Three PhD Graduates Supervised by Head of School of Health Sciences
The Dean and Head of the School of Health Sciences, Professor Mahmoud Soliman, supervised three students - Dr Ashona Singh, Dr Hezekiel Khumalo and Dr Lara McGillewie - who graduated with PhDs.
‘I am proud of their accomplishments. All their hard work and dedication paid off. Their studies were novel and innovative and I look forward to hearing about their future successes in the field of Pharmaceutical Chemistry,’ said Soliman.
Singh met Soliman five years ago while doing her Master’s degree in Chemistry and he introduced her to Pharmaceutical Chemistry.
‘I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by the National Research Foundation, the College of Health Sciences and Professor Soliman, to learn the technique of Pharmaceutical Chemistry as it has helped further develop my skill as a scientist,’ said Singh.
Singh received a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry for her thesis titled: “A Computational Perspective of Influenza Virus Targets: Neuraminidase and Endonuclease”.
Her research provides a unique perspective at an atomistic level of identified mutations in neuraminidase of the H1N1 and H5N1 influenza viruses, with subsequent identification of potentially new and novel inhibitors.
The influenza virus is well documented in existing literature, however, Singh’s research of the H1N1 and H5N1 systems resulted in novel findings. The findings highlight the unique and elegant mechanism in which the viral protein, neuraminidase, adapts and builds resistance via point mutations which is not the same for each strain.
McGillewie, who also thanked Soliman for his input and guidance, graduated with a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences. Her thesis was titled: “Investigating Plasmepsin Flexibility as a Function of the Flap Region – a Unique Structural and Dynamic Feature of Aspartic Protease”. The findings of the study exposed the flap motions and dynamics of the plasmepsin enzyme, which could potentially help in the design of novel antimalarial compounds.
‘I chose to conduct this particular study because I wanted to complete my PhD without the hassle of laboratory work yet still remain in the medical and biological field,’ said McGillewie.
Khumalo, who received his Doctorate in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, conducted his study on Alzheimer’s disease. According to Khumalo, Alzheimer’s is one of the most understudied diseases in South Africa yet more and more people die from it every year. ‘I felt the need to contribute towards finding an inhibitor to this illness.’
After losing his grandmother, who died from Alzheimer’s disease, Khumalo says he wanted to know more about the disease and gain a deeper understanding of it.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and involves memory loss and other intellectual disabilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.
‘Everybody is focusing on finding a cure for HIV and AIDS and cancer,’ said Khumalo. ‘I chose a different path, wanting to create increased awareness about this disease and find a cure for it.’
His study, published in a variety of international journals, discovered 10 new compounds which could be potential inhibitors for Alzheimer’s.