15 and 49 years old. <br></p><p>“The project is important because obese women are likely to give birth and raise children who might become obese or overweight. Thus targeting overweight or obese women of childbearing age between 15 and 49 years could benefit the next generation. Overweight and obesity not only contribute to deaths and disability from non-communicable diseases globally, in sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa, but also pose a substantial economic burden and put a strain on social protection systems.  Therefore, my study is of tremendous benefit to improving the lives of women of child-bearing age in South Africa and by extension, sub-Saharan Africa. It has policy implications and will stimulate further research in the area," she explained.<br></p><p>Nglazi said she hopes to continue to do research that impacts on policy as well as making a different to peoples' lives. “I hope to progress in academia and to maybe one day become a professor or contribute to an international organization like the World Health Organisation or the United Nations."<br></p><p><br> </p>
Mind the (gender) gap in STEM fields the (gender) gap in STEM fieldsTashnica Sylvester<p>​​On Tuesday (11 February), we celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. In an opinion piece for <em>News24</em>, Dr Tashnica Sylvester from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences writes that we need to embrace the opportunity to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.</p><ul><li>​<strong>​</strong>Read the complete article below or click <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">here</strong></a> for the piece as published.<br></li></ul><p><strong>Mind the (gender) gap in STEM fields</strong><br></p><p>Gender equality and our society's views on girls and women have weighed heavily on the minds of South Africans these past few months. The value our culture places on females and our attitudes towards women have been challenged. This re-evaluation of our dedication and commitment to the empowerment of girls and women also extends to the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).<br></p><p>According to a 2018 report of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), women in STEM represent less than 30% of researchers globally. This shows that there's a need for urgent attention and huge investments in women to pursue studies in and make a contribution to STEM fields. Although worldwide figures of women students and graduates in higher education have grown steadily in the last decade, women are still a minority in STEM research occupations. The same UIS report points out that in 2015 women made up 45% of total researchers in South Africa, but positions of leadership, authority and power are still predominantly occupied by men. </p><p>The lack of gender-friendly policy frameworks, including the provision of onsite childcare facilities or the establishment of career re-entry programmes (for women who have taken a break to start a family), contribute greatly to women scientists abandoning the science profession, ultimately widening the gender gap. Compounding this is the fact that potential employers are willing to offer male applicants a higher salary for a science lab manager position than an equally qualified female applicant as Corinne Moss-Racusin and her co-authors showed in a 2012 article in the <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em>.</p><p>This comes despite a recent report by McKinsey (2018), 'Delivering Through Diversity', which highlights the link between diversity (defined here as 'a greater proportion of women and a more mixed ethnic and cultural composition in the leadership of large companies') and the successful performance of a company through leadership effectiveness, productivity, and value creation. When in 2015 the American Association of University Women evaluated why women in America left the engineering field the differences were found not between the women themselves but in the workplace environments. Women who left their careers had fewer opportunities for training and development, less support from co-workers or supervisors, and less support for balancing work and non-work roles than women who stayed in the profession. <br></p><p>Similarly, cultural stereotypes and individual factors also influence the decision of women to pursue careers in science. In South Africa, the lack of career support, such as female mentors, networks and professional development opportunities, along with cultural and societal expectations, may discourage younger females from a future in the sciences. This is further exasperated by failure to implement gender-sensitive promotion policies, address discriminatory workplace cultures and microaggression and rethink assumptions about the roles of women in STEM, and the society at large. A culture of equality with equal value and pay for all employees enables everyone to advance to higher positions, to be more likely to achieve, grow, and innovate. <br></p><p>Globally, there is a realisation that gender bias not only results in inequality between the genders but also affects knowledge production. Promoting the participation of women and girls in science means changing mind-sets, fighting gender biases and stereotypes which limit the expectations and professional goals girls have (from early childhood). This highlights the importance of participation in science engagement or outreach. Highly visible scientists are increasingly recognised as influential leaders in STEM with a special role in making science part of mainstream society. <br></p><p>In a recent study in the <em>South African Journal of Science</em> (2017), Marina Joubert and Lars Guenther looked at the most visible scientists in South Africa and found that while only 8% of South Africans are white, 78% of the most visible scientists currently are white, and 63% of these are men. These statistics further support the misconception that science in South Africa is the reserved domain of white males. </p><p>It's clear we need to raise the profile of women in STEM in South Africa in order to inspire and empower young women and girls to take up these (STEM) roles. This translates into building platforms that celebrate accomplished and emerging women in science and engaging in open and collaborative dialogues, regionally and internationally. Through supporting organisations such as The Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering, Black Women in Science and The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World and taking part in annual events such as the National Research Foundation's Science Week, we highlight, not only to the youth, but to the international community, the great work being done by South African female researchers.<br></p><p>Having celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, we must also recognise the critical role of women and girls in science and technology, and embrace the opportunity to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. Their contributions to STEM, diversifying racial, cultural and gender participation, translates to improved innovation, development and cultural progression. Science-related fields play a central role in developing the agenda towards sustainable development and in turn economic growth. The current under-representation of women in STEM in positions of leadership, however, translates into loss of ideas and insights hindering our industrial, economic and development potential.<br></p><p>We should work continuously to inspire young girls to not only pursue science careers, but to become leaders and innovators in their own communities. Equally, we should endeavour to teach young boys about equality of the genders.<br></p><p>The secret to innovation, according to Accenture (2017), is a workplace culture of equality. Women bring skills to the workplace which not only boost productivity, but increase innovation and impact. If organisations, whether public, private or academic, want to not only survive but thrive they have to do more to 'get to equal'.</p><p> <strong>Photo</strong>: Female scientist in a laboratory. <strong>Credit</strong>: Pixabay<br></p><p><strong><em>*Dr Tashnica Sylvester is a post-doctoral fellow in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University and also</em></strong><strong> </strong><strong><em>a member of the Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering.</em></strong></p><p> </p><p> </p><p> </p><p> </p><p> </p><p>​ </p><p><br></p>
FMHS scientists honoured with SAMRC Merit Awards scientists honoured with SAMRC Merit AwardsSue Segar<p>The Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at Stellenbosch University's the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences recently had cause to celebrate two extraordinary researchers. Professors Craig Kinnear and Novel Chegou both received SA Medical Research Council Silver Medal Achievement Awards at the SAMRC 2019 Scientific Merit Awards in November.<br></p><p>Kinnear, from the Tuberculosis Host Genetics Research Group, and Chegou, from the Immunology Research Group received the awards for their outstanding lifetime scientific contributions to health research.<br></p><p>The Division's Facebook page described the two scientists as “an inspiration to both fellow colleagues and students within our institution".<br></p><p>“It is this perseverance, excellence and innovative thinking that motivates all of us to continue working diligently at the task at hand, no matter how difficult or exhausting, as it is all for a great cause – the advancement of health research and, in turn, societal wellbeing within our country and globally."<img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2019/CraigArticle.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;" /><br></p><p>Kinnear is an associate professor in the department of Biomedical Sciences and currently holds the position of Specialist Scientist at the SAMRC Centre for Tuberculosis Research and is the Laboratory Head of the SAMRC Genomics Centre.<br></p><p>Originally from Kraaifontein in the Cape, he completed his PhD in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at Stellenbosch University in 2007. For his PhD, he focused on identifying novel genetic predisposing factors involved in the pathogenesis of obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. He also looked at the signalling pathways involved in neuronal migration and brain development. His work in psychiatric genetics led to some of the first publications in psychiatric genetics in South Africa.<br></p><p>After his PhD, Kinnear shifted his focus to cardiovascular genetics. He researched the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of cardiac hypertrophy in patients with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. <br></p><p>“I established a small research team that published high impact, cutting edge research on Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and LongQT syndrome that identified novel proteins and pathways involved in the pathogeneses of these disorders. “<br></p><p>In 2013, he joined the TB host genetics team where he currently focuses on identifying disease-causing mutations in patients with primary immunodeficiencies who are extremely susceptible to tuberculosis.<br></p><p>Additionally, he focuses on the genetics of Primary Immunodeficiency's (PIDs) and co-founded the Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases Genetics Network (PIDDGEN), a multidisciplinary team that has provided genetic diagnoses to several PID patients.<br></p><p>Chegou is an associate professor in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics and his research focuses on the immunology of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection. He is currently working on biomarkers for the diagnosis of tuberculosis, biomarkers of protective immunity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and biomarkers for monitoring of the response to tuberculosis treatment amongst others.<br></p><p>Chegou's work is focussed particularly on developing simple field-friendly point-of-care diagnostic tools for the rapid diagnosis of tuberculosis in resource-constrained settings. <br></p><p>He works on both pulmonary and extra pulmonary TB including TB in children and currently co-leads the diagnostics subgroup of the SU Immunology Research Group.<img src="/english/faculty/healthsciences/PublishingImages/NewsCarousel/Nuus2019/NovelArticle.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-1" alt="" style="margin:5px;" /><br></p><p>Chegou, who trained as a Medical Laboratory Scientist at the University of Buea, in his home country, Cameroon, moved to South Africa in 2004 and has, since 2005, been working on diagnostics for TB. <br></p><p>His research was motivated by the many deficiencies in the tools used in diagnosing TB, especially in resource-depleted areas. “The tests we have been working on have the potential to give results in 30 minutes. These are not confirmatory tests, but just screening tests which enable a healthcare worker to indicate that there is a high chance the patient has TB or, alternatively, if the chances of TB are small. They can also then start providing alternative treatment, where needed, without making the patient wait for weeks for TB test results.</p><p>Both scientists said they felt honoured to receive the prestigious awards.<br></p><p>“It is great to be acknowledged for your work," said Kinnear. “It was special that, at the ceremony, they recognized our development of young scientists. Part of my job is to mentor and supervise young post-graduate students. I've supervised several MSc and PhD students through to the completion of their degrees. Working with young people is the best and most rewarding part of my job."<br></p><p>He added: “I don't want to take all the credit for this award. It is a culmination of the work I've done with many other people in the twenty years I've been doing this." Kinnear said the awards has given a profile to his work.<br></p><p>Chegou said: “This award is a huge honour. As researchers, we identify a problem, design an experiment and hope the experiment provides data that will point us towards the tools that could be developed to address that issue. You don't expect to get awards as a result of that. I feel privileged to have been recognized."<br></p><p>The award is the latest good news in what Chegou described as “a very rewarding second half of the year" which included him being “blessed by the birth of a baby boy" in November.<br></p><p>He recently received international funding from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) to validate biomarkers and, together with a project team including paediatric neurologists and engineers, develop a novel point-of-care test for the diagnosis of tuberculous meningitis in children. He also recently received a Strategic Health Innovations Partnership (SHIP) grant from the SAMRC for the development of a host RNA based test for TB, and is part of another recent larger multinational EDCTP grant led by Prof Gerhard Walzl, that will evaluate the usefulness of one of the point-of-care TB triage tests that the group has developed, in the diagnosis of TB in Uganda, Gambia and South Africa.<br></p><p>Chegou said: “The SAMRC merit award would not be possible without the contributions of numerous members of our research group and international collaborating partners that includes clinicians, nurses, research assistants, past and present students and engineers. Although the merit award was an individual award to me, it is actually the result of work that has been done in collaboration with all these partners and without them, such awards wouldn't be possible."<br></p><p><em>Banner caption: Profs Craig Kinnear, Rob Warren and Novel Chegou at the SAMRC 2019 Merit Awards.</em><br></p><p><em>Picture caption 1: Prof Craig Kinnear receives his award from Prof Rachel Jewkes.</em></p><p><em>Picture caption 2: Prof Novel Chegou <em>receives his award from Prof Rachel Jewkes.</em></em></p><p><em><em><br></em></em></p><div class="ms-rtestate-read ms-rte-embedcode ms-rte-embedil ms-rtestate-notify"><iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0"></iframe> </div><p><em><em><br></em></em></p><div class="ms-rtestate-read ms-rte-embedcode ms-rte-embedil ms-rtestate-notify"><iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0"></iframe> </div><p><em><em><br></em></em></p>