The Department of Physiological Sciences undertakes investigative research to better understand the health challenges facing South Africa. We have several research groupings - headed up by excellent principal investigators - that tackle a variety of disease states. Here the rationale is to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms that drive the onset of pathophysiologic states, with the ultimate aim of designing novel therapeutic interventions.The worldwide tendency in the biological sciences to work in multidisciplinary teams has also found expression in our postgraduate programmes. Research is done in collaboration with many international research associates.
The Department also hosts the Research Chair in Integrative Skeletal Muscle physiology, biology and biotechnology as part of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI).
We study the molecular mechanisms underlying the onset of diabetes and heart diseases. Our human studies aim to establish underlying molecular changes that occur with the onset of cardio-metabolic conditions, i.e. within the context of diabetes, acute myocardial ischemia and in HIV-infected individuals receiving highly active anti-retroviral treatment. Such work is closely linked to laboratory-based studies (employing cell and animal-based models) to delineate mechanisms underlying the onset of insulin resistance/diabetes and the link to heart diseases. Here a key focus area is to investigate the maladaptive effects of hyperglycaemia on the heart, especially within the context of ischemia-reperfusion. In parallel, we develop and test novel therapeutic agents that could blunt hyperglycaemia-mediated damage during ischemia-reperfusion.
Cellular and molecular physiology of muscle tissue
Our research on the cellular and molecular aspects of muscle regeneration after injury is focused on human muscle cells, small laboratory animal models and cell culture, including primary muscle-specific stem cells. Our current focus is on satellite cell fusion and on neuromuscular junction regeneration.
We study acute and long-term adaptations in humans to delayed onset of muscle soreness, with or without training interventions or change in nutritional intake. The immune system is intimately involved during muscle injury and inflammation, and we attempt to understand the positive and negative influences of specific immune cells and of oxidative stress. The analysis of exercise adaptations and muscle biopsies link this field of human life sciences to the research done by cellular and molecular physiologists.
Disease Signalling Group
Our main research focus is on cell death modes and specifically autophagy, and various signalling mechanisms involved in the development of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegeneration and epidemiology and metabolic systems.
Cancer Research Group
The specific focus of our research is to explore new avenues of chemotherapy and adjuvant treatments that would favour the use of lower chemotherapy concentrations with less side-effect to normal healthy cells, while maintaining satisfactory levels of cancer cell death.
Neuro Research Group
The Neuro Research Group (NRG) combines cell biology, cell physiology, microscopy and biochemistry approaches to dissect and investigate the relationship between protein degradation through macroautophagy and cell death susceptibility in neurodegeneration and brain cancer (gliomas). The lab focuses on macroautophagy (MA), chaperone mediated autophagy (CMA), cellular metabolism, mitochondrial morphology and function, tubulin and transport systems, the cytoskeleton and ATP consumption. Central to our approach is a dynamic perspective on the cell's function and its stress response using, in addition to standard molecular tools, high-end microscopy techniques.
Cardio-Oncology Research Group
Our research group focusses on understanding the side effects of cancer chemotherapy in the heart induced by a class of drugs known as anthracyclines. These side effects are commonly referred to as cardiotoxicity, a term that literally means "toxic to the heart". We study the molecular mechanisms that govern cardiotoxicity and its transition to heart failure by utilising both in vitro and in vivo models to simulate this condition.
This research group mainly investigate the link between urbanisation and the metabolic syndrome but also other diseases of lifestyle that increases the risk of cancer development. The physiological processes that are at play during urbanisation, metabolic endocrinology, body composition and nutrition transition are some of the factors being investigated.
Multidisciplinary stress biology
We study both short-term and long-term effects of stress, as well as adaptation to stress, using a variety of models ranging from human to rodent and cell culture. Studies combine the discipline of physiology with others such as psychiatry, biochemistry and even botany. Specific interests include the interlinked nature of the stress response- and immune systems, as well as traditional stress-relief modalities.