UKZN’s Youngest PhD Graduate Explores Computational Tools towards the Understanding of HIV Targets
Twenty-four-year-old, Dr Suri Moonsamy, graduated with a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from UKZN’s College of Health Sciences (CHS) in less than two years, with six publications in highly reputable peer-reviewed international journals (thesis via publications) in the bag.
The youngest doctoral graduate at UKZN, Moonsamy was supervised by the Dean of the School of Health Sciences, Professor Mahmoud Soliman. Her dissertation focused on Diverse Computational tools towards the understanding of HIV targets and Design of Potential Drug Candidates.
The International Golden Key Honour Society member has made huge strides in her studies by completing her Master of Medical Sciences degree within a year and now her PhD in two years.
Moonsamy said: ‘As a young South African woman who has an ardent love for both medicine and research, I have a keen interest in wanting to help alleviate problems in health-related resource limited settings and I especially have a particular interest in the development of more effective therapeutic interventions for the treatment and cure of HIV and AIDS and TB, and possibly other infectious diseases’.
Her PhD study focused on HIV treatment targets and drug candidates and several new protocols to select and study the drug resistance mechanism and dynamic behaviour of drug able proteins. The study provided potential clues for further design of novel inhibitors that are less susceptible to drug resistance.
Moonsamy is currently working as a senior scientist at the HIV Prevention and Research Unit (HPRU) of the South African Medical Research Council (MRC), under the supervision of renowned HIV scientist, Professor Gita Ramjee.
She was inspired by Ramjee through interactions with him at the MRC. ‘The field of clinical research is an entirely new spectrum to me, but these past few months have been really exciting and having a mentor like Professor Ramjee, who is one of the world’s leading clinical trialist in HIV prevention research, has been advantageous.
‘HIV and AIDS still remains a challenging epidemic infecting millions of people worldwide. Despite on-going HIV and AIDS research and access to antiretroviral therapy, to date still no cure exists for this debilitating disease,’ said Moonsamy. ‘South Africa is a highly resourced developing country with the potential to be the lead contributor to solving health problems in sub-Saharan Africa.
‘One day, I want to be just like Professor Ramjee, a world renowned clinical researcher. Furthermore, working at the clinical research sites and being exposed to clinical trials in this short spectrum of time, has opened my eyes to the fact that young, unmarried women are among the high risk individuals for HIV acquisition. Being that young enthusiastic female, I know that I want to make a difference in the lives of other young women and being a clinical researcher is the way forward to take a stand and make that difference’.
Moonsamy, who has a twin brother, said: ‘I live by the philosophy that one should maintain a balance between personal and professional development in life’. Therefore, in spite of her professional life, she engages in extramural activities such as modern and traditional dancing, reading, socialising, travelling, cultural activities, playing sports and is also actively involved in charity work.
At the tender age of 16, Moonsamy felt motivated to help and make a difference in the lives of people less fortunate than her and became an avid member of charitable organisations in her community.
‘My parents are my biggest motivation in life because they have been my pillar of strength in both my good and bad times. My motto in life is “Take risks, you don't have a voice if you don't. You have to venture outside your boundaries. That’s what life is all about”.’
Her supervisor, Professor Soliman, who is also the Head and Principal Investigator of UKZN’s Molecular Modelling and Drug Design Laboratory, commented, ‘Suri is an inspiration to me. She is diligent and excited about making a difference in the world through science. Through computational and molecular modeling with the main focus on biological systems and drug design approaches, Suri, as a young scientist, holds the key to possibly overcoming HIV through vaccination or novel therapies.’