UKZN Lecturer Earns Top Honours at Malaysian Conference
UKZN Lecturer, Ms Anushka Ajith, won first prize of R5 000 for a poster presentation of her doctoral research on hypertension in pregnant women at the Malaysian Society of Hypertension’s Annual Scientific Meeting.
Her study – supervised by UKZN Professor Anita Naicker, Professor Jagidesa Moodley and Professor Prem Gathiram – was titled: “The Role of Peripheral Natural Killer Cells in Immunocompromised Pre-Eclamptic and Normotensive Pregnant South African Women”.
‘Pre-eclampsia complicates almost five to eight percent of pregnancies globally and is one of the leading causes of maternal and foetal deaths, especially in developing countries,’ said Ajith. ‘From 2008 to 2011, 14 percent of maternal deaths in South Africa were attributed to hypertensive disorders; 83 percent of which were due to pre-eclampsia.’
Ajith described pre-eclampsia as characterised by high blood pressure and significant amounts of protein in the urine of women, and said despite active research, the pathophysiology of pre-eclampsia was not fully understood.
‘Many studies have established that uterine natural killer (NK) cells play an important role in pre-eclampsia. However, the role of peripheral NK cells in pre-eclampsia is limited.’
The aim of her study was to correlate the phenotypic properties of peripheral natural killer cells, CD3, CD16 and CD56 in normotensive pregnant women and pre-eclamptic counterparts in South Africa.
The study confirmed that an increased accumulation of NK cells were observed in pre-eclamptic compared to the normative pregnancies. It also demonstrated that a significant decrease in peripheral NK cells took place in the pre-eclamptic women and was continuing to look at the effect of HIV in pre-eclampsia.
Ajith said it was important that as soon as a woman knew they were pregnant, they went for antenatal care as an early diagnosis could prevent the onset of pre-eclampsia.
She said women who had been pre-eclamptic in previous pregnancies could be at a higher risk of developing the disease in subsequent pregnancies. Some studies had shown an association of pre-eclampsia in multigravid women with a new partner while other studies showed women could have a genetic predisposition to the disease.
Ajith was inspired to conduct her PhD pre-eclampsia by field expert and Head of UKZN’s Optics and Imaging Centre, Professor Naicker.
Naicker – who referred to Ajith as a ‘diligent medical researcher’ – said scooping the first prize for her poster presented in Malaysia was nothing new for Ajith as last year she was the recipient of the Y.W Loke New Investigator Award in recognition of the excellence of her presentation at the 20th International Federation of Placental Associations Meeting, in Paris, France.
Ajith holds an undergraduate and Honours degree in Microbiology, coupled with a Masters in Plant Breeding degree which she completed before joining UKZN’s Optics and Imaging Centre as an academic.
Ajith said she loved teaching her MBChB and Physiology students and always tried to motivate them to continue into postgraduate studies where they could conduct research and contribute new knowledge to their respective professions.
Ajith said her ‘hobbies’ revolved around her 21-month-old daughter!