Welcome to Stellenbosch University

Centre for C​​​ardio-metabolic Research in Africa (CARMA)


Principal Investigators

The principal investigator (PI) is responsible for directing a specific research project(s)/program(s). The PI is responsible for the overall management of research activities conducted within his/her domain and plays a leading role to:

  • Plan, write submit grant applications
  • Oversee scientific and technical aspects of grants and research projects/programs
  • Supervise and graduate postgraduate students
  • Produce peer-reviewed research outputs
  • Liaise with the broader public domain to share expertise and/or research findings.


Medical Physiology Principal Investigators

Prof Faadiel Essop (PhD):

Research Focus: Cardio-metabolic diseases, HIV-related cardiovascular diseases onset and progression, Stress-related cardio-metabolic diseases onset and progression.



Prof Hans Strijdom (BMedSc, MBChB, PhD) 

Research Focus:​ Physiology and pathophysiology of the cardiovascular system, with a particular interest in vascular and endothelial biology. Currently investigating the interaction between HIV and cardio-metabolic changes in people living with HIV.


Emeritus Prof Barbara Huisamen (PhD)Huisamen.jpg

Tel: +27 21 938 9688

Qualifications: B.Sc. - University of Stellenbosch (1974), major in Chemistry and Zoology, B.Sc. (Hons.) in Biochemistry (1975), M.Sc. in Medical Sciences (1976) with a dissertation on the effect of Iodine on the quaternary structure of Thyroglobulin, B.Sc. (Hons.) in Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, (1991), Ph.D. (U.S. - 1993): Dissertation on The identification, localization and characterization of binding sites specific for inositol phosphates in the myocardium.

Research Focus: The involvement of the ataxia-telangiectasia (ATM) protein in the development of a diabetic cardiomyopathy. The role of mitophagy during ischaemia and reperfusion of the heart in obesity related insulin resistance and the potential of melatonin to influence these processes. Fractionation of extracts of Cyclopia species and their potential anti-obesity properties (in collaboration with Dr C Pheiffer at the MRC). The possible use of substances isolated from Aspalathus linearis as anti-diabetic and cardioprotective substances (in collaboration with Dr R Johnson at the MRC).

Marais.jpgProf Erna Marais (PhD)
Senior Lecturer


Tel: +27 21 983 9254​

Qualifications: B.Sc. degree (Biochemistry and Physiology, 1988, SU), B.Sc. Hons. degree (Biochemistry, 1989, SU), (Biochemistry, 1997, SU), Ph.D. degree (Medical Physiology and Biochemistry,2002, SU). 

Research Focus: Cardiovascular disease, Ischaemic/Reperfusion injury, Obesity, Cardioprotection; Vasculoprotection; Cardiovascular signal transduction, Cell signalling (Western blotting technology), Rat heart perfusion technology; Melatonin; Rooibos; Exchange protein directly activated by cAMP (Epac) signalling .

vanVuuren.jpgDr Derick van Vuuren (PhD)
Senior Lecturer

Tel: +27 21 938 9390​

Qualifications:  BSc Hons (Physiology, UNW), MSc, PhD (Medical Physiology, SU).​

Research Focus: Protein phosphorylation in the context of signalling cascades in cardioprotection against myocardial ischaemia / reperfusion injury.

Windvogel.jpgDr Shantal Windvogel (PhD)
Senior Lecturer


Tel: +27 21 938 9613​

Qualifications:  BSc (Physiology, Medical Microbiology); BSc Hons (Physiology); PhD (Medical Biosciences).

Research Focus: The modulating effects of indigenous plants (e.g. Rooibos, Honeybush and Sutherlandia) on vascular function and antioxidant enzyme activity in various animal models at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Maarman.jpgDr. Gerald Maarman (PhD)

Tel: +27 21 938 9392

Qualifications: BSc.Hons (SU), MSc.BSc. (SU), Ph.D (UCT), NRF Y-2 Rated researcher.

Research Focus: Cardio-Pulmonary physiology and pathophysiology (clinical and basic science). Underlying mechanisms of pulmonary arterial hypertension and heart failure in the context of infectious diseases (TB and HIV).

GIJSEN.jpgDr Hanél Sadie-van Gijsen
Senior Researcher/Principal Investigator

Tel: +27 21 938 9814

Qualifications: BSc (Biochemistry and Microbiology), BSc Honours (Biochemistry), MSc (Biochemistry), PhD (Biochemistry) (all from Stellenbosch University)
Research Focus: Metabolism, obesity, animal models of obesity, adipose tissue and adipose stem cells, ex vivo stem cell models of obesity and metabolism (fat and bone), anti-obesity products, nutraceuticals, Rooibos.

Stellenbosch Campus

Dr Balindiwe Sishi (PhD)
Senior Lecturer

Tel: +27 21 808 3153 

The Cardio-Oncology Research Group (CORG) investigates the side effects of the chemotherapeutic drug Doxorubicin on the heart. 

Qualifications: B.Sc. degree (Human Life Science), B.Sc. Hons. degree (Physiological Sciences), MSc. degree (Physiological Sciences ), Ph.D. degree (Physiological Sciences) (all from Stellenbosch University).  

Research Focus: The group's interests lie in understanding the basic mechanism of cardiovascular damage induced by Doxorubicin by paying particular attention to Mitochondrial Dysfunction, Endoplasmic Reticulum and Oxidative Stress, Protein Degradation systems, Calcium dysregulation, and microRNA expression within this context. 

Dr Danzil Joseph (PhD)

Tel: +27 21 808 3154 

Lifestyle-associated diseases including cardio-metabolic diseases, diabetes and links with communicable diseases and psychosocial stress are research interest areas. 

Qualifications: B.Sc. degree (Human Life Science), B.Sc. Hons. degree (Physiology), Ph.D. degree (Physiology) (all from Stellenbosch University). 

Research Focus: Our research group aims to investigate the infectious and cardio-metabolic diseases double burden, with focus on cardio-metabolic and molecular factors that drive detrimental outcomes in SARS-CoV-2 spike protein variant interactions with human cells. Collaborative projects further explore topics involving the cardio-metabolic links with psychosocial stress and with metabolic aspects of chemotherapeutic toxicity.​ 

Dr Theo Nell (PhD)
Senior Lecturer

Tel: +27 21 808 3147 

The “Human as Unit" is the focus.  We focus on diseases of lifestyle mainly in which metabolism plays the central role but integrated with other physiological systems and also interdisciplinary systems.

Physiological associations are investigated in an epidemiological as well as molecular/cellular approach.  The research group has a very high socio-health impact with a pragmatic focus.  The research blends well in the social impact vision and mission of the University of Stellenbosch, and Faculty of Science. 

Qualifications: B.Sc. degree (Physiology & Microbiology,  NWU), B.Sc. Hons. degree (Physiology, NWU), (Nutrition, SU), Ph.D. degree (Nutrition, NWU), MSc Medical Science degree (Clinical Epidemiology, US). 

Research Focus: Metabolic Syndrome, Inflammation, Body Composition, 

South African Medical Research Council Principal Investigators

Muller.jpgProf Christo J.F. Muller (PhD)
Chief Specialist Scientist for MRC

Tel: +27 21 938 0824

Prof Muller focuses his research on the potential role of phenolic compounds in the prevention and treatment of metabolic conditions such as insulin resistance, dysbiosis, obesity and type 2 diabetes. He is also involved with a proteomics study to identify early markers for type 2 diabetes. These markers are currently being tested in human subjects.

Research Focus:
includes Metabolic disease (pathophysiology, prevention and treatment), phytotherapeutics and early detection of type 2 diabetes.  


Johnson.jpgProf Rabia Johnson (PhD)
Associate Professor

Tel: +27 21 938 0866

In her current focus area, she has published 58 articles (Scopus h-index of 20 with 1158 citation) and filed one patent application. She has built both local and international collaborations and graduated young black students from various Under-Resourced institutes. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, she has played an active role in setting up and managing the SAMRC/BRIP's SARS-Co-V2 wastewater surveillance program.

Research Focus: Her main research niche is on understanding the disease pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease and hypertension.   


Pheiffer.jpgProf Carmen Pheiffer (PhD)
Senior Lecturer 

Tel: +27 21 938 0292

Research Focus: Using molecular and epigenetic mechanisms to elucidate the pathophysiology of obesity, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes, the identification of biomarkers capable of predicting disease risk, and investigating the therapeutic potential of indigenous plant extracts against these conditions. 


Chellan.pngDr Nireshni Chellan (PhD)

Tel: 021 938 0362

Research Focus: Currently, my research focus is on the development of a more physiologically relevant pancreatic beta cell model in vitro. The model will ideally reflect more of the pathophysiology seen in human type 2 diabetes, and will form an intermediate between standard cell culture and the use of sentient animals.


Riedel-VanHeerden.pngDr Sylvia Riedel-Van Heerden (PhD)

Tel: +27 21 938 0844 

Research Focus: The role of intestinal inflammation and immune status in the development of metabolic diseases using cell culture and animal models.



Willner.jpgDr Tarryn Willner (PhD)
Senior Lecturer 

Tel: +27 21 938 0269

Research Focus: Identification of epigenetic biomarkers and therapeutic targets against obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, with a special focus on the role and regulation of DNA methylation in these diseases. My research also includes the use of cell culture and rodent models to explore the potential of indigenous plant extracts in reversing pathogenic epigenetic modifications in these diseases.


Mabasa.jpgDr Lawrence Mabasa (PhD)
Senior Lecturer 

Tel: +27 21 938 0271

Research Focus: Maternal environment and health of the child. Specifically, current research is centered on identifying the influence of maternal methyl donor nutrients on fetal epigenetic programming of breast cancer risk, and to an extent, cardiovascular complications.



Salie.jpgDr Ruduwaan Salie (PhD)
Specialist Scientist 


Research Focus: The main focus area my work is to identify cardiovascular complications associated with the metabolic syndrome. The development of cell signaling and cardioprotective strategies to overcome cardiovascular pathologies in various animal heart failure models.



Additional Staff/Research Members 

Genis.jpgDr Amanda Genis
Senior Research Assistant

Tel: +27 21 938 9072

Qualifications: BSc Psychology (UNISA); HSc Psychology (UNISA); MSc Medical Physiology (US); PhD Medical Physiology (US)
Research Focus: Effect of HIV proteins and ART on endothelial function.
Current Postgraduate Students


WEBSTER.jpgDr Ingrid Webster
Technical Officer

Tel: +27 21 938 9386

​Qualifications: BSc (Physiology, Genetics and Biochemistry); Honours Physiology; MsC Medical Physiology; PhD Medical Physiology.
Research Focus: EndoAfrica, HIV and endothelial function.


BLIGNAUT.jpgDr Marguerite Blignaut
Part-time Researcher

E mail:

Qualifications: BSc. Animal Biotechnology (SU), BSc. Hons Genetics (SU), MSc. Genetics (SU), PhD Medical Physiology (SU).
Research Focus:  My research focus on the characterisation of molecular pathways as well as mitochondrial function and dynamics, focussing specifically on Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated protein kinase, as a potential biomarker and treatment target in cardiovascular disease, using in vitro cell-based studies, ex vivo animal models and microscopy.