25 September 2013 Volume :1 Issue :3

College of Health Sciences Driving Research Agenda Globally

College of Health Sciences Driving Research Agenda Globally
Ms Jessica Paken receives her award from Professor Rob Slotow, while College Dean of Research, Professor Moses Chimbari, looks on.

UKZN’s College of Health Sciences recently held its Annual Research Symposium at which it introduced its newly appointed fractional and full research Professors from around the globe.

Consisting of two plenaries, three parallel tracks and about 80 presentations, the college reaffirmed its ideology of being research-driven; significantly contributing to shaping global health policies.

Presenters included postgraduate students and staff who have undertaken cutting edge research in their respective fields. The plenary addresses were presented by UKZN’s Professor Deresh Ramjugernath and the University of Zimbabwe’s Dr Felicity Gumbo.

UKZN’s Medical Education Partnership Initiative also presented on its many successes since the project was initiated at UKZN. A highlight of the symposium was the introduction of the full and fractional research Professors employed to drive the research agenda of the college through international collaboration.

The full Professors are pre-eminent scientists in the College namely; Professor Gert Kruger, Professor Thavi Govender, Dr Frank Tanser and Dr Tulio de Oliveira. Govender is one of UKZN’s top 30 researchers with his 100th publication recorded last year.

Kruger and Govender manage a leading research facility at UKZN with about12 postgraduate students and six postdoctoral students. Research interests of the group span the disciplines of organic synthesis, asymmetric catalysis, peptide drug design and computational chemistry with collaborations across the globe.

Tanser and de Oliveira are both esteemed scientists based in UKZN’s Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies (TAC). Tanser’s study produced ground-breaking research findings that demonstrated the HIV epidemic could be reversed through increasing coverage of antiretroviral therapy (ART).  This was the first time the positive impact of antiretroviral therapy on the rate of new HIV infections had been demonstrated in a community setting.  The results of the study were published in the prestigious journal, Science.

This year de Oliveira co-authored a book titled: HIV and TB Resistance and Clinical Management Case Book with Dr Theresa Rossouw of the University of Pretoria and Dr Richard Lessells from TAC. About 8 000 copies have been distributed, free of charge to clinicians, nurses and members of the community.

De Oliveira has set up a Genomics Bioinformatics system for HIV and other pathogens in South Africa which is managed by the Medical Research Council making it a national resource. Previously, in South Africa, genotyping was prohibited for national implementation due to its cost and complexity. De Oliveira has managed to decrease the cost by half leading to the development of a Bioinformatics database to manage the large volume of data.

De Oliveira is passionate about bringing the technology into the community and especially into the under-resourced community he is currently based in.

Fractional Professors in the College, the majority based in the School of Health Sciences include Professor Per Arvidsson from the Karolinska Institutet who Heads the Science for Life Laboratory. Arvidsson has had a longstanding collaboration with UKZN’s Catalysis and Peptide Research Unit. Jointly, the team have published over 16 publications during the last three years.

Arvidsson’s research interests are in drug design and developing new synthetic methods to be utilised in anti-TB and HIV drug discovery. Arvidsson, who presented to the audience via Skype, said: ‘The key to success is human capital, time and commitment. We should make use of the technical platforms in existence for collaboration as well as the strong support from the College of Health Science’s leadership.’

Fractional researcher Professor Robert Hickner is the Director of the PhD Program in Bioenergetics and Exercise Science at the East Carolina University in the United States. His research interests include aging, obesity, exercise, nitric oxide, nutritive blood flow and lipolysis in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue and nutrition. Hickner is currently collaborating with UKZN’s Discipline of Biokinetics, Exercise and Leisure Sciences on the use of microdialysis to study metabolism and blood flow in peripheral tissues. Hickner’s PhD programme is ranked 6th in the Kinesiology programmes offered in the United States.

Professor Hans-Peter Lipp from the University of Zürich is fractional research Professor in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences. He completed his PhD in Anthropology and Primatology and found a society known as the International Behavioural and Neurogenetics Society.

Lipp’s research interests are in behavioural genetics and the collaborative testing of knock-out mice, the role of structural variations of the hippocampus and adult neurogenesis as well as homing pigeons navigation with Global Positioning System and Electroencephalogram recording. Lipp is better known for developing an automated testing system known as INTELLICAGE. He has agreed to set up Intellicages at UKZN for drug testing and high throughput screening.

Professor Takafira Mduluza from the University of Zimbabwe is the fourth fractional research professor whose research interests are in correlates of protective immunity for vaccine development in Infectious diseases. Mduluza is currently collaborating with Dr Zilungile Kwitshana on schistosomiasis in our region.

Mduluza strongly believes that antibodies need to be specific to the variation that exists in our region, being sub-Saharan Africa.

The Symposium ended off with a message from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head, Professor Rob Slotow who said: ‘I’m excited to see a more integrated symposium focusing on improved delivery of services to our people and country. It is also noteworthy to see teams of people collaborating with much enthusiasm, especially as we listened to the presentations by our recently appointed full and fractional Professors from around the world which indicates that we have moved to unlock conversations around collaboration’.

Symposium prizes - which included going to an international conference - in the categories of best paper or poster, staff and students were Dr Reitze Rodseth from Anaesthetics, Ms Jessica Paken from Audiology, Ms Happiness Sibiya from Physiology and Ms Rosemary Swanson from K-RITH.

Winning attendance to a national conference were Dr Thesagan Moodley from Anaesthetics and Ms Shivona Gounden from Medical Biochemistry.

 Winners of R1 000 book prize each were Mr Saiyur Ramsugit from the Infection, Prevention and Control Unit and Dr Meghan Harvey from Medical Biochemistry.

-       MaryAnn Francis

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