Doctorate for Pretoria Orthodontist

Doctorate for Pretoria Orthodontist
UP Orthodontist, Dr Emad Ghabrial graduated with a PhD in Health Sciences.

Egyptian-born Dr Emad Ghabrial, a senior lecturer in the Department of Orthodontics at the University of Pretoria, graduated with a PhD in Health Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s virtual Graduation. His study focused on the educational needs and services available in the management of cleft lip/palate and craniofacial anomalies (CLP/CFA) in South Africa.

The novel study is the first major study in South Africa to examine the scope and need for dedicated academic programmes in the four core disciplines involved in CLP/CFA care.

Ghabrial’s study aimed to draw special attention to the need of dedicated academic programmes in the treatment of cleft lip/palate and craniofacial anomalies. The study explored the opinion of the maxillofacial and oral surgeons, plastic surgeons, orthodontists, and speech therapists’ academic training and services as part of a multidisciplinary team that manages patients with CLP/CFA. Ghabrial recommended the introduction of dedicated sub-specialty training and online education in this field.

Aside from his lecturing duties, Ghabrial, who holds a medical degree in orthodontics, serves as an academic at UP and manages his own private practice, yet was able to complete his doctorate in 36 months and publish two research articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, with a further two under review as well as present at international and local congresses.

‘From the knowledge I gained through this PhD study, I am currently developing the world’s first fully online Postgraduate Diploma in Craniofacial Orthodontics (PGDip CF Orthod), collaborating with the Comprehensive Online Education Services (COES) of the University of Pretoria,’ he said.

‘I am grateful to my supervisor, Professor Kurt Bütow, a Maxillofacial and Oral Surgeon, who is internationally renowned for expertise in the clefts and craniofacial anomalies field. He allowed me to serve in the CLP/CFA Pretoria academic multidisciplinary team, diligently supervised my work and supported me throughout the project and my career,’ said Ghabrial.

Words: MaryAnn Francis

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Fascination with Brain Related Disorders Earns UKZN Staff Member a PhD

Fascination with Brain Related Disorders Earns UKZN Staff Member a PhD
Neuroscientist and UKZN staff member, Dr Zama Msibi graduated with a PhD in Neuroscience (Physiology).

Dr Zama Msibi, a Physiology lecturer in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences (SLMMS), graduated with a PhD in Neuroscience (Physiology) for her study entitled: Combination of Gold Nanoparticle-Mediated Gene Therapy and Oleanolic Acid in Treatment of 6 Hydroxydopamine-Induced Parkinsonism.

Her novel study aimed to provide better understanding of the management and treatment of the brain disorder, Parkinson’s disease (PD), through nanotechnology gene therapy.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that has become more prevalent over the past decade. Cases gradually increase as life expectancy increases, contributing to the already high cost of PD treatment. The lack of effective disease-modifying treatments adds to the impending PD pandemic. One of the key aspects of Parkinson’s is that it affects the predominately dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra.

Through the use of nanotechnology gene therapy, Msibi’s study focused on better understanding Oleanolic acid (OA). Oleanolic acid is a biologically active pentacyclic triterpenoid compound that has previously been shown to provide neuroprotection in PD preclinical studies; however, the mechanism by which this effect is exhibited is unknown.

The study combined gold nanoparticle (AuNP) mediated gene therapy with OA treatment for possible enhancement of symptom relief, dopamine production and transgene expression in six hydroxydopamine-exposed Sprague Dawley rats and PC12 cell line. The results indicated that AuNPs are a viable gene delivery tool for PD treatment, and OA enhances the therapeutic benefits of gene therapy.

Msibi’s study was supervised by the Dean and Head of School: SLMMS, Professor Musa Mabandla, who is an expert in neuroscience. Msibi commented, ‘It has been a long journey since I first had that meeting with Professor Mabandla as a prospective supervisor. I would never have guessed that I would gather so much knowledge and skills along the way and I am grateful for his patience in teaching me some of the basics of the brain. My supervisor allowed me to choose a research topic that has not been explored in our lab, making use of nanotechnology in Parkinson’s disease targeted gene delivery. With my background in genetics and his current research on medicinal plants, I went on a multi-disciplinary trajectory of research I never would have even imagined was possible.’

Msibi is passionate about mentoring young people in the sciences. During her free time, she engaged in philanthropic activities for disadvantaged schools in Umkhumbane, where she served as one of their teaching assistants. ‘My passion for philanthropic work was re-kindled by this involvement, leading me to co-find an NPO called “Future Legends” with some of my colleagues. The main objective was to empower learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. We focused on high schools in Umlazi Township. We recruited mostly postgraduate students and a few Medical students at UKZN to assist with extra classes during weekends. We entered some of the learners in the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists competition,’ said Msibi.

Words: MaryAnn Francis

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Optometrist Develops Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme

Optometrist Develops Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme
PhD in Optometry graduate, Dr Zaheera Abdool.

Dr Zaheera Abdool, who graduated with a PhD in Optometry, developed a diabetic retinopathy (DR) screening programme, which is an important component in eliminating avoidable blindness and vision impairment (VI).

Supervised by Professor Kovin Naidoo and co-supervised by Doctor Linda Visser, Abdool’s study was titled, The Development, Implementation and Evaluation of a Team Approach to Managing Diabetes Mellitus (DM) and Diabetic Eye Disease in a District Health System.

The research aimed to develop and implement a DR screening model with a team of healthcare practitioners at various levels in the district health system in Limpopo province to holistically manage DM and DR, and to effectively implement existing guidelines.

‘Diabetes mellitus is a major global public health challenge with many potential systemic and ocular and /or visual complications,’ said Abdool.

‘These complications vary in severity, and can sometimes be life-threatening especially where co-morbidities such as hypertension, kidney or liver disease are also present.’

The focus of the screening programme was identifying and grading changes in the eye due to DM. Some of these changes are retinal, and early identification and treatment of DR is essential to avoid or limit VI.

According to Abdool, the health sector in Limpopo has a shortage of medical practitioners, especially endocrinologists, ophthalmologists and optometrists that are required for effective identification and management and treatment for DM and DR. ‘Methods to improve early identification of the sight or life-threatening conditions associated with DM are thus vital,’ she said.

The research involved three phases. In Phase 1, a model for management of DR was proposed and with a modified Delphi technique expert opinion was obtained from endocrinologists, ophthalmologists and medical officers (MOs) in ophthalmology to improve and refine the model. In Phase 2, the competency levels of various healthcare practitioners were explored in terms of the clinical procedures required for the model to function properly. In Phase 3 the model was implemented among a sample of patients with DM and surveys were conducted among patients and healthcare practitioners to evaluate the model and identify areas of concern.

‘The model could be implemented in other regions of South Africa and the world, and could improve healthcare in relation to DM and its management. The economic costs to society and personal costs to patients relating to VI or blindness and other DM disabilities could be reduced with the improvements in public and private healthcare that this model proposed,’ she said.

Abdool is currently Head of the Department of Optometry at Voortrekker District Hospital in Limpopo. She has been actively involved in writing and reviewing journal articles and recently submitted three articles related to her PhD findings, all of which were accepted for publication.

‘My current plan is to work on strengthening the referral protocols of patients referred from clinics for the management of ocular complications. Due to the shortage of ophthalmic nurses in the province, I also intend to initiate training programmes for primary healthcare nurses in the district for the management of anterior segment eye complications. This will assist in reducing the workload for optometrists, given their scarcity in the public sector,’ said Abdool.

Abdool lives in Mokopane, a small town in Limpopo with her six-year-old son and husband. She has three siblings who are also medical professionals. ‘Coming from humble beginnings, we were indeed blessed to have parents who taught us to “dance in the rain,” “reach for the stars” and “sparkle amongst them.”’

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

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Study Tests the Efficacy of Ruthenium Compound in Addressing Pre-Diabetic Complications

Study Tests the Efficacy of Ruthenium Compound in Addressing Pre-Diabetic Complications
PhD in Health Sciences graduate, Dr Lindokuhle Mabuza.

Dr Lindokuhle Mabuza’s PhD in Health Sciences (Medical Biochemistry) evaluated the Effects of a Ruthenium (II) Complex in the Presence and/or Absence of Dietary Intervention on Selected Pre-Diabetic Complications in Diet-Induced Pre-Diabetes.

The thesis was supervised by UKZN’s Dr Andile Khathi.

The results suggest that the ruthenium (II) complex exhibited hepatoprotective and renoprotective effects while ameliorating immune dysregulation underlying pre-diabetes in diet-induced pre-diabetic rats. However, further studies are required to determine the exact mechanism behind the potential effect of this metal-based compound.

Pre-diabetic patients are at increased risk of developing other pathologies such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetic nephropathy and immune dysregulation complications. Once diagnosed, both pharmacotherapy and lifestyle modification are recommended. However, there is generally poor patient compliance in terms of dietary interventions as patients tend to rely heavily on pharmacological treatment, thus reducing the efficacy of the drug. There is hence, a need for novel drugs that will remain therapeutic even in the absence of dietary modification.

Mabuza is currently busy with her last manuscript for a peer-reviewed journal, which focuses on pre-diabetes immune dysregulation complications. She is also writing a literature review for her proposed post-doctoral study and job hunting.

’UKZN is one of the best universities in South Africa and I knew that it would be a great platform for me to fulfil my dream. I also wanted to learn more about the Zulu culture,’ said Mabuza, who hails from Mpumalanga province.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

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The Use of Natural Agents to Prevent Prediabetes

The Use of Natural Agents to Prevent Prediabetes
PhD in Medical Physiology graduate, Dr Akinjide Moses Akinnuga.

Dr Akinjide Moses Akinnuga was awarded a PhD in Medical Physiology for his thesis titled: Investigating the Effects of Bredemolic Acid on Selected Markers of some Prediabetes-associated Dysfunctions in Diet-induced Prediabetic Rats. T

he study was supervised by Dr Andile Khathi.

The study found that consumption of a high calorie diet causes prediabetes and its associated dysfunctions such as abnormal glucose metabolism, and liver, cardiovascular and kidney dysfunction. It showed that prediabetes and these dysfunctions can be prevented by natural antidiabetic agents without a change of diet.

‘I feel euphoric at having completed the degree within the minimum duration of two years. My future aspirations are to continue as an academic and focus on research in the areas of metabolism and endocrinology via postdoctoral research and collaboration with other medical scientists in the world,’ said Akinnuga.

Akinnuga is passionate about physiology: ‘It’s fascinating to study how the body functions. Factors such as diet, stress, and lifestyle affect normal physiological functions and knowledge and understanding of how the body works can provide solutions.’

He added that, ‘My experience at UKZN was pleasant and was marked by teamwork and the development of my verbal, communication, and laboratory skills. I learned fast and shared several research ideas with colleagues in the same field and other fields.’

During his spare time, the Nigerian-born academic enjoys singing, reading, travelling and spending time with his wife, Titilayo, and daughters.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

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Study Highlights the Importance of Feedback in the Development of Clinical Skills

Study Highlights the Importance of Feedback in the Development of Clinical Skills
Dr Reina Mary Abraham, lecturer and the co-ordinator of the clinical skills undergraduate programme in UKZN’s School of Clinical Medicine.

Dr Reina Mary Abraham’s PhD study investigated the use of feedback and feed-forward action plans in the development of clinical skills among undergraduate Medical students.

Using a theoretical framework based on deliberate practice and feedback intervention theories, it expands understanding of the factors enhancing feedback’s self/co-regulated learning potential through the development of self, peer and teacher feedback interventions. The study proposes a novel conceptual framework based on psychological processes to understand barriers and facilitators of feedback receptivity. Abraham also developed a feedback-scoring tool to promote effective feedback.

Abraham is a lecturer and the co-ordinator of the clinical skills undergraduate programme in UKZN’s School of Clinical Medicine. She said that she believes that the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on medical education can be turned into opportunities. She has been hard at work converting clinical skills teaching to online platforms, transitioning to the blended teaching approach, considering how online skills simulation can be sustained after the pandemic and publishing papers on current and relevant topics.

’It was good to achieve what I planned for the past 10 years well within the time frame I had in mind. This is a platform for me to enhance my academic achievements. There is a lot more to do. During my tenure with the Clinical Skills lab, I became interested in understanding the impact of feedback on learning. The PhD was a great opportunity to unravel this aspect of education. It will also support my future career.’

The few challenges she encountered, including the need to strike a balance between work and research such that her students did not suffer, and redefining the scope of her study, as well as meeting deadlines, were overcome with the support of her colleagues and supervisor, Dr Veena Singaram. A solid work ethic also stood her in good stead. 

Abraham described UKZN’s School of Clinical Medicine as one of the best in the world. She noted that the University has expert staff who are passionate about what they do. Academic support through the teaching relief funded by the University Capacity Development Programme made it possible for her to continue with her studies, as well as publish and attend conferences while working fulltime.

She is grateful to her supportive family, and her husband and two daughters, all of whom are working overseas. She enjoys travelling to visit her family, reading medical journals, cooking, and photography during her spare time.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

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Staff Member’s Research Investigates the Immune Response to Cryptococcal Meningitis

Staff Member’s Research Investigates the Immune Response to Cryptococcal Meningitis
PhD graduate, Dr Prathna Bhola.

Senior pathologist and lecturer in UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences Dr Prathna Bhola, who is based at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital, was awarded a PhD for her research on the immune response to cryptococcal meningitis.

The study focused on the reasons for a relative paucity of neutrophils in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) compared to bacterial meningitis and found that downregulation of neutrophil recruitment occurs into the CSF of patients with cryptococcal meningitis.

‘I feel very relieved and satisfied at having completed this degree. I am very grateful to my supervisor, Professor Adriaan Willem Sturm and my family for their overwhelming support and faith in me. I would like to pursue further research in my field as well as supervise and assist other students interested in research. I wanted to expand my knowledge in Medical Microbiology, and gain experience in novel research methods in laboratory medicine,’ said Bhola.

According to Bhola, previous studies have shown that cryptococcal meningitis is an important opportunistic infection in immunocompromised patients. It is well established that this form of meningitis is characterised by a relative paucity of neutrophils in the CSF compared to bacterial meningitis.

The challenges she encountered included recruiting patients, accessing laboratory material due to international stock-out, and many experimental failures. Nevertheless, she persevered and never gave up. She said her study experience was a pleasant one as she received support from the University community.

During her spare time, she enjoys reading, listening to music, and hiking in the Drakensberg. Her favourite dish is a good Italian pasta.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

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Physiology Study Explores Causal Relations between Diet, Exercise and Diabetes

Physiology Study Explores Causal Relations between Diet, Exercise and Diabetes
Dr Mluleki Luvuno, who in spite of financial and health related challenges, achieved a doctorate.

Dr Mluleki Luvuno’s PhD study developed a nutrition-based animal model of prediabetes using a high-fat high carbohydrate diet and observed that increased dependency on unhealthy diets and a relatively sedentary lifestyle coincide with the current alarming increase in type 2 diabetes.

The study was conducted in UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences.

The study also examined the effect of regular and intermittent exercise on metabolic changes as well as learning, memory and general cognitive function. It found that prolonged ingestion of a high-fat high carbohydrate diet leads to the development of prediabetes in animals. This was accompanied by changes in glucose homeostasis, lipid metabolism, renal function, and cardiovascular function as well as cognitive function in the prediabetic animals. However, both regular and intermittent exercise improved the metabolic changes and risk factors associated with prediabetes and alleviated the cardiovascular complications that come with this condition. Furthermore, exercise ameliorated cognitive impairment following prolonged ingestion of the high-fat high carbohydrate diet. When prediabetes is identified early, exercise can delay the onset of full-blown diabetes and/or even reverse prediabetes when done properly and/or coupled with dietary changes.

Luvuno encountered financial and health related challenges. There were times when his research group ran out of operating funds and had to wait for the release of funds to continue with their experiments. Just when they had gone past this stage of doing the experiments and he was writing up the manuscript in preparation for the final submission, he fell ill and was forced to take a break. Having bounced back at the beginning of 2020 and completed the thesis, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the turnaround time from his examiners, and he missed the April Graduation. Luvuno said that patience and hope kept him going and through God’s grace, he was able to triumph.

‘My future aspiration is to contribute to the generation of knowledge that will improve people’s health and quality of life. I am the first one to reach this level of education not only in my family, but in my community. I know that my supervisors, Professor Musa Mabandla and Dr Andile Khathi, my family and everyone who knows me are very proud of me. I’m humbled,’ said the 28-year-old who hails from Msinga in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Luvuno is currently a postdoctoral fellow at UKZN. He hopes to establish himself as a researcher and diversify. He envisages a career in academia.

Luvuno is eternally grateful to his family who ensured that his financial and emotional needs were met. ‘The emotional support from my mother, Mrs BC Luvuno, was exceptional. She is a strong, phenomenal woman.’

Words: Lihle Sosibo

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Research Unveils Experiences of SA Medical Students in Cuba

Research Unveils Experiences of SA Medical Students in Cuba
Dr Buhle Maud Donda received a PhD in Medicine.

Developmental lecturer in the School of Clinical Medicine at UKZN, Dr Buhle Maud Donda was awarded a PhD in Medicine (Education) for her thesis on the Experiences of South African Medical Students who studied in Cuba in Spanish for five years, during an Eighteen Months’ Assimilation in a Home Institution.

The study was supervised by Dr Veena Singaram and Professor Richard Hift.

The research revealed that the challenges faced by the students were largely interpersonal with an emphasis on how they were treated rather than educational. These were aggravated by the differences in the students’ biographies and university experiences, differences in content, protocols and examination between Cuba and South Africa, the institutional ethos which students felt was a bit unwelcoming and the “gloomy” anecdotes of their predecessors who trained in Cuba.

The challenges brought identity discrepancies to the fore between “who I am and should be” and who others think “you are or should be”. This resulted in psychological and emotional distress which ranged from apprehension, to fear, fear of failure and anxiety. The effect of desperately wanting to be a doctor, termed “unidimensional identity” perpetuated fear of failure and intense anxiety. The students attributed their success to resilience as a strength from within which involved confidence, composure, commitment and control. Consultants were seen as aggravating the situation whereas South African trained peers, interns and registrars were regarded as pillars of strength.

The challenges Donda encountered during her study included getting hold of students for interviews, adjusting methods according to interviewees’ preferences like using found photovoice instead of taking pictures and conducting individual rather than group interviews. 

‘I am excited. I would like to contribute to social cohesion that involves the coexistence of health and education to improve the quality of life of all in South Africa,’ she said.

Born in Imbali, Pietermaritzburg and raised in KwaMashu, Donda is grateful to be celebrating her achievement with her supportive family, her dad who is 79 and still going strong, her brother Ayanda, his wife Palesa, and her niece Ubuntu and nephew Masikamahle.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

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PhD Study Leads to Community of Practice Initiative

PhD Study Leads to Community of Practice Initiative
Dr Desiree Govender received a doctorate in Public Health Medicine.

Dr Desiree Govender’s PhD study resulted in the development of a community of practice initiative for teenage mothers.

Supervised by Professors Saloshni Naidoo and Myra Taylor the study titled: A Community of Practice Model for a Multidisciplinary and Comprehensive Approach towards Caring for the Pregnant Adolescent and Parenting Adolescent Mother, earned Govender a doctorate in Public Health Medicine.

‘The importance of the study lies in its evidence-based approach and the manner in which it promotes collaboration among healthcare providers and encourages them to make changes in their clinical practices in the best interests of pregnant and parenting adolescents,’ said Govender.

According to Govender, adolescent pregnancy is a global public health issue that is associated with various adverse maternal and child health outcomes.

She believes pregnant adolescents have unmet antenatal, emotional, psychological and social needs.

‘Adolescent mothers are highly likely to experience social isolation, mental health problems, low educational attainment and limited employment opportunities. The high risks associated with adolescent pregnancy and the multiple needs of pregnant and parenting adolescents warrant a multidisciplinary approach towards their care.’

The study aimed to develop and implement a multidisciplinary community of practice model at a health facility to address the problems and needs of pregnant adolescents and parenting adolescent mothers. It was conducted over four years at a district hospital in Ugu, KwaZulu-Natal. The participants included pregnant adolescents, adolescent mothers, healthcare providers, community youth leaders and representatives from non-governmental, non-profit and faith-based organisations.

The findings revealed a high prevalence of adolescent repeat pregnancy, high risk sexual behaviours, and various psychosocial problems among the participants. Moreover, it was found that healthcare services were not channelled towards pregnant and parenting adolescents.

‘The Community of Practice initiative launched capacity building activities, facilitated tailor-made healthcare services for pregnant and parenting adolescents, and encouraged social learning and sharing of best practices that positively influenced the knowledge and perceptions of all the role-players,’ said Govender.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

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Committed to Community Health

Committed to Community Health
Community pharmacist, Dr Sham Moodley graduated with a PhD in Pharmacy.

‘Your PhD should not be a race to obtain another qualification,’ says Dr Sham Moodley.

‘It must be seen as a journey to obtain new levels of expertise in areas that have challenged you before, to contribute to societal needs and to be able to share this knowledge and encourage others with the intention of improving the country,’ he adds.

The community pharmacist graduated with a PhD in Pharmacy following a study titled, Evaluating the impact of the change in regulations related to Medicine Pricing and Pharmacy Ownership in the Private Pharmaceutical Sector of South Africa under the supervision of internationally renowned expert in the field, Professor Fatima Suleman.

‘I am grateful to my supervisor for her amazing tutorship, her excellent guidance and mostly for her dedicated support through my PhD.’

He said that ‘for me, UKZN represents an important part of our struggle for democracy, contributing to my own growth and development as an individual. I am a proud holder of my undergraduate Pharmacy degree and now my PhD from UKZN.’

The first part of Moodley’s study presented two published papers that evaluated a basket of 50 originator medicines and their available generics using the World Health Organization (WHO)/Health Action International (HAI) methodology.

Data was obtained from community pharmacy and pharmacy software vendors and subjected to an Interrupted Time Series (ITS) evaluation, where the changes in slope and levels of the medicines before and after the regulations were obtained.

The second part was presented in a third published paper that examined the opening, transfer, and closing of all pharmaceutical licenses as per the South African Pharmacy Council register prior to the changes in regulation and post-regulations up to 2014.

‘Each license was tracked over time and mapped at a municipal and district level. The investigation further allowed for a population overlay to determine changes in access, ownership categories, and urban-rural access over time, and in this way, examined the impact of the change in policy and whether its intended outcomes were achieved,’ explained Moodley. The study concluded that the change in regulation did not result in increased access to pharmacies in previously disadvantaged and rural areas. Ownership also shifted from independent pharmacists to corporate entities. Other incentives and policies are thus required to improve access in disadvantaged areas.

Using interrupted time series methodology, the research confirmed that substantial price reductions were achieved through the Single Exit Price regulations.

Moodley said the study addressed the gap in research and evidence on the policy on the deregulation of pharmacy ownership. ‘It offers lessons to low- and middle-income countries, especially those on the African continent.’

As a community pharmacist, Moodley has a deep interest in public health, ‘I continue to serve in the community, which I have served for 27 years, on a daily basis with the hope of better managing my patients’ healthcare needs.

‘My interest is at a policy level around access and affordability of healthcare. It will be great to be able to contribute more as we move into the design of our own Universal Healthcare Coverage,’ he said.

Moodley has been married to an equally dedicated professional, Tammy Moodley for 30 years and they have four children, Sandrini, who is planning a PhD in Environmental Science after completing her masters at UKZN; Kimantha a Medical doctor in the public sector; Sanushin, an engineer at Vodacom; and Kyrin who is in third-year at Wits University doing accounting science.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

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Study Reveals Preventative Potency of Wild Rosemary in Breast Cancer

Study Reveals Preventative Potency of Wild Rosemary in Breast Cancer
PhD in Health Sciences graduate, Dr Judie Magura.

Dr Judie Magura’s PhD in Health Sciences (Human Physiology) investigated the effects of the Eriocephalus africanus (wild rosemary plant) in human breast cancer and showcased the potency of nanotechnologically modified flavonoids isolated from the plant.

The first of its kind, it provides comprehensive insight into the anticancer potential of Eriocephalus africanus from plant extract to nano-drug.

‘I am thrilled with this accomplishment and hope to lead a cancer research lab in the future,’ said Magura.

Magura first enrolled in a different PhD programme, but found it did not challenge her. A year into the programme, she was introduced to her supervisor, Professor Irene Mackraj, who steered her on her study journey in Health Sciences. She said that, on first entering the cell culture lab, she knew she had found a home.

Having moved to a new discipline, she encountered some who thought she was too ambitious and not sufficiently skilled in the field. She thus had to work twice as hard, read more, and learn skills quickly.

‘Overall, my experience at UKZN was good. I made connections with some great and inspirational people. I learned scientific skills that I believe will propel me further in my career. I had the opportunity to work with Professor Mackraj and my co-supervisor, Dr Roshila Moodley from whom I learned a great deal. What helped me most was my faith in Jesus Christ.’

The Zimbabwean-born graduate is currently writing a review paper and looking forward to joining a cancer research team. She is grateful for the support of her family, her husband Josiah Magura, and children, Israel and Sophia. When relaxing Magura loves crafting dollhouses and dresses, and other items. Her favourite dish is a Zimbabwean classic, sadza, and covo with meat.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

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A Greener Method to Purify Biosynthesised Insulin

A Greener Method to Purify Biosynthesised Insulin
PhD in Pharmacy graduate, Dr Kamini Govender.

Dr Kamini Govender’s PhD in Pharmacy successfully developed a rapid, greener, and more efficient method for the purification of biosynthesised human insulin and peptides compared to conventional methods.

It was supervised by Professors T Govender, T Naicker and HG Kruger of the Catalysis and Peptide Research Unit.

‘The study utilised sub/supercritical fluid chromatography to purify biosynthesised human insulin and peptides associated with diabetes,’ said Govender. During the course of the study, she developed research techniques such as routine molecular biology methodologies, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), primer and design, and cloning strategies in Ecoli. ‘I also developed numerous methodologies regarding protein research techniques. Challenges such as intermittent load shedding, and COVID-19 caused delays.’

The study resulted in three international ISI publications and was also presented at an international conference (The 7th European Federation of Medicinal Chemists - Young Medicinal Chemists Symposium (YMCS)) and a national one (Royal Society of Chemistry / South African Chemical Institute Young Chemists’ Symposium 2020), where Govender won an award for the best poster. She is currently seeking a post-doctoral position in South Africa or abroad and would like to one day go into academia. ‘In the future I aspire to become a world renowned scientist.’

Govender believes education is a very powerful tool, ‘I was inspired to pursue a career in science as a young girl as very few women were given this opportunity in the past. I was also inspired by iconic female scientists such as Rosalind Franklin and Marie Sklodowska-Curie. I believe women can change the world especially in science. I love research and being in the lab as I find it fun as well as exciting,’ she said.

She thanked her parents and sister for their support throughout her studies.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

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Master’s Study Focuses on Gene Therapy to Manage and Treat Parkinson’s Disease

Master’s Study Focuses on Gene Therapy to Manage and Treat Parkinson’s Disease
An elated Ms Siobhan Van Der Vyver celebrates her graduation with her partner, Mr Keagan Seddon.

Ms Siobhan Van Der Vyver graduated with a Master’s degree in Neurosciences within a year of embarking on her study titled, The Long-Term Effects of Gold Nanoparticles as Gene Vectors in a 6 hydroxydopamine-Induced Parkinsonian Rat Model.

In 2019, she was awarded an Honours degree in Neurosciences summa cum laude.

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder hallmarked by cell loss and dopamine (DA) degeneration. Neuroinflammation has been implicated in PD; however, a window has been identified for therapeutic administration to prevent inflammation in the nigrostriatal pathway through gene therapy. Van Der Vyver’s study investigated the long-term effects of AuNPs in the striatum of a 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA)-induced parkinsonian rat model.

Van Der Vyver is currently working for a clinical trials company. ‘They are starting a new COVID-19 study soon and will be conducting clinical trials on a new vaccine. I will be working as a central monitor. The role entails data management throughout the clinical trial to ensure that protocols are adhered to, databases correspond to source documents, ensuring all patients are eligible to continue throughout the study by assessing their medical records from their last visit and performing trend analyses and risk-based monitoring to ensure the integrity of the trials.

‘The work draws on a lot of the skills I gained in data analysis throughout my postgraduate research, and the medical terminology that governs the industry. Working as a member of the Neuro team and producing continuous progress reports helped in the interview process and stood me in good stead as this job requires good communication lines between site managers and the clinical research organisation. Furthermore, the fact that I had gone through the process of writing and adhering to ethics protocols was attractive to the recruiters, as the clinical research industry is very closely governed by legislation and regulations which need to be adhered to at all times’, said Van Der Vyver.

The former Durban North resident thanked her supervisors for their ongoing support. ‘I want to thank Dr Zama Msibi, my co-supervisor, for her time and patience during my postgraduate career as well as the many hours spent in the Biomedical Resource Unit assisting with specialised procedures. I appreciate her attentive eye for detail with regard to my written work. Her experience and knowledge of the topic contributed significantly to this study. I am also thankful to Professor Musa Mabandla, my supervisor, for his constructive feedback on results, and his encouragement of independent research. His thorough approach to data capturing and analysis added great value to this study.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis

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Equipping Caregivers of Children Living with Craniofacial Cleft Disease

Equipping Caregivers of Children Living with Craniofacial Cleft Disease
Dr Abiola Olugbenga Omodan whose doctoral study investigated craniofacial clefts, a rare disease of the face that affects children.

Dr Abiola Olugbenga Omodan’s doctoral study investigated craniofacial clefts, a rare disease of the face that affects children.

It leaves huge gaps and openings in the face that not only cause stigma, but may be life threatening. The study focused on how to help caregivers understand the condition. It proposes a new classification that will enable caregivers to communicate more effectively to promote awareness and prevent stigma.

‘My journey had its ups and downs but knowing that this was my project and I had to see it through, kept me going. I now have a feeling of fulfilment and would like to conduct further research in this field. My experience at UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences was fantastic and I wouldn’t choose anywhere else if I had to do it again,’ said Omodan.

He is currently working towards a postdoctoral fellowship to further explore this disease. He is also writing journal articles and is assisting other postgraduate students. His future plans include completing his post-doctoral studies and starting a career in academia as a clinician scientist. He notes that he has always been interested in diseases of the human body and that Clinical Anatomy will allow him to pursue this interest.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Supplied


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