Student Graduates with Master’s and PhD in Less than Three Years

Student Graduates with Master’s and PhD in Less than Three Years
PhD graduate in Speech-Language Therapy Dr Tasneem Karani.

UKZN’s Tasneem Karani (26) graduated with a PhD in Speech-Language Therapy following an upgrade from her master’s degree for her thesis titled: Crispy, Crunchy and Crackly: An Exploration of Food Textural Acoustics on the Swallow Mechanism.

‘Eating is one of the most multisensory experiences, with sounds often regarded as the “forgotten flavour sense”,’ said Karani.  ‘Ask yourself, why do we find crispy foods so enjoyable, and why do we find ourselves salivating when we hear the sizzling sounds of a steak? My goal is to understand the body’s physiological response, specifically the swallow response to food acoustic properties.’

Her master’s degree and PhD studies were supervised by Associate Professor Mershen Pillay, an expert in the field of dysphagia (swallowing disorders), who Karani feels deeply indebted to and very privileged that he was her supervisor.

Karani’s study is part of a larger novel research project known as THRIVE (Tackling Hunger by Research and Innovation in Vulnerable Environments) developed at the University of Zululand and motivated by the need to deliver viable solutions to all vulnerable populations - such as individuals with dysphagia who may encounter food insecurity - to access food that they can safely consume. ‘My study is focused on developing and investing in more “sensory responsive” foods for individuals with dysphagia in resource-constrained contexts such as South Africa, with the hope that in addition to being enjoyable they possess therapeutic benefits for these individuals,’ she said.

Dysphagia interested Karani since her final year of undergraduate study and during her community service year. ‘Being placed at a regional hospital in rural KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) for my community service year, I dealt with a high patient-to-therapist ratio and limited access to resources and equipment. This further fueled my passion and the need to serve individuals with dysphagia more effectively, particularly those in low-to-middle income groups,’ said Karani. This led her to question ‘how can we target the rehabilitation of the swallowing mechanism of these patients with dysphagia while ensuring that the foods provided to them take into account their enjoyment and overall quality of life?’

She said the COVID-19 pandemic had been one of her greatest challenges during her research study. ‘I was scheduled to conduct the main component of my study at a hospital in KZN, however, COVID-19 halted my research plans. In addition, I experienced other personal challenges such as contracting the virus during that period, the death of my grandmother, and caring for my father who suffered two brain haemorrhages and underwent a craniotomy.

‘Despite these disruptions, I persevered. Ironically, COVID-19 provided me with an opportunity to critically rethink the conceptual basis of my study and to accommodate all the changes that arose,’ said Karani. ‘This involved conducting an exploration of the sensibility of the construct of food acoustics through an extensive exploration of the literature and consultations with world experts across various disciplines of study. This included,’ she said, ‘the fields of mechanical engineering, food engineering, food science, speech therapy and audiology, cognitive neuropsychology and gastronomy.’

Karani attributed her success to the Almighty, and support and guidance from her parents, husband, supervisor, friends and family, especially her sister, Nazeera.

‘My family have been my greatest support system throughout this PhD journey. They believed in me, comforted me in times of despair and celebrated all my victories, big and small.’

Karani obtained her undergraduate degree in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology cum laude at the University of the Witwatersrand. She received numerous accolades including: the AB Clemons Research Award; awards for the best student in both Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; Golden Key Awards for four consecutive years; the Faculty Dean’s Medal Award, and was a recipient of the prestigious Sponsor-A-Student Scholarship for the Dysphagia Research Society (2021), among others. She has presented her research both locally and internationally.

A flag bearer for South Africa at the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics conference in Taipei, Taiwan, Karani completed her PhD after being awarded an upgrade from her master’s full research degree, one of the first in the field.

She hopes her PhD findings will spark positive change by improving the quality of life for those experiencing swallowing disorders globally. She further hopes that her PhD study will open up many doors of inquiry across the fields for her and she would like to use it as a springboard for a successful future research career.

She hopes to pursue postdoctoral studies, focusing on contributing novel and impactful research in the field, specifically from a South African perspective.

Karani enjoys reading, gardening, cooking and baking, and spending time with her family and pets.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Employment Outcomes for Persons with Spinal Cord Injuries Focus of PhD Research

Employment Outcomes for Persons with Spinal Cord Injuries Focus of PhD Research
PhD in Health Sciences recipient Dr Ntsikelelo Pefile.

Current interventions, factors, barriers, and facilitators influencing employment outcomes for persons with spinal cord injuries (PWSCI) in KwaZulu-Natal were investigated for a doctoral degree.

The research work secured former UKZN lecturer, Dr Ntsikelelo Pefile a PhD in Health Sciences (Rehabilitation). ‘I feel relieved, excited and proud of myself,’ said Pefile. ‘I am very grateful to the College of Health Sciences for the support I received from staff at the Department of Physiotherapy and the School of Health Sciences office.’

Supervised by Professor Saloshni Naidoo and Professor Joyce Mothabeng, Pefile says his study findings support the development of an “interprofessional model” to guide employment outcomes for PWSCI.

‘This model encourages stakeholders to develop and implement activities that promote employment and education outcomes for PWSCI in various care settings, involving all relevant sectors while prioritising early intervention.’

Pefile says his aim is to contribute to alleviating the poverty of people with disabilities in South Africa.

In the development of protocol, he said he had to “unlearn” what he thought he knew about research. ‘I am grateful to Professor Moses Chimbari for allowing me to participate in the Protocol Development Workshop in Botswana under the South African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) project.’

He says he struggled to get full ethical approval due to delays in getting gatekeeper permission. ‘Obtaining gatekeeper approval took me 18 months as hospital administrators did not have time to respond to my application.

‘Data collection was a nightmare as my study was community-based. I had to deal with other contextual factors before I could obtain the information I needed from participants. I then collected too much data and I did not set reachable parameters and scope for the PhD,’ said Pefile.

‘Data analysis became a nightmare as I had both quantitative and qualitative data so I used my NRF funding to employ research assistants to help.’

Deaths in the family weighed heavily on him. ‘I lost my son, mom and sister and other family members during this time. I thank my colleagues at the Physiotherapy Department for their support - they became my pillars of strength,’ said Pefile.

‘I can write a book about the support I received from the various sectors of this University. UKZN leads in postgraduate education and that’s why I will fight to remain associated with this University even though I am no longer employed their full time.’

Pefile, currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at Stellenbosch University, enjoys reading, jogging and travelling.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Research into Traditional Medicine Practices to Treat Fractures

Research into Traditional Medicine Practices to Treat Fractures
Dr Nireshnee Ramchundar graduated with a PhD in Pharmacy.

A study into traditional medicine remedies used in South Africa and New Zealand to treat fractures earned Dr Nireshnee Ramchundar a PhD in Pharmacy.

Ramchundar’s study was titled: The Management of Fractures by Traditional Health Practitioners: The Case of Zulu Medicine (South Africa) and Maori Medicine (New Zealand).

‘I am proud of myself for this achievement and feel encouraged to have made a difference in the traditional health sector,’ said Ramchundar.

Supervised by Professor Manimbulu Nlooto, Ramchundar investigated how traditional health practitioners diagnose and treat patients with fractures.

‘Fractures have always been complicated to treat,’ said Ramchundar, ‘and traditional health practitioners generally agree with that assessment. I have found that any illness, irrespective of its origin, has a spiritual component in indigenous knowledge systems trans-continentally. As such, the approach to treatment strategies extends beyond traditional herbal or animal-derived medicines.’

In her study she focused on traditional medicines used to treat fractures, identifying over 70 remedies that were used. ‘I have always been interested in the effectiveness of traditional medicines and as a pharmacist, I sought to put together scientific evidence on their efficacy. I have dual SA/NZ nationality and thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast traditional medicine practices in both countries,’ she said.

Her choice of fractures as a focus was because she suffered a wrist fracture which triggered arthritis when she was a teenager. ‘This piqued my interest and I decided to explore the orthopaedic world in the area of traditional methods of healing.’

Finding traditional health practitioners willing to share information with researchers had been challenging. However, she plans to share her findings with the traditional healing communities in both South Africa and New Zealand.

Ramchundar thanked UKZN for the opportunity, funding and support throughout her study.

A mother of six, she prides herself in ensuring a delicate balance between hard work and relaxation.

A member of the scientific editing team at the Centre of Excellence for Pharmaceutical Sciences at Cactus Global, she loves spending free time laughing with her children, swimming, enjoying nature and watching a good hospital TV drama series.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Top Achiever Slot for Optometry Honours Graduate

Top Achiever Slot for Optometry Honours Graduate
Cum laude graduate Ms Lerisha Dabi.

‘I always worked overtime and prayed to do well in my degree, but never imagined I would be a top achiever!’

So, says Ms Lerisha Dabi who was awarded a Bachelor of Optometry (Honours) degree cum laude.

Dabi said her greatest hurdle during her studies was overcoming her anxiety of failing. ‘Sometimes you study so hard for an assessment and you just don’t get the mark you worked for. I told myself the only way to conquer this was to keep focused and get my priorities right,’ she said.

Currently working in the 2022 Specsavers Graduate Programme as an optometrist, she hopes to further her studies and later open her own practice.

‘I chose optometry because I love people - helping them and improving their lives. Also, I believe sight is a person’s most important sense and protecting it means a great deal to me,’ said Dabi.

During her studies she received Deans’ Commendations and Certificates of Merit. She was also part of the Golden Key International Honours Society.

Dabi described her UKZN experience as the best, saying she will forever hold fond memories of the friendships she made and the good relationships she had with lecturers.

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Top Three Physiotherapy Achievers

Top Three Physiotherapy Achievers
Top achieving Physiotherapy graduates, Mr Sunvir Lakhan (left) and Ms Andiswa Nzimande.

A cum laude Bachelor of Physiotherapy Honours graduate’s interest in the profession was sparked after her uncle was hurt in a car accident and needed treatment by a Physiotherapist.

Said Ms Andiswa Nzimande - one of three physio honours students to graduate cum laude from UKZN: ‘I feel really honoured to have achieved marks I never thought I was capable of. It has made me realise that I have the potential and I should stop under-estimating myself. I am really proud.’

Nzimande, who is from Estcourt in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, said finances had been one of her biggest worries. ‘Life forced me to grow up at a young age. There were times when I had to give my share of my NSFAS allowance to my mom to buy food. I knew it was never enough and I wondered how she managed to feed our family with so little money.’

Nzimande says the challenges strengthened her and helped her achieve academic success.

She thanked everyone who has supported her over the years.

Currently doing her community service at the Dr Malizo Mpehle Memorial Hospital in Tsolo in the Eastern Cape, Nzimande plans to study for a PhD and then open a Physiotherapy practice.

Mr Sunvir Lakhan, who graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in the discipline, said his interest in studying the human body motivated him to enrol for the degree. ‘Physiotherapy was ideal for me as I wanted to understand how the body works and how to restore functioning in the body without invasive procedures.’

He says the support he received from his lecturers, family and friends, made his journey at the University a very enjoyable and relatively trouble-free one.

Currently working as a community service Physiotherapist at the Benedictine Hospital in Nongoma, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Lakhan hopes to get a permanent Physiotherapy position and continue to help patients in need, especially those in ICU and with Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome (NMS) conditions.

Lakhan enjoys drawing, gaming, playing soccer, exercising and reading.

The third Physiotherapy top achiever was Mr Asmathullah Yumina.

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Study Identifies Cells Responsible for Tissue Damage in TB-Infected Lungs

Study Identifies Cells Responsible for Tissue Damage in TB-Infected Lungs
Dr Ian Mbano graduated with a PhD in Medical Sciences.

A doctoral study examined the profile of lung cells of individuals who had tuberculosis (TB) at a single cell resolution to determine which cells are involved in lung tissue damage as well as granuloma formation in human lung tissue infected by the disease.

The research work earned Dr Ian Mbano (32) of Zimbabwe a PhD in Medical Sciences.

‘This is a significant achievement for me considering the time it took and the challenges I had to overcome. I want to use science as a tool for positive transformation of African societies and the world at large,’ said Mbano. 

The study used single cell data to identify alveolar pneumocytes as the primary target of the SARS-CoV2 virus and uncovered an interferon dependent stimulation of target proteins such as ACE2 and TMPRSS2 receptors.

‘I took this challenge on because TB is poorly understood and affects resource-constrained nations. Thus, my project afforded me the opportunity to study TB disease with cutting-edge technology.’

Mbano, who was supervised by Dr Alisdair Leslie, says at the outset his research was not yielding the required results so he had to continue with the experiments for about 11 months, which required patience and a “never-yield attitude”. As an international student he encountered challenges but managed to form networks within and beyond the University that enabled him to flourish.

Mbano recently began a postdoctoral fellowship with the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) in a collaborative research project with the Ragon Institute in the United States, where his work focuses on how the immune system correlates of bacterial vaginosis and the implications for HIV acquisition.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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Maternal and Foetal Health Focus of Doctoral Study

Maternal and Foetal Health Focus of Doctoral Study
Dr Nerolen Soobryan received a PhD in Health Sciences (Physiology).

Research into maternal and foetal health concentrating on hypertensive pregnancy disorders such as pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension secured Dr Nerolen Soobryan a PhD in Health Sciences (Physiology).

‘Symptoms of these conditions often present too late in pregnancy and are a major contributor to the death of mothers and unborn children. Furthermore, the two disorders have overlapping clinical manifestations - often misdiagnosed - but result in very different outcomes,’ said Soobryan.

‘In this study blood samples were collected from pregnant females with hypertensive pregnancy disorders with gestationally matched normotensive pregnancies used (as controls) to investigate factors that could be used as early biomarkers as well as differentiating factors between the two.

‘The work identified these markers at a molecular level by comprehensively scrutinising their angiogenic, metabolic and inflammatory pathways. The outcomes of this investigation provided a solid platform for in-depth analysis of the early biomarkers as well as a possible cost-effective method of detection.’

Soobryan said his accomplishment felt surreal - like he was in a dream. ‘My future aspirations are to keep aiming higher and rising to the top wherever my path leads me. I will continue my research no matter my occupation. I hope this will be an inspiration to others to strive hard to realise their professional, academic and personal goals.

‘Working full-time while studying posed a huge challenge in terms of time constraints, resource availability and funding, while the impact of COVID-19 made research, travel and procurement extremely difficult. However, studying at UKZN was seamless and being part of the University community makes me proud,’ he said.

‘I am exceptionally grateful to my supervisor Professor Irene Mackraj, and co-supervisor, Professor Jagidesa Moodley, for their support and guidance.’

Soobryan, an Academic Assessment Manager at MANCOSA, aims to become a full-time academic.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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Graduate Describes her Unbridled Joy

Graduate Describes her Unbridled Joy
Cum laude graduate Ms Nompumelelo Gumede accompanied by parents, Mrs Nomusa and Mr Sakhile Gumede.

Ms Nompumelelo Gumede on achieving a cum laude Master’s degree in Medical Science (Physiology) said: ‘This accomplishment brings me tears of joy. Sometimes I scream internally: Girl, you did it! My master’s study was interesting but challenging - when I submitted my dissertation I was mentally and physically exhausted. Waiting for results was stressful although I knew I had given my all doing everything and more that was required of me. Now I am filled with joy!’

Gumede says she used a high-fat-high-carbohydrate diet-induced prediabetes animal model in her study which assessed whether during prediabetes there are any vascular and myocardial tissue biomarkers at risk of myocardial infarction. She found that prediabetes increases the risk for myocardial infarction through vascular dysfunction and myocardial tissue oxidative injury. Furthermore, the study demonstrated for the first time that plasminogen activator inhibitor 1, a marker for myocardial infarction, is elevated during prediabetes.

Said Gumede: ‘Vascular findings in prediabetes included an elevation of inflammatory biomarkers (C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 and tumour necrosis factor), endothelial dysfunction (decreased eNOS and increased ET-1), hyperlipidaemia (increased triglycerides, total cholesterol and lipoproteins) and impaired fibrinolysis (increased plasminogen activator inhibitor-1).

‘Myocardial tissue findings in prediabetes included an increase in oxidative stress biomarkers (NOX1 and malondialdehyde), a decrease in antioxidant markers (superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxide), and myocardial fibrosis. Furthermore, there was a positive correlation between cardiac troponins and oxidative stress biomarkers in the prediabetes group,’ she said.

‘In future I want to lead a cardiology research team and be a member of the South African Heart Association Board. I aim to publish work that will have an impact on the lives of ordinary people and also hope to establish an organisation that assists students who perform below average or just above average providing them with textbooks and extra classes.’

Gumede says since high school she has been aware of the need to get excellent grades in order to improve her chances of getting funding. Graduating cum laude was a reward for her dedication and resilience.

‘It was God’s plan that I studied at UKZN - the University has made it possible for me to be where I am today.’

She thanked her supervisor’s Dr Andile Khathi and Dr Phikelelani Ngubane who had been very supportive and understanding.

Gumede says there is so much to learn and discover in physiology. ‘The human body is amazing. How all the organ systems function together is mind-blowing.’

Her interest in diabetes stems from members of her family, including her mother, suffering from the disease. She says many families are troubled by diabetes so she wants to contribute knowledge and solutions to manage and prevent problems associated with the disease.

Gumede (26) is currently a PhD candidate and a teaching assistant in the Discipline of Physiology at UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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Doctoral Study Investigates Neuroanatomy of Major Blood Vessels of the Head and Neck

Doctoral Study Investigates Neuroanatomy of Major Blood Vessels of the Head and Neck
An elated Dr Bukola Rukayat Omotoso graduated with a PhD in Health Sciences (Anatomy).

Dr Bukola Rukayat Omotoso of Nigeria was awarded a PhD in Health Sciences (Anatomy) for her study that investigated the Neuroanatomy of the Vertebral Arteries - Major Blood Vessels of the Head and Neck.

Findings from Omotoso’s research identified important clinical features of the vertebral arteries and their implication for diagnosis and surgical intervention in treating cerebrovascular diseases.

‘Research usually involves a variety of challenges, including the research topic, approval from the university ethics committee, implementation of research, publishing of research outputs, and the examination process,’ said Omotoso. ‘However, working with a dedicated research team and benefitting from all the support provided by the College of Health Sciences made such a difference in assisting me to accomplish the overall aims and objectives of my doctoral degree. Also critical in my success were dedication, prayer, resilience, hard work, and asking for help when necessary.’

Omotoso is currently a postdoctoral candidate in the Discipline of Clinical Anatomy at UKZN where she also works as a research assistant.

‘I am grateful to my supervisors, Professor Lelika Lazarus, Professor Kapil Satyapal and Dr Rohen Harrichandparsad as well as the College of Health Sciences for giving me this opportunity,’ said Omotoso. ‘My special thanks go to Professor Nancy Lea Eik-Nes of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for her help at a crucial time in my academic journey.’

Omotoso, who says she is thrilled to be the first doctoral graduate in her family, enjoys cooking, reading, and watching movies during her spare time.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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22 Pharmacy Students Graduate Summa Cum Laude

22 Pharmacy Students Graduate <em>Summa Cum Laude</em>
Summa cum laude achievements for Bachelor of Pharmacy graduates.

A total of 22 BPharm students graduated summa cum laude at UKZN’s Autumn ceremonies.

‘Graduating summa cum laude was completely unexpected but was a reward for my hard work, determination and perseverance throughout my studies,’ said Ms Farah Khan.

Currently completing her internship at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, Khan hopes to pursue a Master’s degree in Pharmacy.

‘It was only in my internship year that I realised the value and depth of the knowledge I obtained. UKZN’s Pharmacy curriculum challenged me, but allowed me to strike a good balance between my theoretical knowledge and practical skills,’ said Khan.

A member of the Golden Key International Honour Society since 2019, she has received seven Deans’ Commendations as well as scholarships totaling R70 000 to pursue a Master’s degree in Pharmacy at UKZN and at the University of Oxford in England.

Said graduate Mr Mahomed Seedat: ‘I feel happy to know that the work and hours I dedicated to the degree have paid off. Such success wasn’t really expected considering the difficulty of the final year, especially with blended learning.’

Engineering has always been first choice for Seedat, but through research he realised there was a lot more room to directly help people in the pharmaceutical field than through engineering.  ‘I have lived in several different places in South Africa and what that has taught me is there’s no such thing as “set ways”. There’s always something new and different to learn. Everyone you meet will know something more than you do.’

Seedat is currently doing his internship at a small community pharmacy and hopes to start a career in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing.

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Cum Laude Graduates Galore in UKZN’s Discipline of Pharmacy!

<em>Cum Laude</em> Graduates Galore in UKZN’s Discipline of Pharmacy!
Bachelor of Pharmacy students graduate cum laude.

A total of 15 students in UKZN’s Discipline of Pharmacy graduated with cum laude BPharm degrees.

Pharmacy is a four-year programme, followed by a compulsory year of community service before registration with the SA Pharmacy Council as a pharmacist.

Here is a selection of comments from and background on some of the top graduates:

Mr Nduduzo Ntombela: ‘I’m very excited about this achievement following all the effort I invested in my school work. I wouldn’t say my success was unexpected.’

Ntombela, who grew up in KwaNongoma in KwaZulu-Natal, is currently pursuing his dream and studying Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand.  

Efficient time management was one of Ntombela’s biggest challenges during his studies.  He says he managed by getting his priorities right.

He thanked his parents for their support as well as for instilling the importance of prayer.

Mrs Zuhairaa Essay, a newly-wed, was thrilled with her achievement. The top achiever matriculated with six distinctions from Orient Islamic School in 2017 and while at UKZN was awarded consecutive Deans’ Commendations.

Essay thanked her family and her four “darling cats” for their support throughout her academic journey.

Ms Nomvelo Ngcamu: ‘I am honoured, it was a long and challenging journey. It feels like an acknowledgement from UKZN for my hard work and dedication. It’s humbling.’

Matriculating at the age of 16 and obtaining her degree at 20, Ngcamu is currently doing her internship at GJ Crookes Hospital in Scottburgh on the KZN South Coast.

She described her UKZN experience as ‘amazing, very educational, but also challenging.’

The eldest of three siblings, she thanked her family for all their support.

Ms Nompilo Dlamini was humbled and honoured to be among the top achievers in the Pharmacy programme.

Dlamini says getting started on her academic journey was not easy. She thanked her church congregation and peers for the emotional and mental support they gave her.

She hopes to continue on to a master’s degree.

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Exposure to Trauma can Lead to Alzheimer’s Disease - Study Finding

Exposure to Trauma can Lead to Alzheimer’s Disease - Study Finding
Dr Oluwaseun Faborode received a PhD in Health Sciences (Physiology).

Suffering trauma can result in contracting Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), according to the findings of a doctoral study.

The research, in which rats were used as models, was undertaken by Nigerian-born Dr Samuel Faborode, who was awarded a PhD in Health Sciences (Physiology) for the work.

From early in his life, Faborode was interested in brain functions and diseases, which led to his honours and master’s degrees being focused on neuroscience.

He became aware that being involved in traumatic events such as robbery, rape, domestic violence, and xenophobic attacks could result in victims developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), increasing the chances of contracting Alzheimer’s Disease.

This stimulated his interest and led to his investigations.

He says his study findings showed reduced expression of the Bin1 gene in brain areas involved in learning and memory following trauma exposure and AD induction. Bin1 is the second most important risk factor in sporadic AD implicated in memory deficits. This suggested that Bin1 dysregulation may be involved in the link between PTSD and AD.

The findings have been published in three high-ranking peer-reviewed journals and presented at international conferences.

‘My first two years of study were very challenging emotionally and financially,’ said Faborode. ‘I did not receive any financial support from my home country and also had to leave my pregnant wife to resume my studies so I did not get to see my first child until three days before his first birthday. I struggled throughout these times as I missed my home and family. I overcame these challenges by having good friends who shared their experiences and always assured me that “this phase too shall pass”.’

He said UKZN was a ‘fantastic place to study. It offers many opportunities and a stimulating environment ideal for a rigorous degree like a PhD. I am also very grateful for the support I received from my supervisor, Professor Musa Mabandla.’

Faborode is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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Nigerian Student Graduates with PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry

Nigerian Student Graduates with PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry
PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry graduate Dr Akinpelu Ibrahim Olayinka.

Identifying Possible Antitubercular Drug Candidates Targeting mtb-ftsz - a Computational Perspective, was the title of research which earned Nigerian student, Dr Akinpelu Ibrahim Olayinka a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry.

‘I am ecstatic and proud of myself for finally achieving one of my lifetime goals,’ said an elated Olayinka. ‘I decided in my second year as an undergraduate in 2009 that I wanted to do my PhD, and now the dream has become a reality, I am so, happy and I am grateful to God Almighty, to Him alone be the glory.’

His PhD research involved the identification of new drug candidates for the treatment of tuberculosis targeting a hitherto not extensively explored target (protein) in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. ‘In simple terms, my PhD work was on target-based drug discovery in which I used both computational and molecular biology techniques,’ explained Olayinka.

He was able to identify certain classes of compounds such as fusidic acid, berberine and its analogues and some trisubstituted benzimidazoles as lead compounds for the development of novel drugs against tuberculosis.

A great deal of research has been done over the years on TB - one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases - especially in the area of identifying regimens with fast treatment efficacy and also to overcome the problem of drug resistance.

‘My research will contribute to the fight against the disease and hopefully establish a pathway for the development of new drugs.’

Olayinka experienced a variety of challenges during his study journey, ‘There were a few challenges including a change of environment, learning new techniques especially in molecular biology and computational chemistry (it was my first experience in these fields), and financial issues. Also, the lockdown was a big challenge as I could not go to the lab and complete my research objectives as planned.’

Said Olayinka: ‘Wow! UKZN! What can I say? I had an awesome experience, and my growth has been immense. The facilities, the environment, the professional attitude of staff, the new friends and personal development - UKZN has given me a lot of goodies to take away to use possibly for the rest of my life. Thank you UKZN!’

Olayinka achieved his BSc (Hons) (Industrial Chemistry) and MSc (Inorganic Chemistry) at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. He was recognised as the second-best student in the Inorganic Unit of the Chemistry Department during his final master’s year.

‘I have a strong passion for teaching and research, and I am committed to contributing to human development and wellbeing through quality research output and knowledge impartation in the health science field,’ he said.

He loves playing, watching and discussing football and enjoys acting on stage.

Olayinka, currently a postdoctoral candidate at the Malaria Parasite Molecular Laboratory at the University of Pretoria, was supervised by Dr Hezekiel Kumalo and co-supervised by Dr Ndumiso Mhlongo and Dr Sizwe Mhlongo.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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PhD in Pharmaceutics for Sudanese Student

PhD in Pharmaceutics for Sudanese Student
Dr Usri Ibrahim graduated with a PhD in Pharmaceutics.

Design and Synthesis of Smart Biomaterials for the Development of Multifunctional Stimuli-Responsive Antibiotic Nano-Delivery Systems, was the title of a study by Dr Usri Ibrahim of the Sudan.

Ibrahim was awarded a PhD in Pharmaceutics for the work which was supervised by Professor Thirumala Govender.

The doctoral thesis focused on finding effective therapeutics to combat antibacterial resistance through the development of advanced nano-delivery systems.  Ibrahim says his study reported the first Biomimetic dual-responsive antibiotic delivery system and also a novel pH-responsive hyaluronic acid-based prodrug of Ciprofloxacin for dual targeting bacterial infection and cancer.

‘The passion to discover novel effective therapeutics against challenging diseases and health problems led me towards pursuing a PhD in pharmaceutics.’

Ibrahim said he was super proud of himself and grateful to his supervisor and colleagues for their support during the stressful times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Challenges he encountered during his studies included difficulties in scientific writing, time management, and restricted access to laboratories during the pandemic.  However, he says his commitment, passion and solution-oriented approach as well as the important contributions of his supervisor and his family assured his success.

‘Studying at UKZN was an insightful experience which inspired me to high achievements,’ he added.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


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PhD Study Shows Potential of Natural Polymers in Delivering Antibiofilm Agents

PhD Study Shows Potential of Natural Polymers in Delivering Antibiofilm Agents
PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences recipient Dr Victoria Oluwaseun Fasiku.

Intensive research on alternative drug delivery systems for biofilm eradication was rewarded when Dr Victoria Oluwaseun Fasiku was awarded a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Supervised by Professor Thirumala Govender, Fasiku’s study was titled: Carbohydrate Polymer-Based Free Radical Releasing Gels for Biofilm Eradication.

‘I am very excited and thankful to God,’ said Fasiku. ‘I plan to make a career switch and become an expert in my new sphere.’

Her findings showed the potential of natural polymers to deliver antibiofilm agents. ‘The knowledge from the study will be particularly beneficial to the health care sector where infectious diseases are associated with biofilms,’ said Fasiku.

She is passionate about acquiring knowledge at the highest level in her field and wants to further explore drug delivery in all its facets.

Despite challenges along the way - especially those caused by the Coronavirus - studying at UKZN had been very enjoyable. ‘I had an amazing and inspiring supervisor, access to good equipment and facilities and a conducive learning environment.’

Fasiku is a self-motivated scientist who is passionate about communicating scientific findings to various audiences to raise global awareness of therapies and medical devices that could transform or save people’s lives, and make a significant impact on the pharmaceutical, and healthcare sectors.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


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PhD Research Investigates Feasibility of Ototoxicity Monitoring Programme for Cervical Cancer Sufferers Receiving Cisplatin Chemotherapy

PhD Research Investigates Feasibility of Ototoxicity Monitoring Programme for Cervical Cancer Sufferers Receiving Cisplatin Chemotherapy
Dr Jessica Paken graduated with a PhD in Audiology.

The feasibility of implementing an audiological monitoring programme for women suffering from a loss of hearing due to cisplatin chemotherapy they receive for cervical cancer was investigated in a doctoral study by UKZN academic, Dr Jessica Paken.

The thesis was titled: Cisplatin-Associated Ototoxicity Amongst Patients Receiving Cancer Chemotherapy and the Feasibility of an Audiological Monitoring Programme at Grey’s Hospital.

Paken, who graduated with a PhD in Audiology, said with meaningful interaction with patients and service providers regarding planning, delineation of responsibilities, and cost implications, an audiological monitoring programme was indeed feasible in South Africa.

Paken said her research highlighted cisplatin’s ototoxic effect in cervical cancer patients, with a greater impact on HIV-positive patients, providing clear evidence for the need of an ototoxicity monitoring programme (OMP).

‘I am super excited that despite all the challenges I was able to complete the degree and now I plan to do postdoctoral studies in the same field.’ 

Her supervisors were Professor Vikash Sewram, Professor Mershen Pillay and Mr Cyril Govender.

According to Paken, her study is the first to prospectively investigate the hearing patterns of patients with cervical cancer in Africa and the first to comment on the feasibility of an ototoxicity monitoring programme for this patient population through the lens of real-world practice.

‘My personal experience with family members who acquired a hearing loss post-treatment for cancer motivated me to pursue this topic.  The type of cancer selected was based on my personal experience with gynaecological disorders,’ said Paken.

She came up against several challenges during her study journey, including ill health, being in hospital, having surgery and the death of a baby. ‘Perseverance and my belief and trust in God that there is a time and place for everything got me through it all,’ she said.

Mother to a fun-loving, adventurous four-year old, Suri, Paken said: ‘I would not compromise my family for anything.  I am married to the most wonderful, supportive husband, Sujeet Mangaroo, who was by my side through all my challenges in all my degrees.’

Paken has achieved numerous research accolades over the years being a recipient of a R50 000 scholarship award for her master’s degree study;  a runner-up in the S2A3 Bronze Medal sponsored by the SA Association for the Advancement of Science for her master’s dissertation; a recipient of the Archbishop Dennis E. Hurley Scholarship for Excellence in a master’s degree; a recipient of the South African Medical Research Council National Health Scholarship for a PhD degree, and a recipient of funding from Oticon Fonden for her PhD study.

In addition to Paken presenting her research at various national and international conferences, the study findings have also been published in national and international journals as well as in a book.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Doctoral Degree Increases Graduate’s Self-Confidence

Doctoral Degree Increases Graduate’s Self-Confidence
Dr Nawras Osman graduated with a PhD in Pharmaceutics.

‘This degree will help me carve out a good career teaching in pharmacy schools at universities. I am very glad that I was successful - the sense of accomplishment has increased my self-confidence.’

So, says Dr Nawras Osman of the Sudan who was awarded a PhD in Pharmaceutics.

Osman’s work was titled: Surface Modification of Nano-Drug Delivery Systems for Enhancing Antibiotic Activity and Activity to Combat Antibiotic Resistance.

She was supervised by Professor Thirumala Govender.

Said Osman: ‘The broad aim of this study was to synthesise novel stimuli-responsive materials with multifunctional activity for the surface modification of niosomes to maximise the compatibility and therapeutic efficacy of conventional niosomes and provide an additive therapeutic significance by minimising the required effective dose and the subsequent dose-dependent adverse effects of the vancomycin antibiotic.’

She said her research generated novel polymers and their associated formulations as pharmaceutical products. ‘Introducing such innovative materials can stimulate the pharmaceutical industry to develop smart biomaterials to improve nanoantibiotics delivery and conventional dosage forms.’

According to Osman, bacterial infections are one of the leading causes of death globally despite significant research in the area.

‘The rise of bacterial resistance to multiple classes of antibiotics increases mortality and morbidity rates. Therefore, the aim of this study was to synthesise novel stimuli-responsive materials with multifunctional activity for the surface modification of niosomes to enhance the antibacterial, antibiofilm and antivirulence activity against Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria which is significant in developing better delivery systems for the potential treatment of bacterial infections.’

Osman experienced several challenges during her studies, including stress, being away from home and family, funding issues, time management and maintaining a good work/life balance. 

‘I managed to overcome all the challenges with the help and support of my great supervisors and family, as well as by trying to be positive and optimistic, pushing myself and being persistent.’

Osman, who is currently a lecturer at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Gezira in Sudan, is looking for work in a country that offers growth and job opportunities. 

‘My real strength is my attention to detail and using my problem-solving skills. It’s all about learning to see things through someone else’s eyes,’ she said.

She enjoys reading, gardening and watching movies.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


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Dysphagia Therapist Graduates with PhD in Speech-Language Therapy

Dysphagia Therapist Graduates with PhD in Speech-Language Therapy
PhD in Speech-Language Therapy recipient Dr Thiani Pillay.

Research by a doctoral candidate explored the nature of clinical reasoning in dysphagia (swallowing) rehabilitation with a specific focus on service provision in low-middle income context (LMIC) populations, including those in South Africa.

The work was done by 26-year-old Dr Thiani Pillay, who graduated with a PhD in Speech-Language Therapy.

Said Pillay: ‘My study explored and augmented clinical decision-making models within service delivery to allow for a more holistic consideration of contextual realities within dysphagia rehabilitation.’

According to Pillay, the approach is novel as only a few other studies have adopted clinical reasoning in dysphagia rehabilitation within LMICs in this manner.

She says delays due to COVID-19 often slowed her down which was disheartening but, through the use of online platforms and an incredible support system, she was able to complete her studies and research.

‘I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to pursue my PhD and add to the body of research on how to best serve LMIC populations,’ said Pillay. ‘My future aspirations are to continue my research in this critical area of service delivery to allow for more accessible models of healthcare to develop appropriately to serve LMIC communities, including those such in South Africa,’ she added.

Pillay thoroughly enjoyed her study journey.  ‘It has been a life-changing experience. I am very grateful for the assistance and guidance I received from the Speech Therapy Department at UKZN and in particular from my incredible supervisor Professor Mershen Pillay who mentored me the entire way and made me a better researcher and a better person.’

Pillay, who attained her BSc in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Cape Town in 2017, currently works in private practice in the area of acute care with a special interest in dysphagia.

She enjoys spending time with her family, friends and taking her dogs for walks.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Master’s Degree Cum Laude for Former UKZN Staffer

Master’s Degree <em>Cum Laude</em> for Former UKZN Staffer
Cum laude graduate Mr Livashin Naidu.

Former UKZN staff member, Mr Livashin Naidu was awarded a cum laude Master’s degree in Medical Sciences (Anatomy) for research using a dual methodology - endoscopic and radiological - to assess the frontal sinus drainage pathway.

Collaborating with the Discipline of Otorhinolaryngology in the School of Clinical Medicine, Naidu documented anatomical variations unique to the South African population - information which is of significant importance for surgical procedures.

Naidu, who was recently appointed as an associate lecturer in Human Anatomy at the Nelson Mandela University’s Medical School in Port Elizabeth, previously worked at UKZN as a demonstrator and teaching assistant in human anatomy, acquiring substantial teaching experience working with first- and third-year Medical students and Nursing students at the University.

Naidu, the recipient of scholarships from the National Research Foundation and UKZN for his master’s degree studies, has presented at four conferences nationally and internationally.

Said Naidu: ‘The last two years of my studies were challenging but I am proud to say I have so far managed to achieve every academic goal I set for myself.’

He thanked his supervisor’s Dr Carmen Rennie and Dr Lindokuhle Sibiya, colleagues and close friends for their support and motivation.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Supplied


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