Final-Year Students Showcase Health Sciences Research at Annual Symposium
A total of 10 research presentations by final-year students from each of the School of Health Sciences disciplines were heard by adjudicators at this year’s successful Young Health Scientists Research Symposium on the Westville campus.
The day was opened by the Dean and Head of School, Professor Sabiha Essack, and led and chaired by Professor Johan van Heerden, Academic Leader for Research in the School, and Dr Shenuka Singh, Chair of the UKZN Humanities and Social Sciences Ethics Committee.
The students had delivered winning presentations in their discipline specific Research Days and now competed at an interdisciplinary level.
The winning presentation - titled: “Preparation and Evaluation of Vancomycin (VCM) Loaded Lipid Polymer Nanoparticles (LPNs) for Bacterial Infections” - in the laboratory-based research category was delivered by a group of students from the Drug Delivery Research Proto-Unit in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Discipline.
The students observed that nano drug delivery systems were being widely explored to overcome challenges with antibiotics, and LPNs displayed unique advantages of both liposomes and polymeric nanoparticles whilst excluding some of their limitations. There was a lack of data on incorporation of antibiotics into LPNs. Therefore, the aim of their study was to prepare and evaluate LPNs containing VCM.
The study found that VCM-loaded LPNs comprising 20 mg Vancomycin HCl (4 percent loading) and a lipid: polymer ratio of 2:1 displayed best drug entrapment efficiencies and also had activity against both sensitive and resistant bacterial strains.
A group of five Optometry students scooped the prize for clinically-based research in a study where they investigated the effect of Oakley tinted lenses on stereopsis – the visual perception of depth and ability to see three-dimensionally. The study found that colour and transmittance levels did not have an effect on stereopsis but change in retinal illumination adversely affected stereopsis at distance and close up.
A presentation investigating the types of feeding problems, food preference and the relationship to family eating preference in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in South Africa, was presented by award-winning Speech-Language Pathology students in the community-based research category.
The study found that children with ASD in South Africa presented with typical feeding problems and eating preferences of children with ASD. These problems had a significant effect on family life. The lack of knowledge and awareness regarding the Speech-Language Pathologist’s role and specific intervention for feeding were evident clinical implications. Future research implications included direct observation of feeding behaviours and types and success of interventions used.
On the panel of independent adjudicators, which included Professor Andrew McKune and Professor Meshen Pillay, was Professor Johnathan Blackledge, UKZN’s newly appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research. He said one of the most exciting aspects of the health sciences was its diversity and the wealth of different ideas from various disciplines that found a natural role to play involving not only the treatment of illness, but its prevention.
Blackledge said UKZN was one of the world’s premiere centres for health sciences research with pioneering work being undertaken in areas such as clinical immunology, molecular genetics, health informatics, virology and the prevention of HIV, for example.
He delivered an insightful presentation on digital imaging and communication in medicine – one of his areas of expertise.
A message sent by Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences, Professor Rob Slotow, said it was of paramount importance for the College to create an enabling environment for research and for intellectual discourse of research, especially amongst its young scientists. ‘A popular measure of academic excellence of an institution is based on the quality and quantity of the research output,’ he said.
In his message, College Dean of Research, Professor Moses Chimbari described the Young Health Scientists’ Research Symposium as a forum which provides undergraduate students with an opportunity to showcase their studies and to gain the experience of public critique annually.
Chimbari said: ‘In recognition of the need to support undergraduates who constitute the pool for future postgraduate enrolment, the College gives imminent honours graduates good academic exposure, and also allows them to be nominated for presenting at a national forum.’
The students were awarded certificates when they presented their studies at discipline level. Adjudicators encouraged all the presenters to stay on and pursue postgraduate studies in the College upon completing their final year at UKZN.