10 April 2014 Volume :2 Issue :18

UKZN Researcher Develops Protocol Producing True Single Cell Suspension of M. Tuberculosis, a World First

UKZN Researcher Develops Protocol Producing True Single Cell Suspension of M. Tuberculosis, a World First
Nigerian born, Dr Olubisi Ashiru graduated with a PhD in Medical Microbiology.

Mycobacterium Tuberculosis causes tuberculosis (TB) in humans and the disease is a major health concern in the country, says UKZN PhD graduate.

According to Dr Olubisi Ashiru, South Africa is rated third after India and China, among the 22 high-burden countries in the world with TB, and first in Africa.

Ashiru conducted a study titled “Interaction between Mycobacterium Tuberculosis and Pulmonary Epithelium” using isolates from the culture collection of the TB unit in her department.

‘TB is a multifactorial disease and a better understanding of all its aspects is important in the quest to overcome it. The need to better understand the pathogenesis of M. Tuberculosis isolates resulted in this work,’ said Nigerian-born Ashiru.

According to Ashiru, M. Tuberculosis isolates such as the Beijing and F15/LAM4/KZN families dominate in patients. The emergence of extensively drug-resistant (XDR) M. tuberculosis isolates raises concern.

‘I investigated the interaction between different clinical isolates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis with human alveolar and bronchial epithelial cell lines and compared these with avirulent (H37Ra) and virulent (H37Rv) laboratory strains.’

She said her results, which were a first in the world, suggested that the higher adhesion and invasion of alveolar epithelial cells could contribute to the successful spread of the Beijing and KwaZulu-Natal families of M. Tuberculosis.

‘Mycobacterium Tuberculosis is notorious for clumping in cultures, making it difficult to obtain a single cell suspension. I was able to develop a protocol that produces a true single cell suspension of M. Tuberculosis without the use of detergents,’ she said.

In recognition for her work on the topic Ashiru received:

•           The Fiona Graham Prize for First Time accepted Abstract at the 49th Annual Meeting of the Microscopy Society of Southern Africa in Pretoria ­- 2011

•           A University of KwaZulu-Natal Doctoral Research Grant Award - 2010

•           A Graduate School Scholarship for academic achievement – 2007-2009

•           The Best Oral Presentation Award at the First National TB conference in Durban - 2008


Ashiru has been in South Africa since December 2004 and she thanks God for her achievements. ‘I thank God because I believe we were created to have it all - God, family, marriage and career.’ 

She said managing her career has been very challenging: ‘I look up to women like Hillary Clinton. She did not abandon one aspect of her life for another.’

Ashiru is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UKZN’s Department of Medical Microbiology and Infection Prevention and Control.

She is analysing the aetiology of infant mortality in relation to the vaccination programme in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, in an attempt to reduce mortality in children aged five and below.

This is in line with the Millennium Development Goal 4, which aims to reduce child mortality between 1990 and 2015 by two-thirds.

The focus of the study is to obtain an in-depth understanding of the vaccination programme. She also assists post-graduate students in the Department.

- Nombuso Dlamini

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